Genders OnLine Journal

Issue 41     2005

Passing as a "Lady"
Nationalist Narratives of Femininity, Race, and Class in Elite Canadian Figure Skating

By KAREN MCGARRY

Canadian Nationalism and the Construction of a "Socially Appropriate" Femininity

[1] Nations have historically constructed themselves as gendered institutions (eg. Nagel 1998; Parker and Russo et al. 1992; Yuval-Davis 1997), and at different times and for different purposes, they have sought to promote certain "official" gendered or sexual identities for public consumption.  Visual spectacles, including international competitions like beauty pageants, exhibitions, and sporting events, have historically served as important contexts within which notions of national identity and gender intersect and are inscribed upon the body.  This paper explores the link between nationalist discourses and the privileging of particular images and discourses of femininity in Canadian figure skating.  It is based upon twenty-three months of ethnographic/anthropological fieldwork among amateur, high performance (ie. National, World, and Olympic level) Canadian figure skaters undertaken between January 2000 and February 2002.  Interviews and participant observation were conducted in training institutions, skating rinks, and in the media centers of international competitions across Canada to understand the different perspectives of skaters, coaches, choreographers, officials, the media, sponsors and others involved in the construction of Canadian figure skating.  Although most of the names of my informants have been changed to protect their anonymity, this paper draws upon their varied perspectives to comprehend how such discourses have functioned in the production of gendered identities of the nation.  More specifically, I explore the relationship between privileged, mass-mediated constructions of femininity in Canadian skating and their relationship to both social class, and to a racialized "aesthetics of whiteness."  How and why, for example, are certain classed and racialized femininities privileged as iconic achievements of Canadian national identity by the Canadian mass media at the expense of other identities?

[2] One Canadian coach informed me that it was critical to ensure that her students "pass as ladies." Indeed, amateur figure skating has long been recognized as a sport which promotes particular hegemonic ideals of femininity (eg. Baughman 1995; Kestnbaum 2003:127-180).  This paper adds to this scholarship by exploring how dominant societal ideals of femininity converge with nationalist interests.  In other words, how do the bodies of certain Canadian female skaters merge with mainstream ideals of "Canadian identity?" Figure skating provides an excellent forum for an exploration of such phenomena partly because it is Canada’s second most popular spectator sport behind hockey (Skate Canada 2001), and in Canada, it is one of the few sports to receive prime-time television coverage on many networks.  Since the 1930s, Canada has won more than 500 international figure skating medals, making household names out of such skaters as Barbara Ann Scott, Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko, Elizabeth Manley, Toller Cranston, Brian Orser, and Jamie Salé and David Pelletier, to name a few.  Many of  Canada’s  elite skating champions are thus highly visible and recognizable celebrities, which makes the sport financially lucrative for television networks and their corporate sponsors.  One sports executive I spoke with, for instance, informed me that figure skating represents a "gold mine" for his network.  It is therefore not surprising that in Canada, figure skating is opportunistically marketed by sponsors and networks as a "national pastime," despite the fact that few (0.5%) Canadians actually figure skate (Statistics Canada 1998). Take, for example, the perspective of CTV, Canada’s self-declared "official figure skating network:"

It’s part of our Canadian heritage.  That’s why CTV - ‘Canada’s Figure Skating Network’ - is committed to bringing you the best figure skating in the world.  CTV has been partnered with the sport since 1961, and makes figure skating its core sports property (CTV website, July 16, 2001).

In many ways, figure skating represents an opportunity for understanding how the Canadian media and television, in conjunction with advertisers and sponsors, influence the production of gendered, commodified identities on ice, and in doing so, produce highly specific gendered bodily representations of the nation that appeal to skating’s predominantly female, middle-class demographic.

[3] In Canada, the state has traditionally viewed communications and the media, among other things, as a political and educational device for the dissemination of dominant ideologies (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 1999), and for this reason, the Canadian media in particular has held a privileged position in the shaping of a national imaginary. Chennells (2001:7), for example, argues that, despite Canada’s official policies of multiculturalism and the "cultural mosaic" philosophy it purports to embrace, the Canadian state and the media have sought to enforce an "exclusive nationalism."  He defines an exclusive nationalism as an effort to create a more congruent relationship between the state and its people, usually by privileging one way of life, religion, or other identity over another.  The state, depending on popular opinion and preferences, will determine the extent to which an exclusive nationalism is exercised within its official discourses and policies. Increasingly, however, with globalization challenging the authority of nation-states to regulate economies and identities, the mass media and the corporate sector have become a new forum for the enforcement of an exclusive nationalism, and, in some respects, have taken over this role from the state, thereby rendering the process less salient.

[4] Indeed, corporate sponsors and advertisers provide substantial funding to networks in an effort, I argue, to ensure that certain images of the gendered body are promoted favourably, partly because, as one sports executive informed me, such images "generate income?" Ultimately, conservative, mainstream gendered representations of female skating bodies are promoted as national images by television networks because they appeal to middle class notions of "respectability" (eg. Mosse 1985) and are thus marketable.  Overdetermined, hyper-feminine images of female bodies, in particular, have widespread appeal among a Canadian culture that is increasingly influenced by the "glamour" and aesthetics of a Hollywoodized femininity.

[5] One of the ironies of Canadian nationalist discourses is that they involve a simultaneous reaction against the perceived aggressive presence of American consumerism and other influences (eg. Flaherty and Manning 1993; Mackey 1999:23; New 1998), as well as an intense desire and need for American acceptance.   American and international "acceptance" is typically measured through the circulation and favorable acceptance of "Canadian" images, which, as I discuss, often involve an ironic appropriation of American styles and visual aesthetics. The perceived "glamour" of Hollywood film icons is often mimicked by Canadian skaters, and such images are circulated in international competitions, and cited as visual proof of Canadian success. At one competition I attended, a female Canadian skater mimicked the music, costumes, and hairstyles of Grace Kelly’s films, and her appearance and performance commanded a significant amount of appreciation and attention by American reporters.  Her coach proudly commented to me that, "we [Canadians] beat them [Americans] at their own game with this routine!"    Indeed, one way Canada is legitimated as a nation is through the favorable international recognition of Canadian images proliferated in the media.  While global flows often represent a threat to nationalism, without transnational relations, the manufacture of a sense of national distinction would be difficult (Gupta 1997; Kearney 1995:547; Manzo 1996:26; see also Meyer and Greschere 1999:2; Wilk 1995:120), and the international consumption of spectacles (particularly consumption by Americans), provides visible, concrete testimony of Canada’s success as a nation.  The high international visibility of Canada’s skaters in the media affords an opportunity for them to act as symbols of the nation.  In 1988, for example, the federal government implicitly recognized the importance of sport in this regard, and it was maintained that, "while sport unites us at home, our athletes help the modern Canadian become better known in other countries.  In their own way, Canadian athletes and teams serve as ambassadors to the world" (Task Force on Sport 1988:7).

