Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sunday, March 4, 2007

How the news media overlooks gendered violence

Jackson Katz has mentioned in the past that the news media does a really poor job of reporting "gendered" violence. For example, when a man goes on a killing spree and happens to kill only women, nobody mentions the fact that it is likely motivated by a particular ideology that shows contempt for women. This is not the case when we're talking about racial murders, or murders of homosexuals. And that's not to say that the media does a good job at reporting the phenomena of racism and homophobia (because they don't) but rather to underscore how they seem to have collective blinders with regards to gender-based violence.

Exhibit A: this morning, the news broke about a man accused of brutally killing and dismembering his wife. Seems like a pretty open-and-shut motivation--he likely wanted control over her, and she likely wasn't giving him enough. I say this being completely oblivious to the facts of the case, but lo and behold, upon more careful examination, the following motivation is revealed:

Police say the day the 34-year-old businesswoman went missing, the Grants argued over her frequent business trips abroad.

If he wanted to spend more time with her, seems like murdering her is a poor way to do it, huh? Unless it was really about power and control.

Now will there be any analysis of the links to domestic violence in the media? Probably not. Any mention of power and control? Certainly not. Or gender ideologies of superiority? Absolutely no way. And it's not like these are fringe ideas, either--they're part of the Center for Disease Control's violence prevention models, and we all know how slow government is to catch onto things like this.

Granted, the story has only been out there for a few hours, so hopefully we'll get some more investigative reporting as time goes on. Some would argue that the homogenous news reporting on issues like this has to do with the fact that all major media companies are owned by six corporations. Except it's even more insidious than that, because most of what they get news-wise actually comes from central distribution groups like the Associated Press. This is probably why in the first few hours, everyone in the United States is subjected to an identical viewpoint that reflects the opinion of one news corporation (which is a little too Big Brother-esque for me to contemplate for more than a few seconds at a time).

I never thought I'd say this on this blog, but the dearth of competition really has hurt all of us.

Saturday, March 3, 2007


Did you know that eHarmony doesn't provide matches for gay or lesbian couples? Seems innocuous, but did you also know that the founder of eHarmony has had most of his books printed by Focus on the Family?

Warren said eHarmony struggled in the beginning until the evangelical
Christian leader James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, gave
the company its big boost by hosting Warren on his national radio
broadcast. Warren describes Dobson as eHarmony's biggest supporter,
and the appearance on the show reaped 100,000 subscribers, he said.

It gets even better--check out this letter to Salon.com:

I was glad to see public recognition of the fact that eHarmony does not serve the gay and lesbian community. I originally heard of them while watching the reality TV show "Boy Meets Boy" on the Bravo network. "Boy Meets Boy" was essentially a gay version of "The Bachelor" and sought to find a mate for an attractive gay man. EHarmony was advertised heavily on several episodes of the show, and I made the assumption that it would be a useful tool to help me find a gay mate. I invested about half an hour answering all the compatibility questions, during which time my hopefulness grew that I would find someone with whom I could enjoy spending time and that I would eventually find a partner. At the end of the survey I was asked to describe my mate. It was impossible to register as a man looking for another man.

After searching the Web site for an explanation, I came across the FAQ section where, as described in the article, they said that because gay relationships are so different and gay compatibility is not the same as straight compatibility, they would not match gay people.

So they actually advertised on a "gay" show, but then didn't offer a match?

And from Neil Clark Warren himself:

It "calls for some very careful thinking. Very careful research." He adds that same-sex marriage is illegal in most states. "We don't really want to participate in something that's illegal."

Aside from all of the other questions (is he trying to convert gays to being straight?), I think this illuminates something very important about how marriage and love are viewed in some quarters--namely, that marriage and love are inseparable. And therefore, if you're in love, you need to get married. And in a weird conflation, that if you can't get married, then you obviously can't be in love.

Friday, March 2, 2007

How do we counteract the tabloids?

I alluded to this in an earlier post, but I really think that the mainstream news media is just one big tabloid. The details of Paris Hilton's love life, the status of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' kid--these things don't seem like anything relevant to me. And this sort of thing is the domain of the tabloids, with SHOCKING NEW SECRETS! about peoples' love life. And yet, it's being reported as serious news, on par with a natural disaster or serious political developments. I don't think I'd mind, except for the fact that I really do believe that it desensitizes us to actual news and events that affect our daily lives, and crowds out valuable details that allow us to make an informed choice in a democracy.

