- Red Nails, Black Skates: Gender, Cash, and Pleasure on and off the Ice by Erica Rand
Red Nails, Black Skates: Gender, Cash and Pleasure on and off the Ice is an ethnographically influenced look at figure skating that anthropologizes the ways we “use and think about … bodies in general, and about the interconnected matters regarding gender, sexuality, sports, movement, resources, risks, age, race, economics, politics, pain, and pleasure” (Introduction). The book is divided into eight sections, each with an introduction that outlines the topics at issue found there. Each section contains three chapters—with the exceptions of sections 3–4, 8, which each contain four—that begin with an anecdotal or experiential narrative to set the critical frame for the subsequent analyses. Rand relies heavily upon her own participation in figure skating—attended and televised skating activities—in addition to interviews, a children’s book about figure skating, and skater biographies and memoirs, as well as television talent contests like “So You Think you Can Dance?” to construct figure skating as a study of the politics of the body and consensual gender (section 4, Introduction). Consensual gender, in Rand’s terms, explains the ways in which people comply with prescribed gender norms. In the context of figure skating, women skaters consent to the sport’s feminine mandates that require women to disguise their athleticism under elegant, “arduously learned” body movements.
The book’s full title provides ample insight into its concerns and its contributions to the way we think about the signs bodies carry. The opening anecdote sets the critical stage as Rand recounts attending the Gay Games, an international, adult-only Olympic-style athletic competition. In it, she queries how the “gender traditionalism of figure skating” might be attenuated (ibid.). As indicated by the “black skates” in the title, figure skating codes gender “by color,” requiring white or tan skates for women and black skates for men. Rand explains that observing a male skater’s program to “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story capsulized how the Gay Games amplified figure skating’s general gendering [End Page 191] norms and exclusionary politics. While the audience celebrated the skater as “pretty, witty, and gay,” as the lyrics proclaim, the games were mainstream and dominated by white gay skaters, and the competitions were still slated as male/female, with the participating women appearing true to form. Hence, “women’s figure skating was not the Gay Games event for spectators in search of butch eye candy” (Introduction, to “Pretty and Witty but Not Quite a Book Project”). As a self-identified “queer fem dyke,” Rand experienced the games as a revision to, but reinforcement of, the traditional gender normativity of figure skating—a form of normativity that often collides with how skaters experience themselves as gendered bodies.
Querying the absence of a queer space on ice compels the author’s foray into the world of women’s hockey—a data-gathering move that, as a competitive figure skater, I view both with respect and suspicion; after all, one of our mottoes states: “If figure skating were easy, it’d be called hockey.” Rand reveals that the rules of dress and movement gender the participant bodies: feminine women and effeminate men figure skate, while butch women and manly men play hockey. While skating has costumes, hockey has uniforms; the apparent easy grace and flow of figure skating is contrasted to the heavy chop of hockey; it marks the participants in the latter as masculine athletes and those in the former as feminine artists. Moreover, the required movements conceal the workings of class, so that the “red nails” of the title signifies reading gender identity through the aesthetics of accouterment—namely, the “balletic aristocratic and child-beauty-pageant trampiness” of girls’ and women’s costumes (Introduction) and the many pieces of hockey gear that “need variously be pulled on, strapped on, or carefully situated or taped in place” (chapter 5). Further, she argues, such accessorizing is accentuated when the body...