Monday, August 31, 2009

Globalization, remittances, and perpetuated inequality

One of my favorite books is William Julius Wilson's When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor. Among many other points, one of the important issues Wilson raises is the further damage done to poor African American communities when successful professionals move away to live in wealthier neighborhoods. Given the elevated levels of drug trafficking, property crime, and violence that exist in pockets of destitute communities, one cannot blame those who can afford to move out when they do so.

However, their departure lessens poor communities' social capital, including (1) the number of professional role models for youth; (2) the professional networking opportunities for adults; and (3) the number of accessible jobs that come along with those professionals' businesses if they practiced in those communities (e.g., administrative support staff). So in addition to the already high levels of unemployment, the collective attitude of impoverished communities dampens in other ways.

The following article from the Los Angeles Times documents how this phenomenon is impacting an entire country: "
Philippine workers abroad: The boon has a price." According to the article, "The poverty-stricken nation of 90 million has seen 10 million workers -- more than 10% of its population -- join the overseas labor force."

Oddly enough, the country's current government supports the mass exodus of its professional and working-class demographics, as they send back literally billions to their families in remittances.

Filipinos sent a record $1.5 billion home in June as more sought work abroad. Remittances for the first six months of 2009 reached nearly $8.5 billion, a 2.9% increase from the same period last

In her annual state of the nation address in July, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo hailed remittances as a driving force behind the economy. Labor Secretary Marianito Roque separately described the remittance system as a source of pride.

"The flow of overseas worker money in an unstable global economy demonstrates the resiliency of the Filipino people," Roque said. "Under the worst circumstances, our workers are getting jobs and
sending home more money than ever. They are keeping the boat stable."

Is the boat stable or sinking? As Wilson states for America's black underclass in When Work Disappears, the same "brain drain" phenomena are happening in the Philippines. Moreover, struggling families are becoming further fractured, leading to rippling effects in the form of increased juvenile delinquency and school dropout. Overseas workers also run into marital stress and inadvertently discourage those back home to seek out employment and/or be innovative entrepreneurs.

The exodus of trained teachers, health professionals and engineers, some say, has done the Philippines more harm than good as those much-needed services go elsewhere.


The remittance system has also altered the lives of the stay-at-home families of overseas workers.

A recent International Monetary Fund study found that many extended families of overseas Philippine workers are refusing to pursue jobs at home that they consider too low-paying, preferring to rely on their monthly remittance cut.

There are social problems as well.

As parents leave home, children get left with relatives or friends who may not provide adequate supervision, which can lead to substance abuse and gang membership, says Tony Sarmiento, a Santa Barbara city official in charge of monitoring his town's overseas workers.

As a result, Sarmiento says, some workers abroad return home expecting to realize a dream of sending their children to college only to find that they dropped out of school in their absence.

"The worst part of this human export policy is that [the government doesn't] make the hard choices back home," said Benjamin Diokno, a professor at the University of the Philippines School of

"We don't work toward a dynamic economy that would create more jobs," Diokno said. "Instead we rely on that paycheck from abroad."

The bottom line -- this global system is one that fosters international dependence and internal anomie. In the global free market, developing countries essentially export their citizenry as commodified labor for high-income countries, who then exploit the working class, thereby extending their global prosperity.

Working class Filipinos are exploited as maids in Hong Kong, as construction workers in Dubai, as gardeners in Honolulu. This globalized, capitalistic system is reminiscent of Hawaii's plantation society from the 19th century where America's wealthy plantation owners simply imported Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Puerto Rican laborers as expendable plantation workers (not to mention colonization of the indigenous population).

Even highly educated professionals from developing countries are frequently underpaid once living in high-income countries relative to their western counterparts. But because their income in countries such as the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom is still higher than what they would earn in their country of origin, they suffer the stratified pay difference in order to improve their own life and/or send money back home.

As an interviewee from the article states, "It's a toxic choice, but we have to go." Well, they wouldn't have to if (1) institutions in high-income countries did not exploit them as expendable labor; and (2) their country of origin revamped its economy so there was more incentive to stay home.
Academics Blogs

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Asian Americans Are Cool

So I've been thinking about writing a manuscript on Asian American youth, including young adults, in American film. In the very few times that Asian Americans get lead roles, how are they portrayed, how do their characters reproduce or challenge dominant culture, what are the pop culture messages conveyed regarding consumption, race, gender and sexuality, and so on and so forth?