As the always brilliant and hilarious Matt Taibbi noted:

"Now, after she shaved her head in a bizarre episode that culminates a months-long saga of controversial behavior, it's the question being asked by her fans, her foes and the general public: What was she thinking?"-- Bald and Broken: Inside Britney's Shaved Head, Sheila Marikar, ABC.com, Feb. 19

What was she thinking? How about nothing? How about who gives a shit? How's that for an answer, Sheila Marikar of ABC news, you pinhead?...

...My definition of a news story involves something happening. If nothing happens, then you can't have "news," because nothing has changed since the day before. Britney Spears was an idiot last Thursday, an idiot on Friday, and an idiot on both Saturday and Sunday. She was, shockingly, also an idiot on Monday. It will be news when she stops being an idiot, and we'll know when that happens, because she'll have shot herself for the good of the planet. Britney Spears cutting her hair off is the least-worthy front page news story in the history of humanity.

Apparently, from now on, every time a jackass sticks a pencil in his own eye, we'll have to wait an extra ten minutes to hear what happened on the battlefield or in Congress or any other place that actually matters.

Which makes the AP's weeklong ban on Paris Hilton stories so fascinating.

It was only meant to be a weeklong ban -- not the boldest of journalistic initiatives, and one, we realized, that might seem hypocritical once it ended. And it wasn't based on a view of what the public should be focusing on -- the war in Iraq, for example, or the upcoming election of the next leader of the free world, as opposed to the doings of a partygoing celebrity heiress/reality TV star most famous for a grainy sex video.

No, editors just wanted to see what would happen if we didn't cover this media phenomenon, this creature of the Internet gossip age, for a full week. After that, we'd take it day by day. Would anyone care? Would anyone notice? And would that tell us something interesting?

It makes me wonder why news editors make the choices to print what they print. Do they deliberately avoid controversial topics? And how can we pressure the mainstream media to report things that are actually relevant to our lives?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Banning the N-Word

I noticed that Stillman College is having a conference on usage of the N-word. The article also makes the point that there were a number of city councils that are trying to ban the word. While I think the conference is a great idea and deathly neccessary, I'm not so sure that official bannings of the word is the right way to go. It is my opinion that the only beneficiaries of censorship (of any kind) is the power structure--they will twist whatever ability to censor that they have towards their own ends and goals. And so, for that reason, I feel very uncomfortable with the talk of "banning" anything. It feels like (to paraphrase Audre Lorde) using the master's tools to dismantle his house.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Can a man be a feminist?

I was drawn to a blog posting at a place called Progressive U, debating the concept of whether a man can be called a feminist. To quote:

[T]his idea is based on Irving Weinman as quoted by Treichler and Kramarae who said, “When used by a man to refer to himself it is a “male appropriation of language no less stupidly defensive than a white man imagining myself a black radical.” Profeminist is the term used to describe the male who works toward feminist goals.

And then the author's opinion:

I feel that men can be feminists because I believe feminism, though it has its roots in the Women’s movement, is more encompassing than just women concerned with women’s issues. Women are half of the world’s population but the other half is often intimately connected to the lives of women. If a man recognizes his privileges and believes oppressions to be systematically linked I see no reason why he should be denied the title “feminist”. For a man to embrace the title and the stigma associated with it could be an important step in his awareness of privilege and marginalization.

I actually agree with a lot of that, but I've noticed something interesting: most young men who identify with feminism call themselves a feminist--but most older men identify themselves as "pro-feminist."
To me, this suggests a shift in more than just men's place in the spectrum of feminist ideologies, but rather the entire spectrum of feminist ideologies itself. It seems to me that those who identify as "second wave" feminists tend to believe that feminism is primarily identity politics, while those who identify as "third wave" believe in feminism as a series of ethical ideals and human rights. It would appear that men who are supportive of feminist politics would also be influenced by changing definitions of feminism, and this would be the reason for the change in terminology.

What do you think? True, not true? A good thing, bad thing, or neither?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Meaning of Satire: Addendum

Someone sent these to me as an example of effective satire. As in, we clearly know that it is a joke, has a clear point, and is well constructed to mirror actual arguments. I'm not an expert on satire, but I do think that both Sex is for Fags and Iron Hymen are hysterically funny. (Warning: links probably not appropriate for work, but at least there's no sound).

