feminism


It’s only one day into the Olympics and I’m already feeling put off by the sexism female athletes still face as they compete  in the games.

First, it was the revelation that many countries were flying their male athletes first class while the women’s teams (even those with much more success in their respective sports) flew economy.

Second, Australian newspapers decided to focus on the weight, rather than amazing Olympic career, of swimmer Leisel Jones. Thus reminding us, as Chloe at Feministing points out,

that no matter how accomplished a woman is, no matter how talented, how skilled, how strong, how tenacious, how gutsy, she is not exempt from the rules of modern femininity. Not even during the Olympic Games. She has to be skinny and beautiful before she can be recognized for being any of those other things, and if she isn’t skinny and beautiful, we’ll ignore her guts and tenacity and talent and dedication and waste our time debating whether or not she’s gained weight during the twelve years she’s been in the public eye.

And today I read an article in the LA Times about how Hope Solo, goal keeper for the U.S. women’s soccer team, is in a “catfight” with Brandi Chastain on Twitter over comments Chastain made while broadcasting the U.S.-Colombia match. Because when a woman expresses an opinion involving another woman they are like screeching cats. While the sexist term “catfight” does not appear in the article, it not-so-well hidden in the URL.

Who doesn’t love a good catfight? Erin Gloria Ryan dares to pose this question over at Jezebel in her post, “America Loves a Crying Gymnast.”

America loves a crying gymnast because a crying gymnast cries because she’s beaten someone, or lost to someone, another girl who is probably also crying. They’re the end result of a female-female rivalry — who doesn’t love a good catfight? — and the media loves to manufacture catfights even where they don’t necessarily exist.

Let’s hope this list doesn’t just continue to grow as we get deeper into the Games (it will). After all, this is the first Olympics in which women are represented on every team and the U.S. team consists of more men than women. Let’s cover them as athletes, rather than lady athletes, mmmkay?
UPDATE (7.30.12): Check out this great piece by Meg Heery about sexism in the Olympic coverage: London 2012, Day 2: Women Win, Not Unicorns. It reminded me of the finding that female athletes’ successes are attributed to luck, while male athletes’ successes are attributed to skill by the commentators.

What have you noticed about the Olympics coverage?

Thousands of people in 46 states rallied this past Saturday against the ‘War on Women.’ Though the marches received relatively little coverage from the so-called ‘liberal media’ (ha!), the issue of the GOP attacks on women are not going away.

Speaker Boehner will have you believe that the ‘War on Women’ is feminist hysterics. He’ll even throw a temper tantrum on the House floor to prove how upset it makes him. Steven Benen would like him to know that he could make the whole issue go away pretty simply: change your anti-woman policies.

Boehner can shout, point, and pound the podium to his heart’s content, but if he doesn’t want to be criticized for Republican measures that undermine women’s health, he should change his party’s agenda, not whine about Democrats shining a light on that agenda.

Rachel Maddow also recognizes that the GOP attacks on women is about policy. She put together a great segment highlighting the attacks and Republicans’ subsequent denial here: Maddow: GOP Denies War on Women. I encourage you to watch the whole thing.

Where I think Maddow really hits the nail on the head is when she points out that conservatives and progressives seem to be working from different facts. Just as the Republicans are currently denying they are waging a war on women, the same days/weeks that they are passing anti-woman legislation or taking money from women’s health programs, they seem to be clueless as to why they are being accused of this ‘war.’

As Maddow attempted to make a point about Equal Pay on yesterday’s Meet the Press, she was interrupted and treated condescendingly by GOP strategist and well-known sexist Alex Castellanos. He insisted that women don’t earn less than men by cherry-picking a small data point about single women ages 40-64. But he flat-out denied that women earn less than men, which is a well-documented fact.

Because the GOP is unwilling to change their policies that hurt women, they have to deny that any problem exists. They need women’s votes, as we are the demographic that elects the president. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if they choose to lighten up on the attacks in recognition of the political toll they are taking, or if they will double down and alienate the most important voter block at the risk of losing their jobs.

It’s time to stop talking about women and start listening to women. Or you can laugh at us and interrupt us like Alex Castellanos. It may be good television, but it’s bad politics.

This video is a little old, but sadly still perfectly relevant.

