Saturday, March 21, 2009

Politically Correct Discrimination

Go to just about any middle or high school, walk around, and within a relatively short time period, you're bound to hear students using homophobic and sexist terms to insult one another. The likelihood increases if you're walking around an athletic field or court. There's normally no hiding it either, which is one reason I wasn't terribly surprised to read THIS STORY from the Orange County Register about a school being accused of allowing serious bullying rooted in homophobia and sexism.

The school under scrutiny, Corona del Mar High School (CdM), is situated in an upper-class, politically conservative, Southern California beach community. One of its drama teachers directed the play, "Rent," at the school because of the high levels of homophobia he noticed on campus grounds. According to the
Register, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union because the CdM administration allegedly allowed students to bully other students in person and through electronic means:

The lawsuit against the Newport-Mesa Unified School District accuses Corona del Mar High School administrators of “permitting and sanctioning an atmosphere that is hostile to female, lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender students in general, and has led to despicable threats of violence against one student in particular,” according an ACLU announcement.


The lawsuit's mention of “threats of violence” refers to a Facebook video, viewed by the Register, in which three young males who apparently attend the school unleash a litany of gay slurs and suggest harming a female peer. Later, according to the ACLU, a fourth student threatened the girl on school grounds, leading her to enroll in off-campus independent study.

One threat upped the ante, threatening a person's life. And not surprisingly, a number of the reported bullies are athletes, who received an unusually lenient punishment for their threats of violence.

The school's “inadequate and inappropriate response,” according to the announcement, “included assigning an assistant football coach at the school to investigate the harassment, an obvious conflict of interest because three of the four accused students are members of the football team."

Ultimately, two of the boys went unpunished, and two were suspended for five days, according to the lawsuit. The complaint suggests the punishments were lax, contending that other students face far longer suspensions for drug and alcohol use.

The privilege afforded to athletes is hardly uncommon; neither are the excessive levels of sexism and homophobia that run rampant through high school, college, and professional athletics. Sports sociologist Michael Messner points out that in certain sports, males are typically socialized to internalize the following values:
  1. Competitive, homophobic, and misogynistic talk and joking
  2. A group practice of voyeuring, where boys can watch their friends have sex with girls and sometimes join in
  3. Suppression of empathy toward others, especially toward the girls
  4. A culture of silence among peers, in families, and in the community
So again, to read that high school football players are being accused of intimidating other students with violence that had homophobic and sexist motivations, bothersome as it is, is not terribly shocking.

Change needs to start at the top. School administrators must hire coaches that mentor athletes in ways that address these forms of discrimination. Granted, it's hard enough just to emphasize being a scholar-athlete. However, dismissing the homophobic and sexist norms that still emobody male athletic culture maintains a status quo where these forms of discrimination merely make bystanders smirk.

For more reading on Messner's work noted in this post:
Messner, Michael A. (2005). The triad of violence in men's sports. In E. Buchwald, P.R. Fletcher, & M. Roth (Eds.) Transforming A Rape Culture, pp. 23-46. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.

(Photo courtesy of the Orange County Register)

Academics Business Directory - BTS Local Subscribe with Bloglines


  1. they are not homophobic! everyone uses "gay" as a slang term. I'm not condeming what the boys did, but I feel this girl is just causing drama. Corona Del Mar isn't homophobic and doesn't have issues with homosexual people. The girl being "bullied" isn't even a lesbian though.

  2. Interesting - using the word "gay" as slang (and likely as an insulting type of slang) is not homophobic? The pervasive acceptance of people using words like "gay," "fag," and so forth (which you say yourself everyone does) to jokingly put each other down bolsters my point. It's politically acceptable to use verbiage that is rooted in homophobia. That's sad. It used to be politically acceptable to use racist terms as forms of insults; should we regress in that direction as well?

    Furthermore, your comment concedes that a girl is in fact being bullied. Lesbian or not, her victimization is a concern.

  3. Your entire article is written as though the boys are guilty of the "alledged" allegations. They are NOT guilty. Therefor your presumptions are completely inaccurate!!!!! Get all your facts, being accused doesn't make you guilty!!!

  4. Please read carefully. My unchanged blog entry uses the words "allegedly," "reported," and "accused." The accusations (whether or not they ended up being true or false) are used to illustrate a larger social problem in male-dominated athletic cultures. Hence the section delving subsequently into Messner's work. The way the piece is written, one section builds onto the next strategically, with the final section being the most important.

    Also, I was commenting on the news reported at the time of the original post (3/21/09), none of which was embellished - in fact it was cut and pasted verbatim.

    Finally, you're completely missing the point/broader picture here. Certain sports perpetuate homophobia and sexism. That's been proven in countless scholarly studies. When that issue arrises in a specific news story, it provides an opportunity to discuss this and other social problems entrenched in sports as a whole, at a broader level. That's exactly what I did here.

    You're overly fixated on the boys, not the broader issue, which quite frankly, would be extremely difficult to dispute.

  5. This situation haves no solution, is the culture that we create and we must bear it-s consequences.