[6] While female Canadian skaters have not achieved the same measure of international competitive success or celebrity status as their male counterparts in recent years, they are nevertheless treated as highly valued commodities in Canada.  Canadian women’s skating first received national and international recognition when Barbara Ann Scott, a skater revered by the Canadian media more for her "Hollywood star looks" than for her substantial athletic accomplishments, won the 1948 Olympic gold medal. Scott went on to achieve international celebrity, headlining professional ice shows, and acting as a spokesperson for a variety of consumer products.  Even today, she serves as a role model for Canadian female skaters, and many of my young female informants professed how they wanted to be "just like her." Other women who followed in Scott’s footsteps, such as Karen Magnussen, Petra Burka, and Elizabeth Manley, would achieve similar levels of international success. 

[7] The 1990s, however, were notable for the appearance of  the French-Canadian skater, Joseé Chouinard, who is discussed at length in the final section of this paper.  Born in Laval in the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec in 1969, Chouinard trained in Quebec for the majority of her amateur career, capturing three national titles in the early 1990s.  In preparation for the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, and in an effort to improve upon her technical and artistic abilities, she moved to Toronto to train at the exclusive Granite Club alongside other prominent skaters such as World Champion Kurt Browning.  Interestingly, it was only after Chouinard’s move to Toronto that she achieved a greater level of recognition from the mass media and corporate sponsors, and, according to one coach I interviewed, she transformed herself into a "true, feminine lady, like from a Hollywood film."  Another coach I spoke with claimed that, "we really cleaned her up." While Chouinard had a rather lackluster amateur competitive career at the international level, never winning a medal at the World Championships, she was a popular topic of conversation among my skating informants and in the Canadian media at the time of my fieldwork. Even though Chouinard retired from amateur skating to compete and perform professionally in 1996, she is still a highly revered champion who is fondly remembered among skating spectators and within the Canadian skating "community." Why, I wondered, is Chouinard still talked about so prolifically and what makes her such an icon of Canadian cultural nationhood?  I suggest here that as Chouinard’s competitive career progressed,  she sought (perhaps even unconsciously) to reinvent herself in terms of her costumes, skating style, and demeanor, to conform to an "acceptable" and desirable "upper class" English-Canadian aesthetic predicated partly upon nostalgic reinterpretations of, and homages to, past Canadian champions like Scott and other Hollywood-inspired idols.  Her move to Toronto was frequently perceived as a necessary aspect of this transformation, thereby highlighting the intensely regional biases in official Canadian discourses of national identity.  Indeed, it was only at this point in her career that she came to be proudly identified in the mass media as a superior champion and was sought-after by various corporations for lucrative sponsorship deals.

[8] Ultimately then, this paper is concerned with the ways in which "official" or privileged discourses (influenced by the Canadian mass media) have interpreted various Canadian female skaters’ "success" in light of their conformity to dominant, idealized norms of a socially appropriate femininity. Of particular relevance here is that nostalgic pursuits for a femininity embedded in an idealized past are closely linked with ideologies of social class and the construction of  a racialized "whiteness."  Discourses surrounding Chouinard’s metamorphosis, for instance, provide a context  within which popular American (and increasingly global) dreams of wealth, fame, and individualism are adopted into Canadian narratives and realized through the appropriation of conservative, hegemonic gendered identities of the past.  Discussions of Chouinard’s femininity, for example, frequently foreground the perceived "hard work" and bodily discipline that got her there, qualities which are metaphorically linked with the success of past Canadian female skating sensations, and ultimately, with that of the nation.  In summary, then, this paper addresses two inter-related issues: 1) the processes by which nostalgic remembrances of past Canadian female champions are linked with discourses of individual effort, race, and bodily discipline.  In what ways, for example, does nostalgia function as a trope about whiteness, and as an indirect critique of diversity?, and; 2) the erasure of regionalisms in narratives of class and race in an effort to produce hegemonic national images surrounding femininity.

Discipline, Race, and the "Aesthetics of Whiteness" in Women’s Figure Skating

[9] Early on in my fieldwork, I came to understand how the category of "femininity" was imagined and performed among skaters and coaches.  For example, at one training facility I visited, I spoke at length with the parents of a young female skater.  They were upset with the fact that their daughter was not progressing well.  Meanwhile, her cohort, two male students, were able to perform jumps and other technical elements that far exceeded the expectations of  their coaches and parents.  I noticed a similar phenomenon at other training centres, and I was interested in finding out if there were gendered distinctions in training regimes, so I listened in on a few training practices.  What I discovered was that coaches sincerely wanted their female skaters to perform well, yet many of their coaching methods were fraught with gendered binarisms that idealized  men as "aggressive," and women as "passive," "gentle" and "demure."  These sorts of stereotypes arguably impede the technical development of many Canadian female skaters.  Ironically, however, Canadian coaches and choreographers complained to me that Canadian female skaters were not "aggressive" or "confident" enough in their performances.  In practices, however, female skaters were critiqued if their skating style was perceived to be too "aggressive." For instance, at one session I attended, a female coach berated her young female skater for skating, "too aggressively" in preparation for the take-off to her jump, and she asked her to practice several laps of skating with "gentle, but assertive, ladylike" edges.  Meanwhile, she told her male student to "take charge" of the situation and to be "more aggressive" in his jump take-offs.  Consequently, many Canadian female skaters are recognized to be tentative skaters, making it difficult for them to compete technically at the world level and successfully execute the most difficult triple jumps.  For example, six-time Canadian champion, Jennifer Robinson, did not achieve a high level of success at the World level until she moved to the United States to train, where, as many coaches informed me, she learned to "be bolder about her skating."  A year after her move to Detroit, she moved into the top ten in the world standings.  The Robinson example, then, illustrates how coaches want their female skaters to be successful competitors, and realize the importance of building a sense of self-esteem, yet they ironically persist in valuing stereotypical qualities of female vulnerability and frailty.  For example, I interviewed one coach from Vancouver about some of the differences he observed between American and Canadian skaters and this is what he had to say:

Well, I think we’re just less aggressive.  You can really see it in their [the Canadian competitors’] faces out there when they just look nervous all the time.  Americans don’t tend to have the same kind of rationale out there I think.  I remember Scott Davis talking with his coach before a competition one time and he [the coach] said something like, "you’re going to win for your country," and he went out there so confident and did it.  Our male skaters are beginning to develop this sort of attitude about them and that’s just good...a good thing...I think with our female skaters though, they’re extremely timid internationally and they’re not well known, even though they get a lot of attention at home.  But it’s almost a charming quality really, without all the over-the-top competitiveness of all the American girls. Our girls work really hard and have, I think, more discipline in their regimes than the American girls.  You’ll never find our girls out partying the way some of the American girls I see at competitions [do]. They may not have the technical elements but they work hard still.

