Olympic Sexism

14 Aug


I HAD planned to write a post on sexism in the Olympics but Socialist Worker’s Leela Yellesetty did such a great job I thought I’d just point you in her direction.

From the well-reported news that female Japanese soccer players and Australian basketball players flew coach while their male peers got to travel in style in first class on the long haul to London 2012, to the Metro piece that cropped images of male athletes to focus on their butts and abs to highlight the sexism of the frame in photographs of female volleyball players that raced around Twitter, Yellesetty hits the nail on the head.

A particularly cringe-worthy moment at this year’s Games came when NBC sports commentators covering women’s gymnastics asked if they had “seen any diva moments yet.”

That falls on the subtler end of the spectrum. The overt is much worse. Some of it is dressed up in the guise of drumming up more viewership, such as the suggestion that female boxers wear skirts while competing. The idea being, according to the Amateur International Boxing Association, “to help viewers distinguish between male and female boxers.”

The almost pathological need to enforce the femininity of athletes who are specimens of physical strength and athletic prowess was on display in the New York Daily News‘ bizarre article on Olympic athletes who are also “Champion Chefs in the Kitchen” (needless to say, they’re all women).

Far more prevalent and insidious is the continuous attempt to sexualize female athlete’s bodies. According to Feministing.com’s analysis of ESPN’s annual Body Issue, in which nearly half the athletes featured were women, “[O]ver half of the female athletes were shown only as passive eye candy, while virtually all of the men were shown in action shots.” Feministing found that:

— 78 percent of the photos of men depict an active pose, while only 52 percent of women’s photos do.
— 90 percent of the male athletes had at least one active pose in the slideshow.
— 46 percent of female athletes had at least one active pose in the slideshow.

Read the full article here.

To the section on Lolo Jones, I’d add this Reuters blog post, which I’m including for a comparison between the New York Times hit-job on Jones versus male athletes, and this graf which speaks to the editor nerd in me:

Here’s what an editor scanning for sexism might have written on Longman’s draft, next to “Previously, Jones has defended her nude ESPN photograph on artistic grounds”: Not necessary. No male athlete or actor or anybody has to defend taking their shirt off even if they suck at what they do. And beside “she has proclaimed herself to be a 30-year-old virgin”: Implies that she’s not, when only reason to do so is weird investment in truth of virgin-whore paradigm. Or in the margins by “After stumbling four years ago, she is back on her feet, back in the Games. Back in position to be appreciated for her athletic skill, not merely her sex appeal. Back in position to undress her opponents, not herself”: Sounds like commentary from a mean, judgy preacher-dad. Basically says, “Cover yourself up.” Just try to imagine some of Longman’s sentences being printed about a male athlete.

This is slightly tangential, but a couple months ago I read this excellent profile of Indian boxer and Olympic bronze medalist Mary Kom and wanted to share it; please read.

And finally, to end on a humorous note, here’s the inimitable Sajan Venniyoor on Kafila, whose post had me in stitches. The name tells all: Why the Maldivian ski team is good in short bursts (and other reflections on the Olympics). It’s a laugh a minute.

Four on Friday: The Gurudwara Shooting

11 Aug

LAST Sunday we woke up to some tragic news: there had been a shooting at a gurudwara in a Milwaukee suburb; six Sikhs at the temple were killed, one police officer who tried to help was shot several times, and three more were wounded. As the media followed the story, we learned that the shooter, Wade Michael Page, was a US veteran, and the leader of a white supremacist punk rock band. We learned that Sikhs are not Muslims and therefore they had been unfairly targeted (yes, seriously, some journalists actually said this). We learned that white terrorists are different from brown terrorists (though we already knew that). It’s impossible to not turn into a media critic when you read these narratives. So, here are the four things I think you should read about the media coverage of this vile attack.

1. Rinku Sen has a thoughtful piece on Colorlines.com which hits all the right notes, including this bit on CNN’s coverage:

Only CNN attempted continuous coverage yesterday, and I’m grateful that they tried. Yet that coverage was so generally devoid of Sikh voices that it just reminded me how ill-equipped the media are. The “expert” they turned to most often was the sincere but inadequate Eric Marrapodi of CNN’s Belief Blog. He kept saying that Sikhs were not Muslims, but were often mistaken for Muslims and “unfairly targeted.” The first time he said it, I thought, wow, that’s unfortunate phrasing and he’ll stop using it after he realizes or someone points out the implication that Muslims can be “fairly” targeted. But no one ever got a clue. Islamaphobia was never mentioned, much less condemned for the ignorance and violence that it spreads.

