Saturday’s A Rugby Day is a glimpse into women’s rugby, as played by the Oberlin Rhinos, a self-coached collegiate club team that has grown in size and skill over the years through the dedication and cooperation of its members. The pictures in this calendar are representative of a typical rugby day, starting with waking up ready to play, moving through our warm-up and pre-game rituals, taking us onto the pitch with the kick-off, and bringing the two teams together for the third half of our game: the social. We parody traditional beauty stereotypes by posing topless, juxtaposing the concept of the seductive and submissive pinup with images of powerful, strong female athletes, challenging mainstream depictions of gender and sexuality.
From the sidelines, rugby might seem like chaos wreaked by muddy, bruised, and bleeding players tackling each other to the ground or lifting their teammates by the shorts; however, as players we thrive on the beauty and physicality of the sport itself. We wear no padding or protective equipment, except our mouth guards, maybe a scrum cap, and the braces and bandages necessary to stabilize injuries from previous games. People question why we do this. Putting ourselves on the pitch with people twice our size, spending hours every week knocking each other around, and admiring the bruises on our teammates (while bragging about our own) are not endeavors that everyone can understand. What we hope to show with this calendar is that on the pitch, stereotypes about what women are fall away, and we’re left with our strength, determination, knowledge of the game, and most importantly our teammates, to collectively negotiate eighty minutes of elegant, consensual aggression.
With this calendar, we’re celebrating the beauty of women’s rugby, not only of our individual bodies, but also the coming together of these bodies to form a fierce, cohesive team. On the pitch, we rely on our teammates for our physical safety as we move the ball forward and take contact with other players, as well as our ability to effectively carry out strategic game play. The game is a testament to our relationships with each other and to the collective strength of our team, as well as our challenge to a patriarchal society that views women as weak and passive.
The images in this calendar emphasize our players’ strength, celebrating athletic bodies and defining those bodies as sexy. Many people on our team have expressed that rugby has empowered them by shifting the ways they conceptualize beauty and understand themselves within that context. It’s not uncommon to hear your teammates shouting “You’re so hot!” from the sidelines while you’re crashing down the pitch towards the try line. It is the self-confidence and strength that we gain through the game that makes us sexy, regardless of shape or size, and allows us to reject the dominant notion that women should be fragile and disembodied. We embrace our bruises because they are tangible signs of the things our body has done and can do.
We recognize differing perceptions of this work and invite you, the viewer, to think critically about the images and goals we are presenting. We hope to provoke dialogue about feminism, gender expectations, and sexuality in the Oberlin community and beyond, by challenging stereotypical depictions of women in mass media. Ultimately, we are immensely proud of this calendar as a visual narrative that speaks directly to our Rhino spirit.