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Meaning of Satire

Update: Mike Domitrz at at AskingFirst actually has an opportunity for you to contact the author of the article mentioned below directly. Check it out here.

I get really irritated when people say "can't you just take a joke?" Unfortunately, we don't get to choose how other people take our words. All we can do when a cutting joke falls flat is to try and understand why it bothered the other person so much, and hopefully those conversations will avoid miscommunications in the future.

Although bothered by the botched joke, I am a little heartened by John Petroski's response to his editorial. Apparently inspired by Jonathan Swift's satirical proposal that the Irish eat their babies, Petroski offered up these nuggets of wisdom (taken from the New Britain Herald):

Striving for the prose style of 18th Century satirist Jonathan Swift, Petroski called rape "a magical experience that benefits society as a whole." He went on to write that if it weren't for rape, "how would ugly women ever know the joy of intercourse with a man who isn't drunk?"

Petroski fortunately said that he realizes now that a lot of people were hurt by what he wrote, and knows more about the pain and trauma of rape now than he did before. But unfortunately, I'm not so sure he's on the right path to understanding why it wasn't actually satire. See, Swift had a clear thing that he was mocking--the people who claim that poor people can "dig their way out of it" and "pull themselves up by their bootstraps." The suggestion "why don't they eat their babies?" is an attempt to show how absurd most of those statements really are.

On the other hand, Petroski admitted he didn't know much about rape--he was attempting to parody Rush Limbaugh and the "drive-by media", as he called it. But instead of satirizing misogynistic culture, he embraced it full-on to satirize something else.

I'd also like to note that this is not the first time he's expressed a (relatively) offensive opinion. Check out this non-satirical editorial he wrote the week before:

Before I step on my soapbox, however, it may be prudent for me to clear a few things up. I am a white male who does not agree with affirmative action, reparations for black citizens or even banning the “n-word.” Nonetheless, despite what some people would like you to think, being white and having such beliefs does not make me a racist.

No offense, but given his apparently serious "blame the victim" mentality in his previous editorial, I'm not so sure I would get the joke.

Before satirizing something, it is important to be clear what you are satirizing. Otherwise, it is merely an expression of the dominant culture, whether you intend for it to be or not. When I was in college, a number of writers for the local humor magazine wrote an article that was supposedly "satirizing" racism. It basically was just one long list of racist statements, and it was supposed to be intended as ironic. When confronted with the fact that they were merely repeating destructive stereotypes rather than critiquing them, they continued to stick to their guns and say "but it was a joke!" But again, we don't get to take how our words are intended, and that's especially true when one doesn't have a clear point.

Unless, of course, Petroski's true point was to demean victmis of rape or women in general. Sometimes, people hide behind the label "parody" in order to let loose how they really feel. Unfortunately, this is probably the most accurate analysis of the situation--from his "apology", that shows that I don't think he's really been listening to what's being said:

"Listen, I wrote the article. I (messed) up. It was a stupid thing to do and a
stupid topic to even tread on, and I apologize to everyone I've hurt. I wasn't
writing this to try and hurt people though. I was trying to point out that
people don't give a damn about anything in a paper besides something they can
rally around. It looks like I succeeded, especially with our front page. That
doesn't excuse what I did. I should have used a much less touchy pseudo-subject
to do this with. Like animal rights or something like that ..."

"I'm sorry you're so sensitive" is not an apology. It is another attack, especially when you call it a "pseudo-subject". And from the student paper:

"We didn't know the campus community as well as we thought we knew, and because of that that's why we're getting this backlash and we're sorry because of it,''
Rowan wrote in the apology.

I'm sorry we didn't know the community as well as we thought? Why, because you expected them to fall in line and laugh mindlessly at rape culture jokes? You're sorry because of the backlash? Sounds like you're just sorry you got caught.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

John Amaechi is ####

More interesting news in the sports world and masculinity--a former NBA player recently came out as gay. In response to the announcement by John Amaechi, LZ Granderson at ESPN.com wrote the most absurd and ridiculous editorial that I think I've ever read. He actually compares his plight as an out gay sportswriter to an out gay athlete, and tells the closeted gay athletes to "man up."