[10] The above example clearly highlights the ambiguous ways in which the technical "inadequacies" of Canadian female skaters are simultaneously critiqued and valued, and how particular conceptions of "discipline" and "femininity" merge the bodies of certain female skaters with that of the Canadian nation.  Indeed, within women’s skating, skaters learn at a young age that aesthetics, demeanor, and personal appearance are key to one’s success. However, as I outline more fully below, female "discipline" is often a valued construct fashioned through the juxtaposition of Canadian females with those from the United States.  At the same time, however, the ironic appropriation of Hollywoodized, mediated images by female Canadian skaters, many of whom seek to mimic the fashion sensibilities or physical appearance of Hollywood icons like Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn, illustrate the ways in which such "glamorous" and increasingly "global" imagery has become syncretized into a socially appropriate national femininity.   Furthermore, as I discuss later on, it highlights some inadvertent consequences of such nationalist productions, including the reliance of Canadian discourses of nationalism on the appropriation of powerful global symbols of femininity to legitimate itself as a nation.  The remainder of my paper, then, is concerned with the relationship between femininity and discourses which link notions of bodily discipline, race, class, and nationalism, and the final section applies these ideas to an analysis of  Joseé Chouinard as a metaphor for an idealized sense of "Canadianness." I will also outline how "official" ideals of femininity are applicable only to particular classed and racialized female skating bodies.

[11] Drawing upon the writings of Foucault (1978, 1979), many feminist scholars have examined how the female body has been "disciplined" in a variety of socio-historical contexts to conform to dominant societal expectations of femininity and female respectability (eg. Bordo 1991, 1993; MacLaren 2002; Wolff 1990; Quinby and Diamond 1988; Ramazanoglu 1993). Others have analyzed how women have internalized such  dominant gender expectations, often resulting in instances of self-surveillance, or the policing of women’s own bodies. Bordo (1992), for instance, views eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia as disciplinary mechanisms resulting from conformity to hegemonic discourses of femininity which equate physically thin bodies with notions of discipline and control – both of which are highly idealized constructs of an appropriate femininity.  Above, I briefly observed how gendered differences in training regimes influenced the construction of a "socially appropriate" femininity in Canadian skating.  Beyond this, how are notions of "discipline" linked with idealized perceptions of class and race?  Furthermore, how do these identities merge with the construction of femininity in Canadian figure skating and in what ways do certain female skating bodies act as metaphors for the nation? 

[12] Dyer’s (1997:17) research outlines the ways in which Victorian ideals of whiteness became associated in the West with perceived feminine virtues of purity, virtue, and discipline.  He explains how the Christian image of Mary  has been increasingly "whitened" in Christian iconography over the years to symbolize her virtue, and within the Catholic Church, her virginity.  Mary thus came to be regarded as "the supreme exemplar of feminine whiteness."  Similarly, he notes how, since the nineteenth century, female imagery in cinema and advertisements has been concerned with whitening the female face (Dyer 1997:48), because "to be a lady is to be as white as it gets" (Dyer 1997:57).  Hollywood films, he explains, routinely use various forms of camera backlighting to emphasize female whiteness, and to stress the "luminous" quality of white females.  Frankenberg (1993:77) also suggests that the concept of femininity is a highly racialized and classed one.  In her examination of inter-racial sexual relationships, she observes how white women who chose to have inter-racial relationships are often considered to be "loose, sexually unsuccessful or sexually radical" (Frankenberg 1993:77).

[13] Historically in Canadian skating, the "whiteness," and thus the "purity" of Canadian female skaters is often juxtaposed against American or other international competitors to demonstrate how Canadian skaters conform to, or even exceed, traditional societal expectations of an "appropriate femininity" predicated upon notions of female bodily discipline.  White skin and white bodies are highly valued; throughout my research, such adjectives as "pure, "luminous" and "beautiful" were applied to stories told about white female skaters.  One day, for instance, I was sitting talking to a coach about Canada’s female skaters and I asked him about the technical superiority of women from other nations and his argument turned (unconsciously to him) into a racialized and classed one.  He compared the skating styles of  Caucasian Canadian skaters like Jennifer Robinson, Elizabeth Manley, and Joseé Chouinard to the technical prowess of the late 1980s/early 1990s  French black skater, Surya Bonaly, and Japan’s Midori Ito to argue that the former skaters were technically superior, but valued more for what he perceived to be their "exotic" style, which, in turn, was considered a threat to their femininity.  He claimed, for example, that;

If we want to be at the top, then our girls have to have all that, you know, classic sort of a grace like Barbara Ann.  You know, competitors like Surya  and Midori Ito, they had the really masculine, exotic sort of style and yeah, it got them some great technical marks.  I mean, not many women are out there attempting triple axels.  But skating is really all about beauty and sophistication and all the really powerful women skaters have modeled themselves after Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn, or that sort of a thing.  That’s what our women have to offer and it just comes natural to them.  And I’m not saying they’re not up there technically.  I mean, they’re obviously not as aggressive as someone like Surya, but she’s never really had the respect, you see.  She’s a great skater, in an exotic kind of a way I suppose, but she’s missing the classic basics our girls have.  And she’s not the nicest person out there either, let me tell you…

The coach went on to  question the training regime of Bonaly, claiming that she lacked the "initiative of Canadian girls."

[14] In this ethnographic example, we see how the supposedly "progressive" identity of the Canadian state is constituted through its juxtaposition with, and visual objectification of, "exotic" others.   Historically, the spectacularization or exhibition of  the non-white bodies of female "Others" has been a common feature in the construction of Western nationalist ideologies throughout modernity within the context of visual spectacles like world fairs, beauty contests, exhibitions, circuses, and a variety of other exhibitionary regimes (see, for example, Alloula 1986; Kondo 1997; Mitchell 1988), and figure skating is no exception. Indeed, the visual display of female bodies in figure skating represents one locus in which a sense of nationalism is fostered by feeding off visual representations of otherness and exoticism in that certain Canadian citizens are encouraged to view themselves as "civilized" and "enlightened" only when they are able to contrast themselves with the supposedly less feminine and racialized "Other."  In this way, hierarchies of femininity, predicated partly upon notions of race and ethnicity, are constructed. Ultimately then, the above example illustrates the ways in which race and ethnicity are conflated with notions of an appropriate femininity to constitute defining features of a dominant Canadian identity. 