Two days later, Foreign Policy carried this piece of media criticism by Rozina Ali. She isn’t too impressed with CNN’s coverage either, and once you read the transcription of an exchange between an interviewee and news anchor Don Lemon you won’t be, either. There were those who didn’t know that Sikhs come from India, not Italy, and others who confused them with Hindus and Muslims. One Fox News broadcaster even asked if there had been any previous instances of “anti-Semitism” against Sikhs in the past. But the wrongheadedness that drove it all was not simple ignorance but the belief that Sikhs were somehow unfairly targeted because their beards and turbans made them look like Muslims. “In other words,” Ali writes sarcastically, “Sikhs were an unfortunate casualty in the war on terrorism — ‘unfairly’ mistaken for a group expected to be involved in the violence.” (Unlike the Joplin, Missouri mosque, which was set on fire the day after the gurudwara shooting — for the second time this month. There was no mistaking the mosque for anything other than a place of worship for Muslims. The New York Times quotes Iranian-American writer Reza Aslan: “If it were a church or a synagogue that had been burned down twice, we’d be shocked by it. The narrative about the mosque burning has a sense of expectation to it.”)

To rub salt in the wound, instead of treating the shooting as “an act of terrorism,” which is how the local police department described it, several news outlets initially spent hours questioning this label. Why? Because terrorism can only be perpetrated by brown people?

2. Tim Wise dealt with this question eloquently in an AlterNet piece that was written in 2001 but could as easily have been written this past week (h/t to Sen for linking to it in her article). Writing after the senseless killing by a high school freshman in Santee, California, Wise says that these shootings always seem to happen in “normal” suburban communities where everyone is flabbergasted that such violence could occur in their neighborhood.

I said this after Columbine and no one listened so I’ll say it again: white people live in an utter state of self-delusion. We think danger is black, brown and poor, and if we can just move far enough away from “those people” in the cities we’ll be safe. If we can just find an “all-American” town, life will be better, because “things like this just don’t happen here.”

Well bullshit on that.

Bullshit on that indeed. The Santana High School shooting was in Santee, about 10 miles away from San Diego, which a casual Google search reveals is 87 percent white. The Columbine High School massacre, in 1999, which took the lives of 12 students and one teacher, also occurred in a town that was (or at least is today) predominantly white, too. Aurora, Colorado, where the Batman theater shooting occurred just a few short weeks before the gurudwara killings, has a mixed population: the town is is 47 percent white, 29 percent Hispanic, and 15 percent black, while Oak Creek, Wisconsin, the site of the latest massacre, is more than 90 percent white.

The shock is compounded when the killer is white, too. Jared Lougher, who killed 6 and injured 13 in last year’s Tucson, Arizona shooting is white. As is James Holmes, who went on the Aurora theater shooting spree. The boys at Columbine High School, as was the student in Santee. Seung-Hui Cho, the 2007 Virginia Tech shooter, is Asian-American. “And yet once again,” writes Wise, “we hear the FBI insist there is no “profile” of a school shooter. Come again? White boy after white boy after white boy, with very few exceptions to that rule (and none in the mass shooting category), decides to use their classmates for target practice, and yet there is no profile? Imagine if all these killers had been black: would we still hesitate to put a racial face on the perpetrators? Doubtful.”

Town after town, mayor after mayor, expresses their utter disbelief that such a thing could happen in their backyards because they all believe that this kind of societal dysfunction only happens somewhere else, to people in communities that don’t look like theirs. And we may have a black president in the White House, but our racial prejudices are very much with us today. I urge you to read the full article.

In the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf agrees. There hasn’t been the wall-to-wall media coverage of last Sunday’s shooting as there was after the one at the Colorado theater, and perhaps that’s a function of the American public’s inability to relate to the victims. It’s easier to picture one’s friends and relatives in a theater watching Batman at a midnight screening, but not so much at a Sikh temple praying on a Sunday morning.

Yes, part of it is the identity of the victims, but what about the identity of the terrorist?