And don't hand me the it's-harder-in-sports crap, either. I've been an out sportswriter for years now. I've been on TV, had my face in one of the largest newspapers in the country and my mug is sitting right next to this column. I've
been called names in work meetings, received death threats and told I was going
to hell more times than the devil. But you know what, I don't give a rip. Because at the end of the day I know walking within what I know is true for me is a lot easier than trying to run from it.

I'm not entirely sure what to say to this, except: Am I the only person to think he's not exactly comparing Apples to Apples here? Let's see, a gay sports journalist is forced to operate in an ultra-masculine environment, but anytime a player insults him it could be printed in the mass media. Plus, you are relatively low-profile, and you don't have to spend all of your time in that environment. On the other hand, a player has to spend time in a locker room with an incredibly homophobic population and to face belittling and threats against them from their own coach (see Sloan, Jerry and Jackson, Phil and their use of homophobic slurs). Oh, and hundreds of death threats in every city you go to. Jackie Robinson might be a better comparison than a sports journalist. A gay sports player risks their career, life, and family by coming out. On the contrary, most people who read Granderson didn't even know he was gay until that editorial, and some of them still don't (see the paragraph about message boards for more on this).

While Granderson has a good point that coming out while you're still in the prime of your career would do more good, I'm not so sure he has the authority of experience to speak here and tell others what to do with their lives. When asked directly about it, most athletes know not to say anything too inflammatory when the spotlight is on them. However, we have video evidence about how most sports players really feel on this issue: check out this and this.

The most fascinating part is their message board, which I think is worth a read. But as someone pointed out, "gay" is blocked out on their message board, instead replaced with "####". Usually, this is to protect against the usage of the word as a slur (which I applaud), but in the context of this story, it's actually content. I'm actually starting to wonder if they block out Rudy Gay's last name as well. Here's a comment from the site that I think is worthwhile:

I think the fact that this board replaces the word g-a-y with #### says a lot about how society views homosexuals, [athlete] or not. The very same site that is running this article is also censoring the very word that is the subject of said article. This goes a long way twords explaining why so few athletes come out, even after they retire, and even fewer (none in recent memory) active athletes come out. The very word used to describe these people is "taboo" in our society. It's ok when it is in a sitcom, and it comes across as humerous, but as soon as a "role model" or "sports hero" comes out, the perception greatly changes. Parents no longer want their children to admire these people. Does it make them any less of a person, or any less of a superstar because of their sexual preferance? All of a sudden the guy won't be able to dunk anymore, because he is openly ####?

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The Snickers Super Bowl Ad

I received the boiler-plate response to the Snickers Super Bowl Ad the other day, and it didn't sit right with me. If you are interested in the background on this, please check out AmericaBlog's post here--it has basically everything you could need to know about this ad spot, and exactly what the "core consumer" is.
(and if you're curious about why I included the part on Mexican immigrants, check out this report from the ADL here)

Here's my response, which I sent in to Snickers today.

Seriously, your Super Bowl commercial was not funny at all.

I already have your stock response, so please read this before sending me the email.

"As with all of our SNICKERS Brand advertising, our goal was to capture the attention of our core SNICKERS consumer."Feedback from our target consumers has been positive."

Is your core consumer homophobic?

"In addition, many media and website commentators of this year's Super Bowl commercial line-up ranked the commercial among this year's top ten best. USA Today ranked it #9 of its top ten pick."

There are a lot of things that are popular. Attacking homosexuals through the media and print is one thing that is very popular, and while I am sure you are proud of the plaudits you have received, it's a knee-jerk response in a homophobic culture. It is not a reflection of your superior commercial.
Another thing that is popular: bashing Mexican immigrants.
Suppose it was two men who sat there and ate a Snickers bar, and all of a sudden
they started turning skin color until they were Hispanic. Scared as all get out, they frantically attempt to reach for their money, check their stock portfolios, and bring out their college degrees to "prove" to themselves they are still white. Is that a funny sounding commercial to you? Because it's really no different than the other one, and it would probably be very popular with your "core" consumer.

"We know that humor is highly subjective and understand that some people may have found the ad offensive. Clearly that was not our intent. Consequently, we do not plan to continue to air the ad on television or on our SNICKERS Brand website."