[15] Canada’s first official policy of multiculturalism was instituted in 1971 by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to officially recognize the plurality and ethnic diversity of Canada’s population, and it has since been upheld by the federal government as a national symbol for Canadians, and used to provide the nation with a distinct identity.  There have been many critiques of Canada’s multiculturalism policies, and many scholars claim that Trudeau’s views represent the views of white, English-Canada (eg. Huggins 1994:56; Mackey 1999:148; McRoberts 1997:xii; Reitz and Breton 1994). Mackey (1999:148), for example, insists that, "Canadian nation-building is not based on the erasure of difference but on controlling and managing it; difference is allowed, in defined and carefully limited ways, as long as the project of Canadian nation-building comes first." Similarly, as Bannerji (2000:42) argues, Canada’s official policies of multiculturalism,  "do not reside in language, religion, or other aspects of culture, but rather in the European/North American physical origin – in the body colour of skin."  Those outside this ideal of whiteness are "targets for assimilation or toleration" (Bannerji 2000:42).  Multiculturalism is thus viewed by many as a process that accepts diversity only as far as it does not disrupt the overall political and cultural hegemony of white individuals of European descent.  In this light, white female Canadian figure skaters, through their conformity to pre-existing, idealized notions of femininity, and by extension, "discipline," provide one benchmark against which notions of "Canadianness" are measured. 

[16] In many ways, then, the dominant Caucasian elite in Canadian society possess the power to define the acceptable boundaries of Canadianness, a boundary that is dependent upon the notion of "passing" as white. Lipsitz (1998) discusses the significance of what he calls a "possessive investment in whiteness."  He argues that "whiteness has cash value"(Lipsitz 1998:vii) and it accounts for the social advantages and privileges afforded to white people, such as better access to housing, education, medical care, and employment. Bernardi (2001) also draws attention to the socio-historical circumstances in which the concept of "whiteness" is constructed.  He outlines how, at different moments in history, various ethnic groups, such as Irish and Jewish peoples, have not been considered "white." Ultimately, Bernardi (2001:xxi) views whiteness and race as a performance about "passing," and he suggests that;

there are no white people per se, only those who pass as white. And passing as white, at least in the United States, has almost always had something to do with "acting" and "looking" - making – white.

The ambiguous, shifting, and culturally constructed nature of the category of "race" leads to a consideration of the ways in which non-white people have come to "pass" as white.  In other words, what qualities count as "white" in Canadian figure skating performance, and why are issues of race so central in the construction of femininity in Canadian skating?

[17] Throughout my research, I found that non-white female skaters were actively encouraged to participate in the sport, provided they conform to its pre-existing aesthetics.  At one skating competition I attended, for instance, I overheard a skating official comment upon the skating costume of a young black female competitor, and she remarked, "she really tries hard, but you know, the costume really accentuates her muscles compared to the other [white] girls.  She’s got such a unique, exotic flair to her, and an exotic costume.  I think she just maybe needs a little bit of help, you know, and she’ll come along really well.  We can turn her into an ice princess yet!" In many ways, the Canadian figure skating "community" had a vested interest in retaining the primarily European  cultural heritage of the sport.  The costumes, choreography, and musical selection for amateur female skaters is expected to conform to a predominantly European-inspired classical balletic style, with music and costumes (especially in women’s skating) influenced by classical music, opera, or ballet. Female skaters that deviate from this norm are questioned as valid national symbols, and in many instances, their racial or ethnic background is unconsciously or inadvertently highlighted in discursive contexts, thereby positioning them outside the privileged, unmarked category of "whiteness." In categorizing a female skater as an "ethnic" skater, her femininity, and, by extension, her citizenship, is questioned. This is what one coach, for instance, had to say about her female Japanese-Canadian skaters:

I have about three young [female] skaters with a Japanese heritage, and they’re just great...very polite and hard-working.  Originally, you know, when they came to me, they had some bad techniques they’d been taught by another Japanese coach, and absolutely no finesse or style really.  Bad, wonky Japanese music they were skating to too, which didn’t really accentuate their femininity, you know.  Well, I guess I shouldn’t really say that.  It wasn’t bad music, it just wasn’t suitable here, in skating, you know.  But we were able to work the kinks out of them, and now they’re maybe even better than some of the Canadian skaters I’ve got. [They’re] now very graceful. They’ve come such a long way, but before, it was really difficult.  We want them to blend in with skating and to realize what a beautiful sport it is and how a beautiful girl should act and perform with grace, you know?

The coach’s comparison between her "Japanese" and "Canadian" skaters left me confused as to whether the former students were Japanese international students from Japan, or Canadian skaters, so I asked:

Karen: So, your Japanese skaters are just here visiting from Japan to get training?

Coach: Oh no, their parents moved to Canada about ten years ago, and they have dual citizenship.

Karen: Oh, okay.  I was just confused as to whether they were visiting or not.

The coach’s  initial remark, that, "now they’re maybe even better than some of the Canadian skaters I’ve got" sets up an interesting juxtaposition that positions her female Japanese-Canadian skaters outside of  the unmarked category of white "Canadian" skaters.  Whiteness is thus constructed as a  category of natural citizenship whereas the Japanese-Canadian skaters’ citizenship hinged upon their ability to "pass" as white. Furthermore, the coach’s comment concerning the inability of the "wonky Japanese" music to accentuate the femininity of the girls’ bodies, demonstrates the narrow range of socially acceptable femininities in Canadian skating performance, and the ways in which "whiteness" merges with notions of femininity.

[18] The above comments also highlight some important considerations concerning the increasingly visible presence of female skaters from Asian backgrounds in elite North American skating and the ways in which North Americans of Asian descent are oftentimes positioned as "honorary whites" (Tuan 1999).  In the United States, two of the most commercially successful and recognizable female champions are Kristi Yamaguchi (the 1992 Olympic gold medalist) and, more recently, the four-time World champion and Olympian, Michelle Kwan.  Canada also possesses a high number of elite female skaters of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese heritage, although none have yet won any World or Olympic titles.  Such skaters, I argue, are accepted into the predominantly "white" world of figure skating, and have achieved widespread media attention, not only due to their athletic achievements, but because Asian-American females are frequently positioned by the dominant (white) North American culture as "naturally" hyper-feminine, disciplined, and modest – all qualities of an ideal female skating champion that facilitates their ability to "pass" as white in the figure skating community.  Many scholars (eg Hamamoto 1994; Lowe 1996; Kondo 1997) argue that Asian-Americans, in general, are feminized in dominant Western discourses.  Kondo (1997), for example, in her analysis of gendered stereotypes in David Henry Hwang’s play, M.Butterfly, argues that the origin of Western stereotypes of the hyper-feminized, demure, polite, and shy Asian woman are rooted in nineteenth and early twentieth century colonizing narratives which seek to position the West as a  masculinist, colonial and imperial superpower.  Such stereotypes concerning the perceived natural or biological basis for the "femininity" of Asian women have persisted in many of the stories of the coaches and skaters I spoke with. Throughout my fieldwork, I found that Japanese and Chinese skaters were highly valued by their (usually white)  Canadian coaches for their perceived inherent qualities of femininity.  As one coach said to me,

Jacqueline is so disciplined, just like the other Japanese girls I’ve got here.  It’s, you know, a real part of their culture.  And that just makes it so easy to train in skating.  And she’s such a lady.  That just comes real natural to her – we didn’t have to work on that.  Just a little work changing the music and the costumes, you know.