Attacks like his are disconcerting to some white Americans for a seldom acknowledged reason. Since 9/11, many Americans have conflated terrorism with Muslims; and having done so, they’ve tolerated or supported counterterrorism policies safe in the presumption that people unlike them would bear their brunt. (If Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD sent officers beyond the boundaries of New York City to secretly spy on evangelical Christian students or Israeli students or students who own handguns the national backlash would be swift, brutal, and decisive. The revelation of secret spying on Muslim American students was mostly defended or ignored.)

In the name of counterterrorism, many Americans have given their assent to indefinite detention, the criminalization of gifts to certain charities, the extrajudicial assassination of American citizens, and a sprawling, opaque homeland security bureaucracy; many have also advocated policies like torture or racial profiling that are not presently part of official anti-terror policy.

3. Juan Cole, of the essential website Informed Comment, hits it on the nail with his pithy post, “Top Ten differences between White Terrorists and Others.”

Among them, that white terrorists are called “gunmen” while terrorists of every other color are terrorists; white terrorists are always troubled loners, whereas non-white terrorists are somehow representative of their larger communities; and the media will interview the weeping family of a white terrorist, while the families of non-white terrorists are almost never asked for a quote.

I’ll add one more to Cole’s list. When the terrorist is white, Rep. Pete King doesn’t convene hearings on the threat of white radicalization.

4. No discussion of these sorts of shootings can be complete without a discussion of the appallingly lax gun regulations in this country. The correlation is so obvious in my mind that I find it difficult to understand how folks, even those from communities affected by these massacres, continue to defend the easy access that everyone, even the mentally ill, even known criminals, can have to legal guns and 6000 rounds of ammunition (something that Dudley Brown, executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, called “running low”).

Eric Boehlert points out the inadequacy of media coverage on gun control on Media Matters, in which “the telling statistics regarding the massive toll gun violence takes in America each year (30,000 killed; 70,000 wounded) were once again virtually absent from the news coverage. So was the discussion of gun control.”

Mother Jones has created several telling graphs of the roughly 60 mass shootings in the past three decades — in which more than two-thirds of the 137 guns used by the shooters were purchased legally.

And finally, on a related note, Matt Kennard writes on the Investigative Fund blog about the attraction that neo-Nazis feel for the US military, which trains its recruits in the most sophisticated weaponry in the world. These white supremacists, like Page, return stateside to use their skills in a domestic “race war,” and between the easy access to weapons and military training, it is innocents who die in a hail of bullets.

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

31 Jan

THE LATEST edition of Dart Society Reports, the publication of the organization for journalists who cover violence, has as its cover story a chilling account of solitary confinement in America. Through a 16-minute video and a nearly 6,000-word article aptly titled “The Gray Box,” Denver-based journalist Susan Greene captures the deadening silence and utter lack of stimulation that characterizes the life of a prisoner held in isolation. The first voice on camera reads words from the legal declaration of Tommy Silverstein, currently in his 28th year of solitary confinement, describing the cell where he spent all his time. It was so small that if he extended his hands, he could touch the walls on either side. The ceiling was so low that he could reach up and touch the light fixture. The video goes on to tell the stories of Brian Nelson (spent 23 years of his 28-year sentence in solitary confinement; went on hunger strikes in protest, the longest lasting 48 days); Vicente Rodriguez (painted using pigments from Skittles and employed art materials made of candy); Robert Felton (befriended spiders and beetles, made a chessboard from toilet paper and played against himself); and more. It cuts from these stories to the spokesperson of the Department of Corrections, Katherine Sanguinetti, who refers to solitary confinement as “administrative segregation,” and insists that solitary is reserved for the most dangerous, disruptive, and violent inmates.

Many of the inmates featured in the video (now released) were convicted of serious crimes. Nelson was convicted of murder, as was Rodriguez. But “I’m human,” says Rodriguez, as he silently pleads for our empathy. “Places like that is not good for us. Period.” That was one of Greene’s biggest challenges while working on this story, she says. Solitary confinement is “a certain kind of trauma. It’s a challenge to write or use the word “trauma” about people who have traumatized other people. Some people have no empathy or tolerance for them.” Greene meets regularly with friends who work on this issue, law professors and attorneys who represent inmates stuck in solitary. “I go out to dinner with them every month, and two of them are always saying, ‘No one cares! No one cares!'”

