Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Culture of Domestic Violence in the NFL

I’m a football fan. I’ve been watching the Patriots play since Drew Bledsoe was the model of the stiff-legged quarterback, and I’ve recently carved out a spot in my heart for the poor, poor Browns. So when I begin this post with a title that declares the NFL to have a culture of domestic violence, it is not from a place of malice towards an out-group or of ignorance of a culture. Instead it is from a place of pain and with a sadness in my heart that I admit that this thing I love, this part of so many of us, has an attitude of passivity towards the violent behavior that players impose upon their families.

Ray Rice was seen dragging his fiancée by the hair through a casino. The NFL did not pursue additional information, including the tape that was later obtained by TMZ.  Instead they ignored it and banned Rice for two games. It was only when their hands were forced that they instituted a serious ban. Adrian Peterson was known to be facing charges of child endangerment/child abuse. He was allowed to play for his team until a warrant was put out for his arrest. Greg Hardy’s domestic violence case was also not a surprise. These are not small time players, and this is not a couple isolated incidents. These are some of the NFL’s biggest stars and This. Is. A. Problem.

Like many young men, I played football in high school. I had been watching the sport for years and I saw a chance to do something that seemed ‘manly’, that showed toughness. How is abusing your children manly? How is dragging your unconscious fiancée around by her hair being tough? Protip: these actions are neither manly nor tough.

NFL teams’ responses have been as poor as the league responses. Two of the three players mentioned above are currently on the NFL’s “exempt/commissioner” list, a designation that is rarely used but was intended to give players time to address “off the field issues”. Both Peterson and Hardy, by the way, are still being paid their salary while they are on “leave”. That’s over $700,000 per week for Hardy. Past NFL players who have been placed on this list include Michael Vick, who was sent to prison for his role in a dog fighting ring. Basically it’s a way for teams to take their legally troubled players out of the limelight and off the field until the trouble blows over.

This statement leads me back to the problem I mention in my first paragraph, the problematic attitude of passivity towards domestic violence that the NFL has exhibited. Perhaps passivity is even too weak a word. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that that the NFL chose not to act, chose to turn a blind eye to the domestic violence problem that it has, and in doing so tacitly encouraged this culture of violence in the home. The NFL estimates that over 40% of its fan base in female. Mr. Goodell, how can you encourage the abuse of women when they make up over a third of your fan base? How can you encourage the abuse of children, who may want to grow up to play the very game that has in some way influenced they violence they faced in their own lives?

A post by Angela Barney was featured on this blog a couple weeks ago highlighting the lack of initial punishment in the Rice case and focusing on the sometimes appalling responses to the case from some ESPN and other news anchors. Ms. Barney’s post covers those topics better than I could hope to, and articulates some greater societal problems that we have with the issue. As an entity that provides role models for millions of children, as an intrinsic part of American culture, the NFL needs to do better. Roger Goodell’s apology for choosing to ignore evidence and suspend Rice only two games is not enough. The new policy is a step in the right direction, but it is still not enough. The NFL needs to take responsibility for its actions. It needs to admit that it was wrong, and that it has been ignoring what is truly a problem that is faced by its players and those they love. It needs to step up and get help for all those involved and implement programs to educate players and prevent these problems from occurring in the first place. Until then their fans, their sponsors, and the world will be left wondering whether football is the same American staple is has been, or whether it will cease to be a place where role models and good work ethic can be demonstrated and extolled.

I close this post as I opened it, a fan of football waiting for Sunday to watch my teams play. I hope that is not a decision I find myself regretting.

- Written by Eric R. McCurdy

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Othering Locs in the Military

Over the past 12 years, my locs have grown into a very noticeable feature. Strangers frequently ask how long I have been growing them and compliment me on their appearance. When I wear them down, they almost reach my butt. I am known to refer to my locs as The Hair. They have evolved into at least a portion of my self-identity, and I cannot imagine my life without them.

