Monday, September 8, 2014

Women in the NFL: Dancers or Punching Bags?

This is a screenshot of the Yahoo Sports page today:

The sports world is congratulating itself for the harsh punishment that the NFL is handing down to Ray Rice for the assault on his fiancĂ©e (now wife) in an elevator last February.  Yahoo Sports published this excellent article that point by point illustrates the numerous ways that Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens, the National Football League, the District Attorney's Office and many others failed Ms. Palmer.

But look closely at the content on the right of the page listed under "Latest NFL Slideshows".  There is a slideshow highlighting athletes who own their own sports franchises, and highlights from the week's games but insidiously - next to an article about a woman whose football player husband punched her in the face and dragged her out of the elevator like she was a rag doll - there are two slideshows of scantily clad women dancing for benefit of the male gaze.

The incongruence of the article about the victimization of Ms. Palmer next to slideshows of nearly nude dancers is tinny at best, sad and disgusting is more like it.  The cheerleaders, like Ms. Palmer, are undeniably beautiful.  But it is sad to see women relegated to a role of either dancing for male pleasure or punching bag/defender.

What is actually much worse than the slideshow (which, as I said, portrays beautiful women celebrating football) is to read the comments left by "fans".  The hate and denigration directed at the women displays a deeply troubling misogyny that explains the mindset of the NFL fan that accepts the violence that star running backs and defensive ends direct toward their wives and girlfriends.  That news of Ray Rice's assault on his wife is covered in the "Sports" section reinforces our society's acceptance of violence against women - it's all just part of the game.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Reflections on Mandela

My husband is travelling in Europe and called me early this morning, bereft that a character in the series “Sons of Anarchy” had died.  I was still waking up, but was dumbfounded that he called to tell me that, but had nothing to say about the passing of Nelson Mandela.

He is about 13 years younger than me.

When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, my husband was still in junior high while I was preparing to leave for El Salvador to support that country’s march toward justice.  Nelson Mandela was a potent symbol of the injustice of the apartheid system that many of my fellow student activists were fighting to overthrow.

I spent most of the 80’s relearning the world order as my perspective shifted from my conservative parents’ devotion to Reagan and certainty of “American Exceptionalism” to one of horrified recognition that the United States often ignored the blatant behavior of dictators and bullies throughout the world or worse, assisted them in their exploitation and oppression of the people they ruled.  The examples were plentiful, Somoza and Pinochet, the Shah of Iran and scores of generals whose names are better forgotten.   But the most cogent and embarrassing symbol of the United States’ official indifference to the suffering of exploited and oppressed people the world over was the Apartheid regime in South Africa.  It was a caricature of every value that Ronald Reagan claimed we possess.  Reagan’s “shining city on the hill” as a beacon of hope the world over was the provenance of cash and arms meant to continue oppression. 

The President’s insouciance in the face of the violent and disgusting treatment of black South Africans left no space for ambiguity.   Official “concern” about communism in South Africa was laughable in the face of the Apartheid.  A generation of social justice activists, myself included, came of age as part of the wave of divesture that finally forced the US to withdraw support from the Apartheid regime and we learned that we did, in fact, have power.

Nelson Mandela began as a symbol of the Apartheid regime’s fatuous racism and willingness of the powerful to crush dissent.  But upon his release from Robbin Island, his stature only grew.  He demonstrated that one did not have to be crushed by anger and bitterness.   He lived and led by example the principle of liberation theology that oppression equally oppresses both the oppressed and the oppressor.  

I believe that he is the greatest man who has lived within my lifetime.  I am saddened by the loss to the world of this great man.  My sadness is greater still because my husband, who I believe is a good man who cares for justice, is untouched by his passing. 

We have been careless with his legacy.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Who Cares: Unpaid care work, poverty and women's / girl's human rights

Several years ago, when I was completing my graduate studies, I had a dream that I was late to my graduation where I would be recognized for my outstanding academic achievement.  In my dream, I could hear "Pomp and Circumstance" playing and I could hear them calling my name, but I wasn't able to reach the stage because there were mountain high piles of dirty laundry that I had to climb and walk over to get to the stage.  I remember as keenly as if it had happened in true life the struggle to wade through the piles of clothes, feeling the pant legs of my husband's jeans tripping me as I fell into the soft mountain of clothes then half swimming and half crawling to get there as they called my name one final time to take my place on the stage.