In other words, because many female skaters of Asian descent are thought to be "naturally" endowed with an idealized femininity, they require only "a little work" to ensure that they "pass" as white and are socialized into mainstream definitions of socially appropriate gender roles in figure skating.

[19] The extent to which racial or ethnic difference is managed and marginalized in Canadian figure skating is oftentimes quite obvious, and the link between notions of discipline, femininity, and race are also readily apparent in the following example.  I went to a local skating rink one day to watch a competition among singles female skaters.  There was one black female skater in the competition, and she placed third.  Afterward, I found her mother and talked to her while "Kathy" was getting changed.  Below is a transcipt of our discussion:

Mother: she’s been doing really well in skating here I think.  She saw it so much on the T.V. when she was about 4, and wanted to just be a figure skater.  It’s hard though being black and trying to fit into this sport.  At one competition we went to last year, I think, Kathy’s aunt did her hair in these gorgeous long braids and it took her more than half the day to do it.  She got it done just to wear it at a competition.  She skated well, and was ranked well; she came in third place.  I thought she should have come second, mind you.  No one could have beaten the top girl though.  First was a stretch because she wobbled on her sit spin.  Anyway, you won’t believe what a judge came and said to me!  He came over and said something like, "Kathy’s a very talented skater.  I think though that she was looking a little too ethnic and maybe she should tone down that unruly hair and it might improve her score, plus make her more ladylike."  Well, you know, I was real mad.  I said to him, "what do you mean by that?," and he backed off a little, but he said, "maybe she could put it in a neat bun." I complained to her coach right after.  I mean, they shouldn’t be losing a placement because someone doesn’t like her hair.  Her coach just said to me, "yeah, I know that was really inappropriate, but I’d have to agree a bit with him.  Her hair is a bit much.  It’s always best to go with a minimalist look to keep everyone happy," or something like that.
Karen: So what did you do after that?
Mother: Well, we tried that in the next competition, and no one has complained about her hair since, so if it shuts them up and makes everyone happy, then so be it.

Once again, we see how in figure skating, "passing" as white is an essential component of a female skater’s competitive success.  This can occur by changing a skater’s music selection (as was the case in the previous example of Japanese-Canadian skaters) to conform to the more "traditional" European-influenced classical musical traditions, or by altering a skater’s physical appearance or costume to what is perceived to be a "white" aesthetic. The example above also highlights my earlier point concerning the connection between femininity and "discipline" in Canadian skating.  The fact that the judge made a connection between this black skater’s "unruly," "ethnic" hair and an undisciplined, "unladylike" demeanor once again highlights how an appropriate "national" femininity is predicated upon particular notions of race.

Social Class and Femininity in Women’s Figure Skating

[20] While figure skating in general is a sport that requires a high level of individual discipline, bodily "discipline," as outlined above,  was often viewed by spectators, coaches, and skaters as an inherent quality of Canadian women, and it was frequently linked with notions not only of race and ethnicity, but social class as well.  This portion of my paper therefore discusses the convergences between "femininity," nationalism, and class in Canadian skating. This relationship was often made material through my informants’ discursive juxtapositions between the seemingly disciplined bodies of Canadian skaters and, as one informant described them, the "slack," "lazy" bodies of American skaters.  Americans, it seems, are perceived as lacking qualities of discipline and persistent comparisons between skaters from the two countries reified a perceived superiority of the Canadian skating body and legitimated its utility as a national symbol. Canadian women, for example, were often constructed as the more "feminine" women - a category frequently judged by particular conceptions of class.

[21] Stoloff (1995) argues that in figure skating, notions of femininity and social class converge.  Indeed, social class has historically been a standard by which one’s "femininity" is measured.  "Lower class" individuals are believed to be excessive bodies that lack bodily  containment and control, important indices of femininity.  Stoloff (1995:228) observes, for example, how the media was particularly fond of filming the masculinized body of Tonya Harding, with her poorly designed, ill-fitting costumes and "heavy thighs" while she was using her asthma inhaler.  Such representations were popular because they signified a lack of control, not so much because Harding had asthma, but because she was a smoker.  Her cigarette smoking rapidly became a signifier of her undesirable, low social status and a carelessness about her body.

[22] Throughout my fieldwork, I found that discursive comparisons between Canadian and American skaters frequently position Canadians as belonging to a higher social class. Oftentimes, the stories of some of my skating  informants were replete with  notions of genetic parallels between nation and class.  Despite the fact that America has produced a number of stereotypical, "feminine ice princesses," that Canadian skaters (perhaps unconsciously) seek to emulate, such as Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Kristi Yamaguchi, Sarah Hughes, and Tara Lipinski, it was Tonya Harding who was the favourite topic of conversation among my Canadian informants.   One skater I interviewed mentioned that the Tonya Harding incident, for instance, "was not surprising to me really. Canadian skaters have too much class for something like that to go on [in Canada]."  I discussed the event in another context with a Canadian corporate sponsor who asked, "well, what can you expect from Americans?"  She went on to say that:

I think we [Canadians] want to show that our skaters are well-bred, if you excuse that phrase.  I mean, we don’t want any Tonya Hardings up here, thank you very much.  I think for Canadians that would be really embarrassing to us.  And I don’t think that sort of thing would happen here.  We just don’t have people in skating like that up here.  It’s something you’d expect from Americans though, isn’t it?  You’re not going to see any of our girls on Jerry Springer, that’s for sure.  Tonya, you know, never really had the dedication and strength of training we have here.

American skaters like Tonya Harding are not deemed to possess marketability or consumer appeal, largely due to, as one informant referred to Harding, "her trailer trash ways."  Furthermore, Harding, with  her "trailer trash" sensibilities, is clearly identified in the above quote as an "American," and came to serve as a metaphor for the ways in which a sense of "Canadianness" is constructed out of difference to the United States. The Canadian sponsor claims that such an individual would not rise to a similar level of athletic achievement in a nation like Canada, thereby highlighting how notions of Canadian national identity are inscribed onto the bodies of female skaters.