It was not always this way. When I decided to go natural, it was during my undergraduate years when I became fascinated with Afrocentric spoken word venues, racial concerns, and generally learning to become proud of my Blackness. I do not believe I ever was not proud, but developmentally, my early 20s were times of discovery and acceptance. (I prefer to refer to my teenage years as my stage of chaos and confusion.)

I stopped putting relaxers in my hair, and eventually cut it off altogether. As a result, I wore a very low boy’s cut for some time. My hair wasn’t even long enough to comb out into a mini Afro. I often wore variously colored wraps over my hair when out in public. Needless to write, I have no pictures of this very awkward time period when I felt very good about my decision while also being conscious of how the rest of the world would view a woman with no hair.

My awkward, just beginning to grow out my natural hair phase was short. Eventually, the hair became long enough to twist and after that moment, it was just the patience of allowing them to take on their new form. And without the chemicals found in relaxers, my hair grew quickly, long, and dare I say it…beautiful. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I don’t concern myself with persons who don’t find natural hair beautiful. Who are they to judge?

Back in April, there were several headlines asserting that banning loc hairstyles, as found in newly published professional appearance standards for persons in the United States military, is racially biased. However, the banning of locs is not some new phenomenon, as can be exemplified from the following excerpt dated at least 5 years ago:

Dreadlocks (unkempt, twisted, matted individual parts of hair) are prohibited in uniform or in civilian clothes on duty. Army Regulation 670-1  

I am not aware of any petitions concerning the above regulations 5 years ago. However, when the revised manual was released essentially banning locs (I prefer the term locs to dreadlocks, but that is an entirely different blog), twists, and large cornrows, there was considerable criticism and pushback. My guess is that the goal of neat, maintained natural hairstyles struck the right nerves and the right number of advocates managed to gather enough supportive momentum to reach the resulting policy-changing media frenzy. 

Recently, military regulations (the Marine Corps remaining an exception) have been revised to expand their definitions of acceptable hairstyles to include cornrows, braids, and “other hairstyles.” Of importance, the phrase “matted and unkempt” is being eliminated as recognized offensive language. The chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus has publicly stated that the traditional hairstyles worn by women of color are often necessary to meet unique needs, and do not reflect less professionalism or commitment to high standards as expected within the armed forces.

This is a win…for natural hair wearers generally, but not necessarily us loc wearers. Allow me to read between the lines. Cornrows and braids specifically are named as acceptable. This means twists and locs are discretionary. Moreover, the elimination of “matted and unkempt” makes the natural hair wearers feel more accepted, but this acceptance separates the natural hair wearers from the loc wearers. Here is a news flash. Some loc wearers prefer their hair matted and unkempt, and do not find it offensive for others to believe it so. Again, who are these people to judge?

My problem and frustration with this dialogue of banning locs are the many misconceptions that surfaced as a result. Yes, certain celebrities have made locs popular to the non-Bob Marley influenced crowd in recent years, but the hairstyle itself has never been a fad. Locs did not start with Bob Marley or Jamaica. Bob Marley made them popular, yes, but locs were worn all over the country a very long time before Marley was born. What do you think people of (more directly) African descent did before relaxers?

The fact of the matter is that African Americans have different hair. I know we’re in a country where a melting pot is the ideal, but I am not going to pretend I can just hang out at a beach for a week at a time without hating my hair by day 2. It takes forever to wash bits of sand out of hair locs. I cannot just shampoo and rinse after a day at the beach. Trust me on this one. I also am not going to pretend like the many years I spent relaxing my hair each month and changing my hairstyle each week was a walk on the beach. It takes hours in a hair salon for an African American woman to meet European hair standards. I know this from personal experience.

I concur that natural hairstyles are appropriate for the unique needs of African American women’s hair. I spend almost no time in hair salons now. However, I do not judge African American women who do not wear their hair in its natural form. The stigma that locs are not professional or somehow substandard is a pervasive, identity challenging experience that starts in infancy when complete strangers as well as family members coo over “baby hair” and chastise “nappy roots.”