Then, like a it was a lost dinner reservation, the speaker on stage moved on to the next name, that of one of my male colleagues and he stepped forward in his graduation gown and accepted the recognition.

My piles of laundry that I can easily manage by tossing the clothes into my high efficiency washer do not compare to the hardship of collecting water and firewood in the developing world.  However, this video illustrates so powerfully how the unseen and uncounted labor of women handicaps us in the marketplace.  Caring for a family is hard work.  I love the closing quote that we should have the right to provide the care, and also the right to not be exploited.  Caring for a family is truly beautiful and meaningful work and it should be counted and it should be valued.

Monday, August 26, 2013


"One day you're there, then all of a sudden... there's less of you and you wonder where that part went...
if it's living somewhere outside of you... and you keep thinking... maybe you'll get it back.  and then you realize ... it's just gone"

This blows my mind.  She wanted "other things', she tells Pete.  I just watched this again this morning; a round up of favorite Peggy scenes from Mad Men.  In this scene she tells Pete that she had his baby and gave it away.  As she is telling him the lines quoted above, I initially thought she was talking about the baby.  But seeing it again, she could be talking about her baby or her ambition.  She chose ambition.

Her ambition was such an integral part of her, so central to her being.  I can read this scene as a metaphor for women having children - at least for ambitious women who have children.  You have a child and it crowds out ambition.  It's there, but the quotidian tasks of childrearing consume you and it feels very sudden.  You are a smart and ambitious person, then suddenly you become invisible.  You think that when the baby naps or when the baby starts pre-school you will get it back.  It's still there and you will get it back.  Then you realize that you made different choices and it's just gone.

Peggy knew that by becoming a wife and a mother, she would be less of herself and even though everything about that time and age insisted that she do so; she chose "other things".

and Pete was incredulous...

Monday, July 15, 2013

So... she finally got me.  It's probably not right to think of it that way, but that's what keeps going through my mind.

She got me.

For years I have stiffly held back affection to her as she posted thoughtful posts on my facebook wall - commenting on my new profile pics, liking photos of my kids.  Once in awhile I'd get a random message but for the most part have managed to keep her at arms length.

She is the adopted half-sister that took my place.  My father was so thoroughly disappointed in me, so embarrassed by me that when he and his second wife adopted her he said, "this time I'll do it right".  She was an innocent, but I couldn't bear to let her in.

Turns out, he didn't do it right that time, either.  She was cast out as an older teen, just as I was.  Without a loving and supportive mother - which I was fortunate to have - she is now a very young adult with a toddler, lots of tattoos and an on again off again career as a "model".  Maybe an exotic dancer - we're not sure.

I gloated.  Inwardly, because that would be ugly and I didn't want anyone to see how truly ugly I felt, but yes - I gloated.  Maybe I didn't look so bad now.  Then I moved on to indifference.  What could I do?  I live in another city and I don't even know this girl.

Then a facebook message, "Hey Sis"...  And next thing I know, I'm off to B of A to make a deposit to her account.  I am so angered by my father, our father, and his evil, evil wife who will let their daughter and granddaughter sleep on the streets and I feel so responsible.  She is family.

And I am blessed.

I have a sister.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

women < fetus

I am a Catholic woman who is squeamish about abortion; but I am also a pro-choice feminist.  So that’s where I am starting.

I am so sickened by the multiple forced miscarriages, violent abortions that the pig of Cleveland perpetrated on the woman he held captive.  It is abhorrent.  But I am conflicted about the potential of charging him for murder.  These are the moments when I am most challenged by my faith and by my political philosophy of life.

The charge of murder is, I believe, what prosecutors want so that they can charge him with a capital crime.  I completely understand the urge of the State to murder that man.  But it somehow feels that the lives of the fetuses are somehow more valuable than the lives of the women.  The life of Ariel Castro in exchange for the lives of the fetuses; but not the life of Ariel Castro for imprisoning three women, holding them in chains, locked in a basement and repeatedly raping them for a decade.  The lives and well being of the women are less valued  (prison) than the potential lives of fetuses (death penalty). 

The State, like Arial Castro, sees women as receptacles of future children.  The women were held captive and in at least one case, one of the women was raped and forced to carry the fetus to term.  Like the State and our broader culture, Castro sees women as sources of sexual pleasure that should be dominated and controlled.  In his view, women have no humanity, no agency.  In the eyes of the State, we also lack humanity and agency.  We are sexualized and objectified, but if we become pregnant then we are forced to carry that child to term because our only value is as receptacles of future children.  The lives of future children are of greater value than our own.