After Tiger Woods got busted for serial infidelity, my 90-something-year-old grandpa concluded that would probably be the end of his career. My mom and I countered that would probably not be the case, as he had only wronged women. Just look at Kobe, we told him. The Pro-Am just concluded and sure enough, nary a mention of Tiger’s ‘personal problems’ as he continues to struggle back to peak form in golf.

That is not to suggest that cheating is even in the same ballpark as battery. Rather, I mean to point out the willingness to forgive high profile men for their bad behavior toward women. Just look at Charlie Sheen, who continues to be one of the highest paid actors in television and has a new show coming out in June.

Shortly after Sheen’s estranged wife is granted a restraining order against him, Sheen was welcomed at the Emmys. At the time, Heather Tooley suggested:

Hollywood and fans have a way of cutting celebrities a lot of slack for bad behavior if they play nice long enough.

No. The court of public opinion has a way of cutting celebrities a lot of slack for bad behavior against women. Period.

I didn’t watch, but I hear Chris Brown performed not once, but twice last night. He also won Best R&B album. A lot of people made light of his triumphant return, while still others glorified the abuse (TW for physical abuse at those links).

As Jay Smooth said, and you think you’re being persecuted?

What is Chris Brown complaining about? I’ve never seen someone complain so much, about getting off so easy, for doing something so bad. …You brutally, physically assaulted a woman, a woman you supposedly loved, that you beat to a pulp and then left there alone in that car so you could go get a head start on your PR strategy.

Rachel Maddow – An Exercise in Fertility

(Having difficulty with the video embed today, please click the link for video)

Currently all four Republican presidential candidates have taken an extreme stance on birth control. Birth control? Are we really arguing about women’s ability to plan their families in 2012? Yes. As Rachel Maddow points out in the spot on segment above, they are taking a stance on this issue that is even too extreme for the electorate in Mississippi.

Why has birth control become such an issue all of a sudden? I think Rachel hits the nail on the head that the beltway pundits are really missing the point on this one.

I realize that a lot of 60-something male pundits look at this and think it’s bad politics for the Democrats on the Catholic side. There is another way to look it.

That other way to look at it is as a woman. Novel concept! Except that it shouldn’t be, considering women have elected every president since JFK. Or another way to look at it could be as a Catholic woman, 98% of whom have used birth control.

In this economy, Rachel breaks it down to the bottom line.

Hey, women of America! Under a democratic president your birth control pills will be covered by health insurance, and if you don’t have health insurance you can go to a clinic and get subsidized birth control there. If a republican is elected your insurance won’t cover birth control, and if your insurance doesn’t cover it there are no clinics to go to any more to get birth control pills. Planned Parenthood defunded. Title 10 gone altogether. So you can’t get it from insurance, and you can’t get it from a clinic. You are paying cash, out of pocket, retail cost for birth control…$600 to $1200 a year. That’s if you’re lucky. Because if you’re not lucky, you live in a state where birth control has just been declared illegal. Do you want a democratic or republican president women of America?

A year or two ago I got fed up with the sexism of The Huffington Post (intentionally not linked). Try this and you’ll see what I mean: On any given day, go to their homepage and just scan your eyes down the page for stories about women. More often than not, they’re not actual news pieces, but gossip or polls dealing with some sensational tidbit meant to increase the website’s click count.

Today (for ‘research’ purposes I went there, though it makes me want to wash my hands) we have stories about Gaddafi aids, Bernie Madoff, and Lawrence O’Donnell, all accompanied by a picture of the man in question in a suit. For stories that feature women, we have ‘Jessica Simpson Tweets Photo of Herself from NYC Bathroom,’ ‘Kelly Clarkson Reveals Why People Think She’s a Lesbian,’ and ‘Jenna Lyons’ New (Female!) Love Interest Revealed.’ You get the idea. Today Name It Change It, a project of the Women’s Media Center that calls out sexism in the media, especially toward women in politics, called out HuffPo’s sexism toward Hillary Clinton.

Yesterday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Peruvian Prime Minister Salomon Lerner. Instead of focusing on diplomatic issues between Peru and the United States, the Huffington Post created a poll to gauge how readers are “feeling (about) the Hillary scrunchie.”