[23] The circulation of Harding’s image on what my informant perceived as "lower-class" talk shows served to diminish Harding’s appeal as a skater.  Her inability to adhere to a strict training regime was also viewed as lacking in an acceptable level of social class and feminine restraint, a common critique levelled against American female competitors. At one skating competition I attended, for instance, another spectator had this to say about a female American skater, whose increased weight was viewed as an index of her lack of control and personal discipline.  Her lack of "discipline," however, was also considered a sign of her association with a lower social class, which, in turn, served as a means of defining a sense of  "Canadianness:"

I don’t want to be really critical or anything, but has she put on weight?  I think I read somewhere that she’d been having some eating problems and some people had seen her eating out with big meals and drinking.  That’s just so not classy.  Oh-there’s Jennifer Robinson [Canadian skater].What a pretty costume!   I read she [Jennifer Robinson] has really gone through a lot to get here...

Such comparisons illustrate how the female body operates as a tool in the production of a sense of Canadian identity.  Through discursive comparisons of Canadian skaters with the supposedly inferior, "lower class" American female bodies, a sense of national pride is cultivated.  Even more meaningful is the fact that Canadians typically view themselves as victims of American foreign policy and American consumerism.  Canadian identity discourses, as is the case in the Robinson example above, derive their authority, in part, from the ability to define themselves out of difference to the United States. In many ways, however, the globalizing tendencies of American consumer culture are simultaneously appropriated and subverted in the narratives of my Canadian informants.  American consumerism (and, by extension, America itself) has come to be associated with the sort of excessive, lower-class, "un-pure" femininity embodied by skaters like Tonya Harding.  At the same time, however, there exists a strong desire to emulate American Hollywood icons, and to appropriate, if only briefly, the perceived "power" and prestige of such symbols for the production of a Canadian national identity, a concept elaborated upon below.  Ultimately, in Canadian women’s figure skating, dominant images of femininity and class are syncretized with discourses of Canadian nationalism partly through the trope of nostalgia, addressed below, which functions as a unifying, or centripetal discourse in its effort to merge particular conceptions of femininity with that of the nation.

Nostalgia and Social Class

[24] Throughout my research, I was fascinated by the fact that many of my informants’ stories, based on Canada’s "official" skating history, were dependent upon evoking an idealized sense of the past to undermine what is perceived as a disparaging present. Many coaches I spoke with were quick to critique the supposed "evils" of modern society that currently plague young female skaters, including junk food, drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol.  The proliferation of these types of narratives was not surprising, and many scholars have argued that there has been a resurgence of nostalgic remembrances or reinterpretations of the past in postmodernity.  Kathleen Stewart (1998:227), for example, observes that:

…nostalgia rises to importance as a cultural practice as culture becomes more and more diffuse…as culture takes on the power of ‘distance’ that comes of displacing speakers – the power to flatten distinctions, to blur genres, to unname the practice of the social world so that they look like nature.

Representations of the glamorous bodies of past Canadian skating icons like Barbara Ann Scott, the perenially "white," "ladylike" and glamorous competitor, are popular in media discourses.  At many of the National Championships I watched on Canadian networks, nostalgic background videographies were integrated with clips of present-day Canadian skaters who were captured on film while spinning or jumping, thereby implicating a continuity between past and present.  On CTV’s coverage of the 2001 Canadian championships, for example, Scott was hailed for her "glamour, poise, and grace," and the commentator went on to suggest that these qualities "endure in our [female] champions today."  The media thus inform audiences of "acceptable" representations of Canada wherein nostalgia operates as an educational device which seeks to discipline new generations of Canadians about figure skating’s past, thereby, in many instances, perpetuating static, monolithic representations of female bodies to represent the nation.

[25] Indeed, the public’s nostalgic remembrances of former sports heroes like Scott are an important component of many nationalist ideologies, and are frequently used to foster the illusion of hegemonic, enduring identities in the face of internal and external change.  Through an exploration of the sport of rugby, Nauright (2000), for instance, discusses how mediated representations of rugby have been employed in many countries, and especially in England, Australia, and New Zealand, as a means of preserving a conservative, mainstream masculinity and as a way to "preserve remnants of past glories or of fading social values in the face of immigration and changing values" (Nauright 2000:228).

[26] Many nostalgic discourses of skating, it seems, stress the importance of social class, and the ability to "improve" one’s social standing through a combination of hard work and recourse to nostalgic remembrances of the virtues and aesthetics of past Canadian champions. Female skaters are expected to conform in appearance and demeanor to icons like Scott, who are upheld as acceptable and desirable symbols of femininity.  In fact, with the exception of the technical requirements, the costumes, choreography, and musical selection in women’s skating have remained fairly static in the past fifty years, with each new generation of female skaters seeking to replicate the styles of former skaters.

[27] Nostalgic remembrances of the past were evident in the importance female skaters attached to their costumes as an index of their "femininity" – a femininity predicated upon an upper class, Hollywoodized ideal of female beauty.  During an interview I conducted with one female skater who asked to remain anonymous, she brought out her favourite skating costumes and  was fingering an elaborate black skating costume made of two types of fine fabric.  She said to me, "I didn’t want one of those machine-made dresses like the other girls wear."  She talked at length about the importance of the embroidery, and how she selected an expensive, rare Belgian lace, stressing its "one-of-a-kind" features – qualities that somehow set her apart from those skaters wearing supposedly inferior, mass-produced costumes.  The individuality of her costume, and the care taken in the selection of materials and design, were indicative of her desire to re-create the perceived romance of the past, and she stated that, "this is the type of thing that Barbara Ann Scott would have worn. This type of material was really popular during that period in the 40s in Hollywood, that whole style of beauty and that time. A lot of actresses were using this sort of material at that time.  I feel so beautiful when I wear it and I’m, you know, proud."  Media discourses surrounding her costume also consisted of approving discussions of the "fine details" and "one-of-a kind" nature, which was juxtaposed against the "machine made" costumes of her two American competitors.  At two different points throughout the broadcast, television journalists likened her image to that of Scott.