We cannot always be babies. We must grow up.

We must start interacting with the outside world where European beauty reigns in the media and everyday social interactions. I am in the professional world. When I show up to work with unkempt locs rather than neat freshly retwisted ones, there are whispered discussions from my co-workers. These co-workers are of African descent and even some are natural hair wearers. I dream of a world where I do not have to constantly groom my locs in order to fulfill my everyday work tasks without someone else’s opinion of my personally accepted appearance.

As far as military regulations go, I say if the hairstyle does not impair work performance, let it be. If it does, then follow the appropriate procedure in terms of performance review and allow the person to make the decision. It would be silly to wear certain hairstyles while in active combat, but the military is full of work positions that do not involve specific performance demands that might be impaired by certain hairstyles.

As far as my hair being extreme or a distraction…that is an opinion – not a fact. My hair is different, but I don’t find it extreme nor do I find it to be a distraction. If someone unfamiliar with locs is awestruck, that is a reflection of how stagnant we are as a country regarding cultural differences. It does not make it an inarguable fact.

Long loc wearers like myself aren’t joining military ranks in large droves anyway so this really is a minority of a minority perspective. Still, I must note that as a long loc wearer in the process of obtaining a needed professional degree that does not require the restrictive uniform of someone in combat, it is the United States military’s loss not mine.

 - Written by Sy Pryor  

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Whatever You Do, Do it Like a Girl

This past June the #LikeAGirl campaign launched. In this video, they asked adults and children to reenact various tasks “like a girl” would. The adult men and women would perform the tasks, such as running in place or throwing an invisible ball, in a way that denoted frailty or weakness.  The young girls, on the other hand, ran and threw the ball using every ounce of energy they had.

It’s no surprise that girls and boys are socialized differently as they grow. Social learning theory posits that we imitate what we see from those that are like us. The stereotypical one being that boys wrestle and girls play with dolls. With phrases like “you _____ like a girl” or “Don’t be a wimp,” it denotes there is something inherently inferior about doing anything “like a girl” would, yet alone actually being a girl. When the adult women reenacted running or throwing a ball in a way that demonstrated weakness or with the inability to be the best, what does that say about how she fundamentally views herself and other women?

The reason I love this video so much is because it inspires girls and women to embrace the phrase “like a girl.”  It acknowledges that girls are different than boys, but it does so in a way that, “Yes, we may be different, but we ARE awesome!” It makes her feel confident in her abilities to run, throw, jump, write, and exist in a way that she embraces her strengths and abilities to be the best person she can be. This is great for women who have grown up to believe she is less than because of her gender, and it’s even greater for girls who have not yet been socially reared to believe it.  With movements like this, girls can have higher self-esteem and self-efficacy, and that’s exactly what this world needs. 

- Written by Lindsey Harper

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Feminism in the age of Michael Brown (and Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin, and Kimani Gray, and Ramarley Graham, and Kendrec McDade, and Timothy Russell, and Ervin Jefferson, and Patrick Dorismond, and Ousmane Zongo, and Timonthy Stansbury Jr., and Sean Bell, and… )

In the wake of this year’s UCSB Isla Vista shooting, after 22-year old Elliot Rodgers killed six people, his manifesto was circulated widely through the nether-realms of social media. Clearly the accumulation of defensive and painful rationalizations from a disturbed young man who may have benefited from better mental-health care, this document wretched with a too familiar narrative: women have all the power in sexual relationships, women are cold and unfair in declining the propositions of men; in short, women are at fault for the violence enacted upon them.

In many ways, Elliot Rodgers was not a lone gunman. He was the inevitable conclusion of the ideology of Men’s’ Rights Activism (MRA), of libertine pickup artists and neg-hitters, and of every movie and tv show about a nerdy, down-trodden guy. In Rodger’s mind, he was entitled to “win the girl;” failing this was a great injustice.