I know I shouldn’t be surprised any more. But this one irked me a little more than usual because just minutes before the scrunchie post caught my eye, I was reading about Clinton’s views on the limits of power and its implications for advancing the U.S.’s interests abroad. That’s some heavy stuff! And hair accessories don’t come into the piece at all. It takes time and brain power to analyze Clinton’s beliefs, especially in the broader historical context of the U.S.’s reliance of military might. It’s much easier to focus on an aspect of her appearance and urge readers to vote on it. But that serves to minimize what comes out of her mouth as secondary to what she looks like. This is a message women and girls receive loud and clear everywhere they turn, but I wouldn’t expect to be sent by a popular ‘news’ outlet founded by a woman (Arianna Huffington – voted 12th Most Influential Woman in the Media by Forbes).

The media, as we all do, make choices about what’s important and who’s worth listening to. Huffington Post’s choice to focus on Hillary Clinton’s scrunchie, or Kelly Clarkson’s sexuality, rather than their newsworthy contributions to society, reinforces the notion that women are not to be taken seriously. That women are there for a good laugh, or a sexy picture, not relevant to the business of ‘real’ news, which is exclusively the realm of men. This carries over into our daily lives. Are we subconsciously giving people permission not to listen to what women say when they open their mouths?

Another choice the media makes involves the photo that accompanies their stories. More often than not, especially during the 2008 campaign, the photo that accompanied articles about Clinton where less than flattering, to put it mildly. The pattern continues through her tenure as Secretary of State, as Melissa McEwan of Shakesville highlights here. Clinton was at a press conference talking about the Somalian famine. She was urging the Shebab militants to stop preventing aid from reaching children during Ramadan. And what Getting Images photo was chosen to accompany her statement? The photo is after the jump with McEwan’s spot-on analysis below.

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I wanted to share an example with you of what I was referring to in my previous post, where people brag about fitting into smaller sized jeans. This example showed up on my friend’s Facebook page two days after Love Your Body Day (with names and faces blocked for confidentiality):

This friend of mine has an eating disorder. We’ve known each other since we were very young and I’ve watched her struggle with it for more than a decade. So to see her ‘friends’ uniformly praising her for losing weight is quite upsetting, though not surprising. Isn’t there one of them who knows, deep down, that her thinness is not a sign that she is more healthy? Isn’t there one of them concerned for her health? Not one who chimes in to tell her she is a beautiful person no matter her size?

In contrast I’d like to share this article that encourages you to think twice before praising someone for weight loss.

So when we actively and publicly praise someone for his or her weight loss (especially young women/girls), are we praising someone for a healthy and balanced approach to living or someone who is facing a critical, mental health crisis? Are we mistakenly encouraging someone to continue a process that has allowed them to lose weight, a process that will, if gone unchecked, lead to their death?

So will you be the dissenting voice on the Facebook thread that chimes in with something other than praise for pounds shed? You may be surprised at the reaction you get (not always positive). But perhaps you’ll awaken someone else who is in the habit of affirming problematic, even dangerous, behavior. It’s fast and easy to click “like” or to chime in with the crowd. But consider what you’re affirming and whether it’s what you value most about your friend.

Today is NOW’s Love Your Body Day. Check out some great posts in their blog carnival here.

In honor of LYBD, I’m reflecting on how lucky I am to truly love my body. I was never one to stare at myself naked in the mirror and pick apart my flaws. But I’ve stood next to friends countless times who have done that. They grab on to a fold of skin or point to a blemish and then they say something about its ugliness. These same friends brag about squeezing into their size X jeans again or waking up before dawn to torture themselves in a boot camp.

To be honest, I don’t know why I’ve never been overly concerned about my body. I think it must come, in part, from the unconditional acceptance I received from my parents. After a dance concert in sixth grade, I overheard my friend’s mom ask her why her stomach wasn’t flat like X’s. At the time I remember feeling mortified for her, but also knowing that I would never hear such criticism from my own mom. As an adult, my mom told me that she was always very conscious of what she said to me with regard to my appearance, knowing that any one comment could stick with me for years.

My comfort in my body must also come from being taught to be a critical consumer of media. For as long as I can remember I have known that the images I see in magazines or advertisements weren’t what women actually looked like. I can’t remember looking at my Barbies or teen magazines and wishing I looked like someone else. My mom explained to me at a young age that trends changed frequently so that people would go out and spend money. I never felt much desire to keep up with the latest fashion and instead looked for clothes that I felt comfortable in.