I'm very glad to hear it, but I'm not sure you really understand. This isn't about offending" people. To say I'm just "offended" is really trivializing what this is all about. This is about demonstrating the inferiority of an entire group of people, and making it so explicitly clear. Furthermore, the connection to violence against homosexuals is also made explicit in the now-taken-down website, in which the
friends attack each other.

I'm really frustrated with the stock response. I am not gay, but I have a number of friends who are and I refuse to accept anything but equality for them. I'm glad you took it down, but your continued defense of the commercial really skims over the important part of this. You've helped (in a very small way) make the world a more dangerous place for an entire segment of the population--including many of my
friends. If I were you, I'd consider finding a way to help rectify

Sunday, February 4, 2007

A better court system

A quick break from word-related analysis:
If this law is adopted, I think that we should seriously consider pushing this in other states as well.
I actually had a conversation with Ulester Douglas at Men Stopping Violence in Atlanta over a year ago, and I told him I thought this was the next way to go. We definitely need better protection for rape survivors, and this would eliminate one of the largest barriers to reporting (and, frankly, it's totally irrelevant to a rape case. does it matter if I give money to a homeless person before I was mugged?)
I hope we all pick up on this one--are there any other organizations working towards similar legislation?

Nepalese Transgender Citizens

Nepal has its first ever transgender citizen. I think it's interesting that they went ahead and marked it as both "male" and "female". Do you think that's a respectful way of handling it, or do you think they should have put a "trans" to recognize the different representations of gender that are not "male" or "female"?
Either way, kudos to Nepal. What other countries do that?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Social Justice Lyrics Part 1

When talking about social justice words, eventually we can all get bogged down in the analysis. But I also enjoy good lyrics, or poems, or speeches...

"New America"
by Bad Religion

laurels, human triumph,
bestowments from the past
victories don't mean a thing
if they don't last
we are just marching toward extinction
with blinders on our eyes
jeopardizing everything
we've learned and come to realize
you call that wise?
Full lyrics are here.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Apologies for Slavery

Ilie over at Nationstates.net noted the other day that Virginia steadfastly refuses to apologize for slavery.

The Virginia lawmaker who caused an uproar this month by questioning the need for a state apology for slavery proposed a measure to commemorate the freeing of the last U.S. slaves in June 1865.

Del. Frank D. Hargrove Sr. (R-Hanover County) inflamed the House of Delegates by saying that blacks should "get over" slavery and that apologizing for slavery was no more necessary than asking Jews to apologize for "killing Christ."

I'm somewhat appalled by this on a number of levels.
  1. The Jews killing Christ is a myth. It is questionable even within the subtext of the Christian Gospels. Most of the details for this come from a 19th Century German nun and a revelation she had. Of course, there's a suspicion that most of that was fabricated as well. When you have power, it is often fashionable to write the history of oppressed people specifically to denigrate them.
  2. Even if the Jews did kill Christ (let's humor "crazy Mel" for a bit), it did not lead to oppression of Christians by Jews, especially not in this country today. Words have power when they are wielded by those with power. (Disclaimer: I am Jewish)
  3. However, white people in this country (and particularly Virginia) still have a whole lot of power. Therefore, those words do have power. By refusing to apologize for such barbarism, they continue to affirm African-American's subordination.
  4. White people do not get to speak for black people. Period. This was sponsored by black lawmakers, and the fact that a white lawmaker is challenging and devaluing their history by stating that it is "over and done with" is shameful. True anti-racist allies support, not devalue.
  5. Let's face it, this is symbolic, but it's also important. Many white folks do not want to acknowledge that they still benefit today from their white skin, either because it hurts to hear or because they want to maintain that privilege. We cannot solve contemporary racism unless we acknowledge its presence, and those who have a vested interest in maintaining that will continue to deny that as long as their conscience permits.

The Dehumanization of (some) Stars

I'm opposed to the whole "star" system by which we have 24/7 news cycles about the couples status of the rich and famous, mostly because I hate the way in which people who are no better than anyone else (and sometimes much worse) are treated like a higher form of life by the media. This irritates me to no end, and for that reason I can't agree entirely with Dr. Lawyer IndianChief's latest post over at FreeDarko.com (side note: if you're a sports fan with an interest in social issues, I highly reccomend FreeDarko). But it's one of my favorite blog reads of late--it's about the need to tear certain sports stars down, focusing on the NBA and Serena Wiliams and Maria Sharapova.