Some inmates are in solitary for serious crimes; Greene tells the story of others who don’t seem to belong with the worst offenders. A 17-year-old who accidentally killed someone while driving under the influence was tried as an adult and committed suicide while in solitary. Then there’s Anthony Gay, who

had a low-level assault charge in Illinois for punching another kid, stealing a dollar from him and swiping his hat. A parole violation on his seven-year suspended sentence ultimately landed him in a state supermax where he has cut himself hundreds of times with shards of glass and metal, and eats his own flesh. He has racked up a 97-year sentence for throwing urine and feces out his food slot — behavior that’s fairly typical for severely mentally ill prisoners in solitary.

Gay passes his time at the Tamms Correctional Center writing anyone who will receive his letters.

“I’ve been trapped for approximately nine years. The trap, like a fly on sticky paper, aggravates and agitates me,” he writes. “America, can you hear me? I love you America, but if you love me, please speak out and stand up against solitary confinement.”

Nelson, who features in both the video and the story, has been a free man in Chicago for a year and a half. But it is a strange kind of freedom, filled with anxiety and alienation.

“I’m here, but I’m not here, if that makes any sense,” he says from behind the wheel of his Jeep Compass, disoriented on the South Side. “People ask me what hurts. I say the box, the gray box. I can feel those walls and I can taste them every day of my life. I’m still there, really. And I’m not sure when I’m ever gonna get out.”

It was difficult for Greene to report on this story, which took three months of work. In a sense, she had been reporting it ever since she left the Denver Post, where she had been a metro columnist. She would get letters from inmates in solitary confinement, and when she left the newspaper, her files on solitary were the only ones she took with her. “I knew I wanted to look more closely at it,” she said in a telephone conversation. It was challenging to report because there was no access to her sources: solitary confinement can mean no visitors and no phone calls. “By definition, they are so distanced already, these guys are so far from us than anybody on the planet, because they are totally inaccessible,” Greene says. Those she was able to meet, those who were no longer in prison, also presented difficulties. They had “major trust issues. Let me put it this way: I’ve never been stood up this many times in my reporting before. Just talking on the phone, just — they are so uncomfortable with women. Having conversations is tough with them.”

Back home, she would have to juggle the traumatic stories she had heard with the mundane requirements of being a parent. She “dealt with it by compartmentalizing. I’ll pick up my kids from school, and then the mailman arrives. While the kids are doing their homework or on their instruments, I’ll read the letters. Then I’ll have to make dinner. Life just pulls you out.”

*  *  *

One of the most popular articles on the New Yorker‘s website also deals with America’s obsession with mass incarceration and solitary confinement. “The Caging of America” by Adam Gopnik, begins, evocatively, “A prison is a trap for catching time.” Gopnik describes the mind-numbing boredom of life in prison, and examines how this country’s over-reliance on imprisonment evolved to such a point that there are more black men in the grip of the criminal justice system today than the total number enslaved in 1850. “Every day, at least fifty thousand men — a full house at Yankee Stadium — wake in solitary confinement,” Gopnik writes, “often in ‘supermax’ prisons or prison wings, in which men are locked in small cells, where they see no one, cannot freely read and write, and are allowed out just once a day for an hour’s solo ‘exercise.'”

Steve Liss, the photographer whose black and white image of a child in a bunk accompanies the story (and who graciously gave permission for The Investigative Fund to use some of his images with this blog post; click on the camera icon to see the slideshow) has a series on his website called “Children Behind Bars.” His haunting photo-essay begins, “This is the world of young felons, of kids gone astray, of children as young as 10 who cry for their mothers from behind bars.” Liss’s images describe that world with heart-rending honesty. One photograph shows a young boy standing on a crate in order to reach the desk where a deputy is fingerprinting him. Another shows a young man half-on, half-off a mattress on the floor, the manacles around his ankles chained to his wrists. The mattress is old and tearing in places. He is tied up like an animal. (In fact, as Greene points out in her piece, “New federal guidelines on the use of laboratory animals require relatively more space, sensory stimulation and environmental enrichment than we afford people in confinement. The revised rules put forth by the National Academy of Sciences call for significantly more square footage to house a head of cattle, for example, than prisons provide in solitary.”)