I attribute my appreciation for my body in great part to playing sports. I have always participated in team sports. As an only child, being part of a team taught me the ups and downs of relying on others and required me to spend a lot of time with other girls my age. Playing sports taught me the frustration of losing, and they helped me learn to cope with unfairness and team politics. They also taught me confidence in my abilities and awe in what my body could do. When I was 12 or 13, I came within one pitch of pitching a no-hitter. I was a leader on the field and my body performed when I needed it to. Research shows that sports can be a mixed bag for girls when it comes to body image. The Girl Scout Research Institute finds “The more physically active girls are, the greater their self-esteem and the more satisfied they are with their weight, regardless of how much they weigh. Eighty-three percent of very active girls say that physical activity makes them feel good about themselves.” On the other hand, many girls refuse to participate in sports because “they do not feel skilled or competent (40%) or because they do not think their bodies look good (23%)”. I am fortunate that neither of those last two reasons prevented me from playing sports.

And finally, my body acceptance obviously comes from a place of great privilege. I am able-bodied and of more-or-less average size. I grew up seeing people that looked like me (fair skinned, blonde hair) in the media, so I was not made to feel that the way I looked was undesirable. My parents could afford league fees for recreational softball teams, and when I was older, travel teams that played year-round. I have decent health care that allows me to care for my body when it is sick and practice preventative care when it’s not.

I am deeply thankful that I can look at my body non-judgmentally. I am thankful that my body gets me where I want to go. It tells me when it needs something. I strive to listen to my body.  I feel strong. I am grateful.

In honor of LYBD, I want to share ‘Phenomenal Woman‘ by Maya Angelou.

Last week I participated in a book discussion at the college where I work. We were discussing a book by a journalist who was kidnapped by the Taliban while reporting on the war in Afghanistan. During our discussion, one of my colleagues mentioned how dangerous these combat zones have become for journalists. She then said, “Look what happened to Lara Logan in Egypt. I mean, what was she thinking?”

Today as I listen to reports of the filmmaker and photojournalist killed in Libya, I can’t help but notice that not a single person has questioned their decision to be there. Instead, these men are lauded for bringing us the truth and taking risks in the process. Despite the fact that they chose to put themselves in harm’s way without protective gear, no one is questioning their judgment.

Several reports I’ve heard have pointed out the sensitivity with which Tim Hetherington captures images of war. I dare to suggest that Lara Logan brought a similar sensitivity to her work in Egypt. Simply due to her gender, she was better able to gain access to Egyptian women’s experiences, a perspective often overlooked in the coverage of that story.

The recent loss of these brave journalists in Libya is tragic, and I am not suggesting that they should not have been in a combat zone. I do, however, wish to draw attention to the very different narratives surrounding male and female journalists in conflict areas. With Lara Logan, the story was about her appearance and her gender, and it was chock full of victim-blaming. Newsweek immediately did a story about “Women in Harm’s Way.” Some even suggested she was enjoying all the attention her assault would bring her. She was not viewed as a brave journalist willing to venture into a dangerous situation to bring us the truth, but rather as a woman who took an unnecessary risk.

Over the next few days as you learn more about the story unfolding in Libya, please notice the narrative surrounding Tim Hetherington and his colleagues. They are described with praise, admiration and dedication. All of these words are undoubtedly appropriate, but should not be attributed selectively, based on the person’s gender.

“We have an epidemic here,” [Rep. Jane Harman] said. “Women serving in the U.S. military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq.”

That was 2008, yet little has changed.

Kori Cioca, 25, of Wilmington, Ohio, tells about how she was raped while serving in the U.S. Coast Guard.

Long story short, I was raped.

When I told my command they waited. They didn’t do anything to help me. It’s like they didn’t care. It wasn’t important. I wasn’t important.

The coast guard’s a lifesaving service yet they didn’t save mine.

Military doctors say that 40% of women at veterans’ hospitals report being sexually assaulted during their service.

[Rep. John] Tierney said, “what’s at stake here goes to the very core of the values of the military and the nation itself.