So much attention was paid to Sharapova's "star" after she won Wimbledon, and with every ad campaign, slinky dress, and public appearance, pundits began making faulty attributions that all of this "fun" was inhibiting her from winning another Grand Slam. That tennis experts even included "Kournikova" in conversations about Sharapova's work ethic is sillier than comparing Yao Ming's work ethic to Yuta Tabuse's because they're both Asian. And Serena, well, the lambasting of her has been all too well-documented. All the time that she takes off, the tournaments she pulls out of at the last minute because of "injuries," the kicking it with Keyshawn, and her stunning ESPY appearances--people feel that she "owes" the sport something, giving her a harder time than Robert Smith or Tiki Barber, and SHE hasn't even retired yet. (Not even to mention the fact how much her being "out of shape" has gotten discussion during this recent tournament).

DLIC has a different analysis of why this is, but I believe this is because we feel threatened by people like Williams and Sharapova. Two non-Anglo powerful women are torn down precisely because their high status threatens the media's image of what is an "ideal". After all, the media system has power over most images in their feature stories (ie, People magazine-type stories, which are suddenly being treated as real news), but they do not have power over who advances to the finals in tennis.

On the other hand, they do have power over the commentary on these stars, and it seems as though the media will do anything to avoid talking about their accomplishments. Jean Kilbourne has done some outstanding work on this issue.

Instead, they focus on Maria Sharapova's physical attractiveness. When you have a truly dominant athlete, focusing on their attractiveness is a way to undercut their accomplishments. The classic example of this is Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, which has actually gone so far as to have female athletes pose.
(Interestingly, although certainly not female, Beckham is given a nasty dose of this as well. This is unsurprising, however, since he displays a radically different form of masculinity than the anger-fueled stereotypes that are usually glorified in athletes).

On the other hand, Serena Williams is treated in a particularly unfeminine manner, and is frequently the victim of stereotypical portrayals of African-American women as "animalistic", and other disparaging remarks about her body that criticize her for her "unmanly" demeanor. I see echoes of the latter in the media's treatments of both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Condoleeza Rice (neither of whom I agree with, but they have certainly been unfairly targeted by the media).

DLIC sees similar treatment in the predominantly African-American population in the NBA.
Psychologist, Nick Haslam, has a compelling theory of dehumanization, which suggests that dehumanization comes in essentially two forms: denying people uniquely human attributes (e.g. moral sensibility), which posits humans as animal-like, or denying people human nature itself (e.g. agency), positing humans as objects or automata. I suggest that the type of NBA-wide dehumanization going on falls somewhere in the middle, constituting a mass infantilization of ballers.

Stern raised the age limit but more and more is treating players like children. The synthetic leather ball fiasco actually constitutes an underrated example of this. Players were denied a SAY. a CHOICE. Rationality, desire--these core human qualities were not necessarily denied, but rather they were ignored, and that angered the hell out of the players.

It's a fascinating set of comments, especially with Haslam's theory about turning humans into animals. It seems as though this is a common label not only for African-American women, but for black men and women. The NBA certainly is a good example of this.

I find the second half of Haslam's theory relevant as well, since changing individuals into automatons is a hallmark of classism. One could argue that Stern's decision to switch balls unilaterally is not really an attack on their stardom per se, but rather a disturbing trend amongst corporations where management reserves the right to make all decisions and denying non-management workers a voice. This mass infantilization of workers across America is generally accepted by the media structure, which is probably why it's so hard to get positive coverage of union activity that demands a say in workplace matters. It is also a particularly insidious subtext to have, since demanding that workers are below management as humans is incredibly dangerous to equal treatment of all human beings.