[28] The significance of costumes to my informants demonstrates  the extent to which their narratives were mediated by notions of time, and particularly by highly idealized references to a romantic, celebrated  past that is made material and tangible through reference to material things.   Of particular relevance here is the way in which the costume above was discursively constructed as an item of conspicuous consumption.  In other words, the expensive, imported fabric and fine detailing were commented upon not only to link the skater to past skating icons, but also to distinguish the skater from the more common, less exclusive world of mass-produced skating costumes.  The expense and labour involved in the production of her costume was invoked as a sign of her superior status, her femininity, and, in many ways, her "Canadianness." Of particular relevance is that, at a competition I attended in Canada where the above skater wore this particular costume, she also received substantial media attention from the American press.  Interestingly, many Canadian reporters reported on this phenomenon, and there was much approving discussion among the Canadian media about the American coverage of the skater in question.  In other words, many Canadian reporters, instead of covering the competition itself, chose to report on how the Americans were reporting about this Canadian skater, and one Canadian media member I spoke with, for example, remarked that, "it’s great she’s becoming such a national icon and getting this sort of attention in the States.  She’s a wonderful, beautiful, polite girl and she just deserves it….[she is] just like a star…"

[29] Ultimately, such discourses provide an opportunity for an exploration of how national identity narratives are interwoven with transnational and global forces, and in particular, within a global visual culture that, at present, "may be described, without too much exaggeration, as being saturated with the products and influence of Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and CNN" (Messaris 2001:189).  In many ways, the "identity" of Canadian female skaters is thus constituted, in an ambiguous way, through the simultaneous acceptance and rejection of "American" imagery.  The next section of my paper discusses how Joseé Chouinard was constructed as an idealized metaphor for Canadian femininity that links together notions of class and race.

Regionalisms and Femininity in Canadian Figure Skating

[30] As I have pointed out, female figure skaters  are recognized as valuable commodities to advertisers who unconsciously link identities of gender, race, class, and the nation with nostalgic discourses for an idealized past. This is what one sponsor I spoke with had to say about his company’s sponsorship of  Canadian champion Joseé Chouniard:

She is just like the girl next door, you know - sweet, beautiful, nice. She’s the nicest girl you’ll ever meet.  Very polite. She reminds me of Barbara Ann and Karen Magnussen in style… so refined... [She is] just what Canadians are looking for in their sports heroes.

Within Canadian skating, nostalgic pre-event video and verbal television commentaries force spectators to reflect on  past Canadian champions who are routinely  fawned over, and clips of early black and white video images invoke a sense of nostalgia for a glorified past.  Discourses surrounding Chouinard’s move to Toronto to train valorized her new-found conformity to pre-existing feminine ideals espoused by skaters like Scott – an aesthetic that, as I will demonstrate, relied upon her transformation from a "French-Canadian" skater to a "Canadian" skater.  This transformation is predicated upon Chouinard’s appropriation of English "mainstream" culture, and particularly of the imagery (in the form of costumes, hairstyles, and music selection) of former female icons of Canadian skating and other "glamorous" Hollywoodized representations.

[31] In the process of conducting fieldwork, I observed that there were distinct regional differences in attitudes toward training techniques and skating philosophies. When I inquired about the trademarks or unique qualities of students at their skating school, coaches would always be able to label a "distinctive style" that their skaters possessed. Doug Haw of the Toronto Cricket, Skating, and Curling Club had this to say:

Our skaters are really packaged well.  That’s because Mrs. Burka had a great deal of influence from her balletic style, with a very stretched finishing position from the Toller Cranston era when she stressed a very extended free leg that’s elevated and with your arms out.  I think our skaters here have amazing finish.  That’s kind of our trademark.

Another coach from the same club told me that, "our skaters are very classical skaters, and technically sound.  This comes from the training of Mrs. Burka and Mr. Galbraith and their influence.  We’re not over-the-top in our style like some other training places.  Subtlety is best." Most Anglophone high level coaches had strong (usually negative) opinions about the skating styles of other schools/regions, and particularly Quebec.  According to one prominent Ontario coach:

French skaters from Quebec are known as going really fast and their costumes to me are over the top...way too much beading and way too much make-up.  The little girls look trashy like Jon Benet Ramsey.  When you see them, it’s like, oh my gosh, you can tell they’re from Quebec.  We don’t want any of that here [at our club].  I mean they’re great skaters, but when you talk to [primarily Anglophone] judges, it’s almost like they just wish they could mark them down for being a stylistic fiasco.  They’re diamonds-in-the-rough.

One Skate Canada representative and former world medalist, was more generous in her assessment of Quebec’s skaters:

I think there’s a different energy with Quebec skaters at a younger level.  I had the fortune to direct a training centre in Atlantic Canada for three years.  It was an initiative with the Association to create these regional training centres and we had a number of French Canadian skaters and there was a different energy, a different sort of approach and attitude to their training and skating experience.  I think that’s part of it.  It’s not the same as the American attitude but certainly I think there’s much more assertiveness or aggression in the younger French skaters at an earlier age.  I think if you go to a national championship, the Quebec skaters have this tie — language, experience, customs, home environment, most are bilingual, and they easily float in and out of languages.  I think though, it’s the high energy.  They run and talk at the same time.  That type of energy you don’t necessarily see with the other Canadian kids or training centres.
Karen: Is there a distinct Quebecois style?
Valerie: I think the young French skaters are very aggressive.  I think the young skaters from the rest of the country are a little more refined, a little better packaged at an earlier age depending on the resources they have. It’s just a better, more classy presentation.

[32] Increasingly, it appears that local styles of skating, costuming, and demeanor are being subsumed by hegemonic, Toronto-based perceptions of what constitutes an  appropriate female "style" at the national level - a style that is increasingly predicated, at the elite level, on global societal aesthetics.  After training in Laval for her entire amateur career, Chouinard moved to Toronto in preparation for the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics to train at the Granite Club under well-known coach Louis Stong and renowned choreographer, Sandra Bezic.  Although never acknowledged explicitly, stories surrounding Chouinard’s career label the move as a major success story.  While always a talented and successful skater, Chouinard, as the reigning national champion,  received, in the words of one Ontario coach I talked with, a "makeover" in terms of choreography, program selection, costuming, and coaching styles.  People gushed at the final result.  Skating to the music from La Fille Mal Gardeé and An American in Paris, she was transformed into, in the words of one coach, "a subtle, sophisticated, understated lady."  Other people likened her to Audrey Hepburn.  At one point in her career, Chouinard even mimicked Hepburn’s clothing and hairstyle by skating to the song, Moon River from Hepburn’s famous film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, in 1995.  

[33] Quebec produces the majority of the nation’s top skaters. This is due, in part, to the fact that there exists a much larger provincial funding budget for amateur sport in Quebec than any other province.  In addition, coaching and training fees in Quebec are lower, thereby enabling a larger proportion of the population to participate in the sport.  While Quebec’s skaters are recognized for their high speed and excellent technical ability, many top female skaters receive their "finishing" at top private Anglophone institutions, primarily in Ontario and Alberta.  Others receive training from international coaches.