In a welcome break from the lone misogynist com monster narrative, thousands of women took to the internet to express outrage toward this ideology. The #yesallwomen campaign gave a voice to the sexual aggression most women face every single day for their infuriating crime of walking around in public space. With #yesallwomen, and in many more forums, outrage was directed not at Elliot Rodgers, but at the rape-culture in which he was raised; at the constant social violence toward women that is denied as often as it is committed. 

Still, the term “culture” fails to fully encapsulate the way systemic power works. Discussing the Isla Vista shootings, activist Jen Roesch writes, “sexism is the set of ideas that both flow from and serve to justify the unequal status of women.” In other words, ideology is born from already unbalanced power relationships, and then serves to reinforce or maintain those in power. It is no accident, for instance, that the “Mommy Myth” (of idealized motherhood) soared in popularity at the conclusion of each World War when men came home to reclaim their position in private production, or that Weight Watchers was created in tandem with the Women’s Liberation Movement.

Behind every lone-gunman is a cultural ideology, and behind each cultural ideology stand the institutional and systemic forces of oppression. Pointing to the ideology is a good start, but ultimately we must address our social institutions. In the case of Isla Visa, this means demanding change from the universities that stage mock-trials in their own kangaroo courts, the police precincts that fail to process rape kits, and the criminal justice system that is somehow still completely beguiled about how to take victim testimony seriously.

And women are not the only people who can’t walk down the street without being harassed. In 2012 alone, 136 unarmed black men were killed by police officers and security guards. From then to now, an unarmed black man has been killed every 28 hours – and that’s just the body count. Let us not forget the constant barrage of micro-aggressions experienced by people of color on a daily basis: being followed, being stared out, being touched without consent – these last examples will sound familiar to #yesallwomen.

And just like Elliot Rodgers, the police officers implicated are not lone gunmen, but the result of institutional and systemic oppression. In this avalanche of murders, such systemic oppression includes the discriminate policing of black neighborhoods, suspension of basic civil rights at the discretion of law officers, and failure to prosecute police or “white on black crime.”

And yet, in remarks uncomfortably similar to the ugly idiom “she was asking for it,” last week, the New York Times published an article claiming Michael Brown “was no angel.” 

This is just one of a many of strains of ideology that holds people of color responsible for the way they are treated by the police. The ideology insists that black culture creates young men that don’t know how to behave themselves (a myth, by the way, that has been debunked by social scientists more than once), and in turn, are killed for their own insubordination. “If he hadn’t demonstrated aggression…” “If he hadn’t talked back…” “If he had just dropped his cell phone...” …he’d still be alive. But rest assured: he was no angel.

Angels don’t exist; neither do monsters. Many of these young men have been defended by their families and communities who exonerate their characters. And even if a single one was not a total pillar of community and goodness, was not a followed by an ethereal orb of light to alert all passersbys of his saintliness; even if any one of the young men killed was, I don’t know, a real human teenage boy, then murder is as justifiable a consequence for copping an attitude as being raped is for wearing a low-cut blouse.

So, what about feminism in the wake of Michael Brown? The proponents of women’s rights must consider not only the interests of all women; we must consider the interests of all people. Like untying a knot made from multiple strings, to set one loose, you must untangle the others. Concerning one social justice movement in the interests of another is the quickest way to see past the lone-gunman, past the ideology, and onto the social institutions that are invested in subjugation of both women and people of color in order to maintain the status quo of current power relationships. 

- Written by Victoria Silva, MA

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Janay & Ray Rice: Victim Blaming and Ignorance of the Cycle of Violence