To summarize--I'm not so sure that I'm comfortable with the "star" system that thoroughly permeates our media. But until then, there is a lot that we can learn about ourselves from analyzing the way we treat our celebrities.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Maori as a Second Language

Being the good American I am, I'm always fascinated by other places' languages. I just found out today that Maori is actually the official second language of New Zealand.
I've never been to New Zealand, but this is interesting given the debate today over whether to enshrine English as the "national language" of America. By declaring English the official "first language" and Maori the "official second language" I don't think they're actually protecting Maori's status as a language as a culture. Rather, it is making their culture and language officially "secondary" to the primary culture, which is Anglo.
This is particularly complex because part of New Zealand's history is that they promised to protect Maori as a language in the Treaty of Waitangi (which apparently is rife with controversy itself--if I'm not mistaken, I believe that the English version is actually different than the Maori version, not just a pure translation--feel free to correct me on this one if I'm off). So on the one hand, there has to be official recognition of Maori, but recognizing it as secondary is...sort of offensive. At least it seems it would be that way to me.
I think that with the current debate over making English the "national language" in America, these are important issues to consider. It is a largely symbolic gesture, made to reassure skittish Americans that the dominant Anglo strain will not be washed away in a sea of Hispanic immigration. However, these things can also seen as an assertion of superiority. And since this does shape how we view an entire class of people, I'm extremely concerned about how this will shape generations of younger Americans and how they view our neighbors to the south, much less Hispanics in their own communities.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Interesting Commentary on the Iraq War

A very interesting article political strategy in "framing" the debate over Bush's military plans is at CNN's website--check out "Escalation or Surge: Those are Fighting Words".

Sexism and Racism: Not a Two-Way Street

Percusso made an interesting comment below, that attacks on men because they are men is "sexist". It's an interesting point, but I'm not sure I agree with it. Prejudiced? Yes. Bigoted? Probably that too. But not actually sexist. Sexism, like racism (and most other "bad" isms) are largely about the combination of prejudice with power.

There are a lot of people who support my definition, but a lot of people who don't. And there's very little to argue definitively that power is a neccessary precondition of racism or sexism, or vice versa. But I think it's very important that we define it as such because it helps distinguish between the dangerous impact that sexism and racism has on people's lives, as opposed to only people's feelings being hurt (which is also no laughing matter, but a less serious designation nonetheless). When people are sexist or racist (or a similar ideology), entire classes of people are subject to being second-class citizens economically, socially, or in terms of physical safety.

This distinction is more than merely semantics, because it separates "being a prejudiced jerk who we shouldn't imitate" from "being a prejudiced jerk who can cause unbelievable pain and suffering to entire groups of people--and we especially shouldn't imitate him." While working against prejudice of all kinds is important, preserving the distinction of prejudice and power is important to understanding why injustice exists for entire categories of people.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Pro-Choice vs. Other?

Jeff at Feminist Allies has some interesting comments about being pro-choice. I'm still musing about the various terminology--pro-choice vs. pro-life vs. anti-choice vs. pro-abortion...I hope to break these terms down more at some point, but what do you think they all mean? I definitely identify as pro-choice (as will most of you reading this), but a friend recently gave me a good definition for what "pro-choice" is really about.
This young woman grew up in a fundamentalist evangelical home, and still identifies with that to some degree. She believes that abortion kills a soul, and yet she recently decided she actually was "pro-choice" because she doesn't believe that the government has any business regulating women's bodies based on a religious principle. She is very clearly against abortion, but she is very clearly for "choice", and it is the concept of choice that drives my position as well.

The Christies

Someone just sent me a link to the new BET show "The Christies". For those of you who don't know who Doug Christie is, he's a former NBA guard who very publicly shows that he respects and cares for his wife. This usually overshadows his defensive contributions--after all, a lot of guys in the NBA play good defense, but not a whole lot go out of their way to establish an alternative sense of masculinity and relationship with his wife.

Turns out BET decided their marriage would make a good reality show. Interested in a show that would demonstrate a loving, healthy relationship, I clicked over to see this.

BETJ follows the lives of NBA star Doug Christie and his strong-willed wife, Jackie. You won’t be able to take your eyes off this romantic train wreck as the Christies work through the issues of living together.

Doug Christie is a champion and a tough-nosed competitor who will bite, fight, scratch and claw his way to victory. At least on the court, that is! Off the court, however, his wife Jackie is the star. She is omnipresent, controlling and clearly in charge. Some would say that Doug’s “whipped”; he says he’s happy.

So instead of focusing on a unique style of masculinity and a relationship by which people share power, they sell it by saying "look at this p-whipped NBA star! He's a freak!" Because he has a different style, they vilify his wife and say he's weak. Not exactly what I had hoped for.

Won't Believe the Hype

Men Can Stop Rape just posted a great column by Bryan Proffitt called "Won't Believe the Hype." I won't repost it all here, but here's a snippet. It's in the same vein as my last post, but longer and more in-depth.

