Archive | August, 2012

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’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 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.