*trigger warning*

Ray Rice, a former running back of the Baltimore Ravens, was originally suspended for two games for assaulting his wife, Janay Rice. The first video released to the public was one which captured Ray Rice dragging his unconscious wife from the elevator. At the time that the first video was release, it was reported that the NFL had viewed a second video capturing the incident which took place inside of the elevator. At some point last week, TMZ released the second video, and leading up to that people were mad at the two game suspension of Ray Rice, which may have pushed forth the public video release. However, following the release of the second video NFL officials began denying that they ever saw the second video.  Whether or not they viewed the video, people were making a constant comparison between the length of game suspicions of players who tested positive for THC and Ray Rice, who assault his wife. For players who tested positive for THC received a 4 game suspension whereas Ray Rice originally only received a 2 game suspension.  Ray Rice has since been released from the Ravens and suspended from the NFL indefinitely.  Some people are calling for members of Raven’s upper management as well as the NFL commissioner.  Another troubling result of this assault is that NFL has made a new rule which states that for a first offense of assault that a player will be suspended for 6 games.  First offense? Only 6 games? And that is only if the NFL officials become aware of the incident and even then it seems to be unsure whether or not they would acknowledge an assault incident as such.

What I have found most interesting has been the coverage and disturbing opinions of this incident. For instance, Stephen A. Smith from ESPN First Take commented on the Ray Rice incident by saying that he of course doesn’t agree with domestic violence of women but women should learn that they should not “provoke men.”  This statement essentially blames women for incidents of domestic violence and seems to suggest that if women don’t want to get abused, then simply don’t give men a reason too. However, this statement is not only disturbing for women but for men as well.  This statement portrays men as beasts ready to pounce, reduced to tigers in a cage and women are the ones poking them with sticks.

Stephen A. Smith’s response to the assault was unfortunately a common one. Victim blaming statements pervaded a majority of the news coverage as well as public opinions shared on social media sites. For instance, I sadly came across a Youtube video entitled, “Ray Rice is the bigger victim of domestic violence.”  Also, following the report of the incident on Fox news, the respondents responded that the take away message should be to “take the stairs” and to remember that “when in an elevator there is a camera.” This statement not only failed to address the true severity of the situation that is domestic violence but seemed to suggest that the abuser should carry out the violence in private.  Another incident which essentially condoned the act of violence against women was when an individual called into Limbaugh’s radio show to share that if women want to be on the front line and treated equal they should be able to take a punch. Limbaugh then comments that feminist are wrong and feminism is “artificial” for men and women aren’t equal and that the assault is a clear demonstration of such.  This statement said by the caller and supported by Limbaugh was used as an attempt to rationalize domestic violence but bash feminism with Ray Rice’s assault of his wife.

Many people were arguing that Janay “got what she deserved” because she had initially started the incident by “lunging” and “antagonizing” Ray Rice. Some people even used the same language of Stephen A. Smith in saying she “poked the bear.” However, physical abuse is wrong and is against the law. No one ever deserves abuse!  Janay Rice was also reticulated for staying with Ray Rice following the incident. Leaving an abusive relationship is never an easy choice. Victims feel responsible for assault and will defend the abuser.  Leaving an abusive relationship can be the most dangerous time for an abused woman.  Also, it is important for individuals become familiar with the cycle of abuse. Abusers know who to take power and control in the relationship and over their partners.  Now, this is just an assumption but Ray Rice is the primary financial holder, and therefore may have all the economic control within the relationship. Janay may not have the financial resources to the leave the abusive relationship.  Furthermore, there is many psychological tactics which the abuser employs on the victim including denial of abuse or justifying their acts through accusations of infidelity or in Janay’s case, her hitting Ray Rice first.  

But what I feel is more important is that everyone is wanting to discuss why Janay didn’t leave the relationship when we should be discussing why Ray Rice felt it was acceptable to abuse his wife. By having people caught up in the discussion of why Janay didn’t leave the relationship it distracts individuals from the true issue of domestic violence.

Although this incident is a truly disturbing one it has brought domestic violence into the spotlight. Survivors of domestic violence have come forward sharing their #whyIstayed stories, where they share the reasons why they stayed, after Janay Rice received criticism for staying with Ray Rice. Also, a story was shared were a father altered his children’s Ray Rice jerseys to say “be nice to girls.” There have also been an increase number of calls to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, for women in abusive relationships came forward wanting to receive help after seeing the incident.   