Last week, Steven Slevin, mentioned in Greene’s story, won $22 million in damages for the inhumane conditions in which he was jailed — in solitary confinement — in the Dona Ana County facility in New Mexico. Perhaps that will shed a light on the inhumane conditions under which all inmates in solitary confinement live.

On page 1473 of the US Constitution (available online here), under the subhead “Cruel and Unusual Punishments,” a paragraph reads:

But in Weems v. United States40 it was concluded that the framers had not merely intended to bar the reinstitution of procedures and techniques condemned in 1789, but had intended to prevent the authorization of “a coercive cruelty being exercised through other forms of punishment.” The Amendment therefore was of an “expansive and vital character”41 and, in the words of a later Court, “must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” [emphasis added]

Greene says that the punishment of solitary confinement has “to do with this language in the Eighth Amendment, about the evolving standard of human decency. “It’s like the saying about a tree falling in a forest, she says. “If no one knows about the situation of these guys in solitary confinement, the standards of human decency can’t evolve. That’s why it’s important to get people to care.”

This blog post was originally published on the website of The Investigative Fund. Head over there to see a selection of Liss’s beautiful photographs of children behind bars.

Falling for Color in Vermont

16 Nov

IT’S so drab and rainy outside right now — and projected to be even more so tomorrow — so I thought I’d brighten things up by sharing my photos of this past weekend in Stowe, Vermont. Foolishly, I had thought I might catch some lazy leaves still flickering on the trees in upstate Vermont but the fall colors had already come and gone more than a month ago. Still, I managed to find plenty of color in the Green Mountain State.

We spotted this vintage blue tractor hanging out behind the Cold Hollow Cider Mill and couldn't resist snapping a few shots

We spotted this vintage blue tractor hanging out behind the Cold Hollow Cider Mill and couldn’t resist snapping a few shots. Below, the red-brown color of the wall drew me. Also by the cider mill—which you should definitely visit in order to taste some deliciously fresh cider, try out a cider doughnut, or buy some other apple-y goodies.

Red barn

The following three photographs were taken by the reservoir in Waterbury, just south of Stowe, where we enjoyed the warm colors of the sunset.

Walking back from the reservoir just before sunset

Sunset at the reservoir

Blue blue sky. Orange orange pumpkin. I don’t mind missing the fall colors in Vermont so much anymore!

Blue sky


P.S. The pumpkin shot was taken outside Michael’s on the Hill, a “chef-owned” fine-dining restaurant in Waterbury that was by far our best meal in Vermont. It was an excellent meal, from the truffled mushroom tartine to the pork loin and skillet chicken to the profiteroles dessert. I highly recommend it.

Ode to the Elusive Yellow Cab

9 Nov
Taxis as seen from the High Line

Taxis as seen from the High Line

POETRY doesn’t come often to me. It came to me this morning. I was standing on 23rd Street at 9 a.m., waiting patiently for a cab to come along. I waited and waited. Others saw me waiting and went off to try their luck somewhere else. It was a frustrating experience and one that happens too often for my liking.

We New Yorkers are so proud of never needing a car in the city, ‘you can get everywhere you want to go using public transport,’ we tell those suburban out-of-towners, and that’s true, but once in a while we, too, get lazy and crave the comfort of sitting in the back seat while the city whizzes by, one street at a time.

What follows is a description of my love-hate relationship with cabs in New York— in rhyme:



Ode to the Elusive Yellow Cab

I look to the left, look to the right
But there’s nary a cabbie in sight
I turn my head and I tap my toe
Where did all of those yellow cabs go?
Look at my watch, and look at time pass
I need a cab, and I need it fast!
I cross the street, hoping for some luck
Just missed one on the other side, f$#k!
There’s one going by, but the light’s not on
People inside, a kid and his mom
Here’s one now, but off-duty it looks
Two others won’t go cross-town, those crooks!
I’m having a bad yellow cab day
I even consider starting to pray
But then one cruises down the lane
Yes! My patience a taxi did gain
It’s about time that I caught a break
In the cold I had started to shake
Just then an old man stepped out on the road
Cursing inside, I honored the code
Graciously gave him my hard-won ride
Even though I was fit to be tied
At that point I surrendered the fight
Subway it is, though it’s late at night
Defeated, I walk across the street
I hear a honk, my heart skips a beat!
The yellow cab pulls up by my side,
“Hey young lady, do you need a ride?”