[34] The bodies of Quebec’s skaters, then, as evidenced in the Chouinard example,  are often characterized by Anglophone Canadian skating discourses as "excessive."   Bodily excess, in the form of  the heavy make-up and ornate costumes is associated with a variety of identities, including that of a lower class status (see, for example, Sweeney 1997).  The discursive construction of the bodies of many of Quebec’s skaters as "overly aggressive" and "made-up" positions them in an unfavourable position for involvement in the production of a national identity, and, for the most part, the style, costuming, and demeanor of their female skaters is suppressed or altered at high levels of competition.   This example is indicative of a much larger phenomenon in the politics of the formation of official discourses of the nation, and the ways in which certain identities are marginalized.

[35] Unlike many of my informants, I find absolutely no physical similarity between Joseé Chouinard and Audrey Hepburn.  Nevertheless, these discursive analogies, as I previously mentioned, demonstrate the degree to which the nation’s  understanding of contemporary Canadian society is mediated by global flows of popular entertainment culture, and the fact that much of this culture originates in the United States.  Messaris (2001:186), for example, asks, "what are the consequences of being immersed mentally in a world of T.V. and movies for such a large and regular portion of one’s existence?"  Ultimately, the control of television networks over the production of hegemonic Canadian identities are maintained by corporate sponsors who recognize that such images draw viewers and make lucrative sponsorships.  One sponsor I spoke with, for instance, gushed over Joseé Chouinard, claiming that she was, "the essence of the Canadian spirit.  She’s a lovely, classy lady."

[36] Chouinard’s transformation into a "lady" of high social class and, by extension, of national worth, occurred through a "refinement" of her on-ice appearance and technique in well-established, urban skating clubs.  Her status as a skater of national significance is also fostered by the fact that her image became highly marketable in international circles.  The hegemony of Toronto and other large centers in the production of skating bodies for national and international consumption serves to exclude particular styles of skating from many areas of the country, including those from Quebec, despite the fact that Quebec actually produces the majority of skating champions at the national or international level.  When I discussed this concept with some Quebecois coaches, they felt that the national and international circulation of their skaters was the important thing to consider, and were proud that their skaters were able to "make it" to the elite centres for their "refinement."

Conclusion

[37] This paper has sought to understand how a "socially appropriate" femininity is constructed and performed in Canadian figure skating and how conceptions of femininity are linked with particular notions of race, class, and national identity. Most recently, with the increasingly significant role of advertisers and media networks in the production of national identities, the constant media presence of figures like female skaters in the Canadian and international media aids in the production of various sorts of hegemonic gendered identities for public consumption.  Many people I spoke with, like Kathy’s mother, for example, were cognizant of the oftentimes overt racism and classism within the sport, and I found many examples of subtle or even overt resistance to the dominant aesthetics promoted in skating.  Many skaters, for example, wore various accessories that were disapproved of by judges, or they styled their hair in ways they had been cautioned against.  One skater I spoke with wore a nose ring during her competition, despite having been cautioned against such "extreme" and "unladylike" behavior that ran counter to the clean-cut sort of image figure skating wants to promote.  Nevertheless, because the majority of coaches, officials, and judges are trained within a particular "white aesthetic," as described throughout my paper, those skaters who seek to question or subvert figure skating’s narrow range of "acceptable" female aesthetics are taught or disciplined to conform to dominant, Euro-Canadian aesthetics if they wish to win competitions.   Furthermore, the consistent media presence of skaters like Chouinard serves to educate Canadians about appropriate gender norms.
Ultimately, the discourses of many of my informants reinforced a particular classed, racialized imagery that functioned, at times, as a narrative about anti-diversity.

[38] Many female skaters are frequently framed in the media as passive, modest, "innocent" (and thereby "feminine") victims at the hands of American powers.  For example, in a highly publicized incident at the 1994 Olympics, Chouinard was scheduled to skate immediately following Tonya Harding.  A few seconds into her program, Harding’s skate lace broke, and after crying and explaining her situation to the referee,  she was given the opportunity to find new laces and skate at the end of her flight of skaters.  Chouinard was then forced onto the ice prior to her scheduled start time, with deleterious consequences.  Visibly nervous, Chouinard fell several times throughout her performance.  Several years later, I interviewed a former Canadian skater about his thoughts on the event, and he remarked:

this is just another instance of the corruption of Tonya.  This leads one to wonder if the U.S. Skating Federation should have let her compete here at all.  I question the integrity of the organizers.  Joseé is such a beautiful skater, and I think we’d all agree that she doesn’t need to be made a part of this vulgar American spectacle.  I would have challenged the referee’s decision.

The Chouinard example illustrates how qualities of female vulnerability are simultaneously promoted and destabilized in Canadian skating, a quality I commented upon earlier in my discussion of training regimes.  This was true even among Canadian spectators when I asked their opinions of some of Canada’s top female skaters in the last decade, and these were some of their responses:

Oh, she’s [Chouinard] such a beautiful skater, a beautiful girl.  But she goes and falls all the time!  At least she’s not mouthy like that American I saw on T.V. the other day.

The Americans are so much better than us, but that comes at a price.  They’re different, tougher.  Joseé is amazing.  She’s beautiful, a real lady.

[39] In many ways, then, Chouinard, like many other female skaters, is discursively constructed as a reminder of the vulnerability of the nation in an increasingly globalized climate.  At the same time, however, her visual appropriation of, and nostalgia for, the clothing and imagery of Hollywood film stars, and the overwhelmingly approving response she attained from Canadian fans and the media, highlights aspects of the critically important role American and other global forces play in the constitution of a hegemonic Canadian identity, and to the tension between national and global forces in the construction of national representations.  Ultimately, figure skating, as one locus for the production of  identities, represents an important forum for an analysis of the intersections between race, class, and gender in Canadian society.  Many of the narratives of my informants serve to problematize or question "official" Canadian discourses which position multiculturalism and diversity as a Canadian "ideal."  In doing so, they draw attention to the continuing power of Anglo-Canadian culture to define acceptable boundaries of "Canadianness," – an identity predicated, in part, upon particular, narrowly defined conceptions of an "acceptable femininity."

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I thank the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for providing funding for this project. I am also grateful to the anonymous GENDERS reviewers as well as Penny Van Esterik, David Murray, and especially Kenneth Little.

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Contributor's Note

KAREN MCGARRY conducted ethnographic research among high performance Canadian figure skaters between 2000 and 2002, and she received her Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from York University in 2003. She currently teaches in the departments of Anthropology at both York and Trent universities in Ontario, Canada.

 

Copyright ©2005
Ann Kibbey.

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Genders

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