Assault is NEVER justified, regardless of one’s gender! And stop showing the video! Survivors of domestic violence and others do not want to see the disturbing act of violence. The fault of the incident should never fall on the backs of the survivors of domestic violence. Domestic violence should be put to an end.

-Written by Angela Barney 

Building a Better Future

When I was a little girl, my choice of toys was rather gender neutral. Of course, I had the requisite Barbie “girl” toys, but I also got to enjoy Matchbox and LEGO “boy” toys. Before the Nintendo Entertainment System came out, those were my favorites. As I got older, my interest in Barbie and Matchbox disappeared but to this very day, I still love LEGO. It’s something much more than nostalgia because I don’t reminisce when I put together a new set. It’s not just a toy, it’s a new experience. For me, putting together a LEGO set is my version of building a ship in a bottle. The more complex a set is the more pride I feel from completing it. Yeah, I’m a professional woman in my 30’s who loves playing with LEGO. My most recent vacation included a trip to LEGOland California where I basked in brick glory and purchased more LEGO sets than I probably should have. It was worth it.

My relationship with my hobby has changed and matured as I have. It’s no longer playing, it’s a project. When a project is finished, I don’t disassemble it and place it back in a box. I proudly display it on a shelf like a treasured artifact alongside family heirlooms and vacation mementos; proof of the history and adventure of living. Essentially, LEGO is a component of my personal identity. My personal identity has been shaped and molded by my experiences and over time my personal convictions about gender norms and feminism have become more pronounced. I have never been a fan of prescriptive gender roles and stereotypes. The marketing gender divide in the toy industry is probably where I got my first taste of them. LEGO has been personally congruent for three decades and when LEGO introduced their “Friends” line of “girl” products I had strong feelings about it.

LEGO products have been primarily marketed to boys throughout my childhood and into my adulthood. In January 2012, LEGO attempted to market to girls by creating the Friends line of sets and received sharp criticism from consumers. The Friends sets were largely pink and purple pastels, themed with stereotypically “female” interests (baking, hairstyling, caregiving, and homemaking), and essentially segregated LEGO products by gender. This gender segregation is nothing new. Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency produced a two-part video series about LEGO and gender which highlighted marketing used to sell gender stereotypes to both girls and boys. Many “boy” sets have a focus on weaponry and violence. Such marketing reinforces gender segregation in play and has not always been LEGO’s marketing focus. From the 1940’s to 1980’s, LEGO advertising featured girls, boys, and parents building the same, gender-neutral sets cooperatively and creatively. The emphasis was on building and creativity, the hallmark features of LEGO, not shooting things or getting your hair done.

LEGO has promised to do better. In September 2013, LEGO released a female lab scientist minifigure (minifig for short), which was a small step in the right direction. Now, in June 2014, LEGO announced plans to release the Female Scientist Minifigure set, which features three female scientist minifigs and accompanying accessories signifying the professions of astronomy, chemistry, and paleontology. The minifigs are of classic LEGO design and avoid extreme gender stereotypes. One problem, however, is the homogeneous “yellow” skin tone of most minifigs. Historically, there have been variations in minifig skin tones but they are largely yellow. There has been criticism of the lack of varying skin tones in minifigs but it is largely overshadowed by the call for more gender diversity and equality. LEGO really shouldn’t forget the other forms of diversity.
LEGO in the non-brick realm of marketing has also been impacted by gendered marketing. The LEGO Movie was released in February 2014 and Chris McKay, the film’s director, admitted it does not pass the Bechdel Test. Promisingly, he stated a desire to do better by female characters in the upcoming sequel and expressed that filmmakers have a responsibility to examine the culture of gendered stereotypes and create films with characters with more depth than stereotypes.. This is progress but it is not the end of the tunnel. LEGO, and consumer culture in general, has a way to go to include better representations of women, gender non-conforming people, people of color, sexual minorities, and people with disabilities. However, these considerations help to build a better future.

LEGO Portrait of the Author

-Written by Victoria L. Wu, MS