“When our sons and daughters put their lives on the line to defend the rest of us, the last thing they should fear is being attacked by one of our own.”

Will we kick the can down the road on this, as victims of sexual assault in our own military suffer in silence? Will we continue to hold hearings and listen to the military say it takes these issues seriously, while the evidence in these cases proves the opposite to be true. We must listen to these women’s stories. We must believe and trust them. And we must demand justice.

Please check out the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) for more information and ways to get involved.

University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team won their 89th straight NCAA game last night, breaking John Wooden’s UCLA men’s streak of 88 games from 37 years ago. Congratulations to these world class athletes. Your hard work and dedication is inspiring. Here’s to other teams being compared to you (instead of vice versa) for a while.

My first question is, had you heard about it?

The sports columnist for my local paper wants to assure you that the reason this story isn’t getting much press has nothing to do with sexism or misogyny, but rather, apathy.

Geno Auriemma imagines an enemy that doesn’t exist. Running short of worthy opponents, Connecticut’s all-conquering women’s basketball coach has constructed a straw chauvinist, a mythological misogynist who can’t bear the thought of females surpassing the record winning streak of John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins.

Frankly, your typical testosterone-laden troglodyte is not threatened by UConn’s success because it has barely registered on his brain. He was not ‘having a heart attack,’ as Auriemma put it Saturday, ‘because a bunch of women are threatening to break a men’s record,’ nor did he wail or gnash his teeth when that threat was carried out Tuesday night in Connecticut’s 93-62 thumping of Florida State.

Neanderthal Man is not angry, agitated or anxious. What he is, at his primal core, is apathetic.

Mr. Sullivan admits that it’s a pity that sports fans are uninterested in the Huskies’ accomplishments, but he defends their right to be indifferent. But how can he explain the media’s lack of coverage of this very newsworthy event? Where he goes wrong is his inability to make the connection between apathy (or anger, even though he denies it’s there) and the gender of the athletes. That’s sexism. It’s so ingrained in him that he can’t even see it.

Imagine for a moment that you have a son and a daughter who are both talented musicians. They perform concerts on separate days and the local newspaper only covers your son’s concert. Would you tell your daughter not to worry, that people aren’t angry with her musical talents (or the fact that she’s better than her brother), they just don’t care about girls’ accomplishments. Is this an explanation you would expect your daughter to understand?

Does my example seem far fetched and exaggerated? Tell that to Alissa Johnson, one of the US’s top five women ski jumpers who was forced to attend this year’s Olympics in support of her brother rather than as an athlete, because there is no women’s team. The women ski jumpers were not allowed to compete in this year’s Olympics, despite the fact that the record for the longest jump is held by a woman, Lindsey Van. The gatekeepers, usually men (in this case the IOC), are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy with regard to women’s sports.

As veteran jumper Jessica Jerome, 23, of Park City points out, without being in the Olympics, it’s tough to develop to the level that the IOC seems to want of her sport. “People don’t understand the seriousness of a World Cup title, or a World Championship medal; they just want to see people at the Olympics. So without the Olympics, you’re not going to get the funding. You’re not going to get the support,” she says. “It’s a catch-22.”

The fact is that there are many men, sports reporters even, who feel very threatened by the accomplishments of women athletes. David Whitley of FanHouse wrote:

“Rule No. 1 in determining whether an activity is a sport: If the best female in the world can beat the best male in the world, it doesn’t qualify.”

Mark Potach feels so threatened by the idea that women could ever beat a men’s record that he feels the need to attack the team’s physical abilities, to remind them of their place:

But if Geno wants to continue the charade of breaking the men’s record, he’s going to have to start playing some men’s teams. I think he knows how ugly that would get. There are probably 10 high school teams in the city that could beat the Connecticut women.

David Whitley and Mark Potach are not straw chauvinists, Mr. Sullivan. And that’s not apathy Potach is expressing. These two men are actively working to keep women’s sports less popular than men’s. Perhaps what some don’t realize about apathy is that it can be feigned. If we pretend not to notice women’s accomplishments, we don’t have to admit that they are just as good, if not better, than the men. Another thing he overlooks is the danger in this perceived apathy. The news media makes decisions every day about whose accomplishments matter. Our daughters are paying attention. By accepting the idea that people don’t care about UConn’s record, you’re making it so.

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