We know that there are people across the country looking for a grounds-eye perspective on this one. Others are better equipped to come with legal analysis and media strategy, but for those of us focused on the long-term struggle to end sexual violence, here's some thoughts. Please share them with others and take action in your own communities.

Go check it out here.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Alexander Pring-Wilson and the Duke Rape Case

When I was living in Cambridge--a few blocks away from Harvard--a young man stabbed another young man. One man was a white Harvard Grad Student, the other was a hispanic high-school dropout short-order cook. One was heavier, taller, and armed with a knife, and he stabbed his opponent to death--not too far away from my apartment.
We often stereotype criminals as hispanics with low levels of education, so it came as some surprise to me that the attacker was actually the Harvard Grad Student. Alexander Pring-Wilson was convicted of manslaughter, a conviction that was later thrown out and is currently tied up in the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

I remember reading a comment by a leader in the African-American community at the time that went something like this: "One can almost imagine that the defense will be 'white upper-class Harvard Graduate Students don't murder people in dark alleyways."
Of course, that's not true. Men are the most likely to commit violent acts of all types, and this is a dramatically stronger causal relationship than any ethnicity.

When paired with the Duke Rape Case Accusations, we see a series of similarities that tell us about violent crimes that are perpetrated by a dominant group member against a non-dominant group member:

The aggressor feels strongly that the other group is "beneath" him". See above.
The attacker is motivated by a perverse sense of masculinity. In the Duke Case, they had hired a stripper and actually threatened to sodomize both strippers. In the Pring-Wilson case, it was because some people had dared laugh at him.
The initial reaction to both are that "these are good kids". In Pring-Wilson's case, there's actually an entire website devoted to establishing his humanity and how he fits our image of a young man who can do no harm. In the Duke Case, you can see the favorable coverage given to the attackers by 60 Minutes. After all, the model of our society is a white man who goes to a prestigious college and participates in extra-curriculars.
Both times, the attackers are turned into "victims". In the Duke Rape Case, there is a great deal of time devoted to showing how the lacrosse players were supposedly unfairly targeted because of their sex, class, ethnicity, etc. And you can see the same thing in Pring-Wilson, this time stating that he is the victim of a "politically correct society" and "judicial mismanagement."

It is almost as though the media screams, "wait, the justice system is supposed to reinforce patterns of dominance, not break them!"

Other thoughts?

Welcome to "Just Speech"

Welcome to Just Speech. Just to introduce myself: I am a violence prevention educator at a small rape crisis center and domestic violence shelter in Northern Virginia. I also am a community organizer in my spare time, and a former union organizer. I'm an alumnus of the Jewish Organizing Initiative in Boston and Grinnell College in Iowa.
Just Speech refers not only to what I hope to present in this blog (commentary from a social justice perspective) but also the common (mis)conception that words do not influence the world that we live in. When we talk about hurtful words (such as "slut" or "kike"), we often don't analyze beyond the basics, which are usually:
  1. "You shouldn't say those words. They are hurtful."
  2. "Lighten up. You shouldn't be so serious."
While I certainly sympathize with the first statement, it doesn't really explain the depth of why these words are so dangerous. These words are not just powerful, they literally are power. They are verbally abusive, designed to destroy another human being by reminding the target of their vulnerability (due to their membership to a particular sex, ethnic group, or other social category).
This is essentially the danger of the Confederate flag as well--it's not just that it is disrespectful to remind African-Americans of slavery, but it resonates powerfully in a world where whites dominate economically, politically, and socially. It is a reminder that African-Americans are still threatened today--both physically and monetarily.
To say "Lighten Up" is an attempt to prevent social change. It is saying that "my good time isn't as important as equality." It is not "Just Speech"--on any level. It is fundamentally an attack on an entire group's dignity, an attack--when backed up by other forms of power--that produces social inequality. And by devaluing and relegating an individual to lower status, we signal that it is acceptable to commit violence against them. This is the basis for violence against any particular group--women, ethnic minorities, and the GLBT community. (A perfect demonstration of this step-by-step process is how the Jewish people were systematically devalued in early 20th Century Europe. Hopefully, you can contribute other analyses in the comment section)
So let's discover Just Speech together.