So I am angered that the lives of fetuses are more important than the grave wrong that was done to the women.  I am hurt and sad that as a woman, I am less than the seed of a man.  I am enraged at a State that so clearly tells me that my only value as a human is to be sexually available and make babies.

Fuck you, State.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

An Open Letter to My Brother

Dearest One,

I have been mulling over your recent Facebook posts commenting on the reelection of the President – by turns angry and sad.  For example, the post that had a graphic that stated:  Election Day Prediction: Obama will take an early lead…  Until all the Republicans get off work.  It was indicative of the parallel narrative that has emerged on social networks - Obama voters were voting based on their dependency on government handouts and the changing demographics of the electorate.  

For the last four years, Tea Partiers and other disgruntled Americans who, like you, tend to be white have been ranting about the need to take back our country.  I have always wondered just whom they thought they were taking it back from and why did they think it only belonged to them.  To my ears, it sounded pretty racist – given that the President was black and the insinuation that his only supporters were black folks who were illegally registered to vote by ACORN.  Following the President’s reelection, where the active suppression of poor and minority people was part of the Republic strategy  (http://www.politicspa.com/turzai-voter-id-law-means-romney-can-win-pa/37153/) and the Democratic machine was focused on identifying and registering new voters, the reactions of those Americans who felt they were losing “their” America became even more crystalized.  The traditional electorate – not black, not Latino – but those who have enjoyed unearned privilege for centuries felt cheated and scared. 

Bill O’Reilly provided the most lucid and shameless explanation of those dual strains of thought – the belief that the blacks and browns are taking over and they’re taking your stuff:

“It's a changing country. The demographics are changing. It's not a traditional America any more. And there are 50% of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it and he ran on it. And, whereby twenty years ago, President Obama would have been roundly defeated by an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney. The white establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama, overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things?”

And of course, Rush Limbaugh’s explanation for women breaking for Obama was that we want free birth control – again, stuff.  I’d just like to note – since it is rarely pointed out – that contraception is typically considered by medical professionals as basic preventative health care, the cost of which is far less than the typical outcome: pregnancy.  But that’s a whole other post….

You clearly don’t have a problem with government assistance for yourself.  While you are the most outspoken person I know on issues of government dependency, you are also the person I know who has most availed himself of government assistant.  Beginning with your own public education, then the US military training which was wasted on you because you couldn’t stop using drugs, your dependence on welfare and Medicaid when your son was born, your repeated trips to rehab that were subsidized by taxpayers, your use of the Family Medical Leave Act to keep your job during your trips to rehab and finally, retraining for a new career when you were fired from your job.    Now your dependency on government has been passed on to the next generation of your family with your son’s addiction and trips to jail and his son born while on public assistance.  Your family’s story is not unusual – in spite of the racially coded language employed by the conservatives that are pushing this fantasy of black and brown Obama voters, most of those on government assistance are indeed white. 

So please – enough of the race baiting.  I don’t want to hear any more of your squawking and complaining about shifty, lazy people (code words for Blacks and Latinos) who don’t work electing the President, or the corollary, slutty, lazy women too cheap to purchase birth control having babies on your dime who voted for abortion.   What you are really angry about is that you are afraid that you will no longer get to ride on your unearned privilege.  Don’t worry – you are still white and only those who have known you for a long time look at you and see government dependence.  I, for one, am glad that there were programs in place to support you in your struggle for sobriety and provided an opportunity for your children to go to school and receive a free public education.  I’m pleased that government healthcare programs could provide a safe birth for my nephew and that public assistance kept a roof over his head in his early years.  And I am relieved that his son has the same benefits. 

I supported the President because his vision of America is aligned with mine.  I don’t want stuff.  I don’t even need birth control anymore.  I am a high-income earner and my children attend private schools – but I want to live in a fair and just society.  I want to live in a society that doesn’t rest on unearned privilege but on equal opportunity.  I want a chance to compete in the marketplace and not be handicapped because I am a mother and I want even those who have made mistakes and perhaps fallen down a few times – as you have – to have a shot at redemption.  There is a lot of space between absolute dependency and absolute self-reliance.  I think that the government has a role to play in regulating the markets, protecting and preserving our rights, including labor rights and providing a safety net to the most vulnerable.  It makes us all stronger when we stand together.

I love you more than you know.


Your Sister