Early thoughts:
  • The two Harold & Kumar films (model minority, minor delinquency, the second film may get at some form of xenophobia/terrorism, a rehashed Long Duk Dong?)
  • Gran Torino (gang violence, emasculation, lotus blossom, white benevolence)
  • Better Luck Tomorrow (model minority, organized crime, homicide)
  • The Debut (haven't seen it yet, but heard good things)
Among the very small sample, the lead characters appear to be heavily male.

There's been a few good books on Asians and Asian Americans in film and television, but nothing that looks at leading roles, except for maybe a few book chapters/articles on The Joy Luck Club, Jackie Chan, or Jet Li. But those would be more adult focused. Just early thoughts.

In the mean time...

Academics Blogs

Update 8/24/09: Just re-watched Better Luck Tomorrow and saw both Harold & Kumar movies. These films with Gran Torino are all about juxtaposing the model minority myth with excessive criminality. BLT and GT are quite similar in the way they play the model minority myth off against organized crime and homicide; there are important differences (especially given the different Asian American groups and class differences from the two movies), but the overall message is the same -- Asian American youth are generally "model minorities," but in working so hard to fulfill the MM myth, some of them flip out and secure power through very sneaky and violent means. Thus, America must always beware of the "sinister Asian males" (and some "Dragon Ladies").

Harold & Kumar
is different, but the same. The producers and actors are glaringly aware of the MM myth and randomly do just about everything they can to mock it, often times in shocking fashion. So they play the MM myth (and other racial stereotypes) off of crime as well (including terrorism), but they attack it head on in order to illustrate the MM myth's idiocy.

The metanarrative that runs through all 4 flicks is the use of women/girls to achieve masculinity. In short, the Asian American guys get the gals, and in doing so, they get back the masculinity taken from them by racist white males. Women's roles in all 4 films are reduced to one function -- they serve as objects for the males to fight over. Aside from Sue in Gran Torino, none of their characters have much depth, and even Sue is used as a means to build tension between the central male characters.

I just got
The Debut, but still have yet to watch it. But judging by the cover, I'm lead to believe it also falls into the latter metanarrative. Damn, gotta do some serious writing now...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fighting for the Right to Fight: Part III -- Blatant Sexism Tolerated


[Cross-posted on]

With Christiane Santos and Gina Carano headlining a major mixed martial arts (MMA) card, this 3-part series examines the state of women in MMA. Part I of this series overviews the progress women have made in MMA, with Part II covering the normalized forms of sexism that frequently go unnoticed.

This piece presents the more overt forms of sexism that still transpire in MMA and contemporary sport. While many in the MMA community do not promote or approve of these sexist acts, the acts are ultimately tolerated by the industry since the perpetrators are rarely punished and gender equity is not seen as a priority by the public at large, especially when cast as a threat to the sporting status quo.

When Not Fighters, Women are Relegated to Sexualized Appendages of Male Fighters

Again, the proportion of female fighters relative to males is extremely small. Thus, when women are not included in competition during MMA fight cards, women's inclusion tends to come in the form of displaying their sexuality and nothing else. Obviously, this exemplifies how women are valued within sport -- as voiceless, commodified sexual appendages to the more central male athletes.

In this UFC 100 promotional video shown on YouTube (assist to Steve Ficca), it is glaringly evident how women are utilized in MMA when they are not athletes.

When EliteXC aired MMA's first fight card on primetime network television (May 31, 2008), Gina Carano and Kaitlin Young competed in a marquee match. However, women were also featured as dancers. This theatrical spectacle was not continued in subsequent EliteXC fight cards.

EliteXC did a great deal to promote women’s MMA, but its initial inclusion of female dancers did not reflect well on the organization's overall portrayal of women.

Still, this sexist practice continues across the MMA industry. For UFC 100, rather than have female athletes or commentators for the centennial event, the promotion increased its use of women by adding Holly Madison as a guest Octagon Girl. Occasionally, fighters will have women accompany them to the ring or cage in theatrical arena entrances. And for no apparent reason except to add to this hypermasculine culture, sexualized women are sometimes added for MMA fighter photo opportunities.

Similar practices of course happen in numerous sports -- in football with cheerleaders, in basketball with dancers, in boxing with ring girls. The predominantly male market calls for this portrayal of women, and sporting industries perpetuate the demand. Angela Harris, a University of California, Berkeley professor of law, theorizes that society's patriarchal culture confines men and women to rigid gender roles, which when challenged, result in public shaming (Harris quoting James Gilligan):

The male gender role generates violence by exposing men to shame if they are not violent, and rewarding them with honor when they are. The female gender role also stimulates male violence at the same time that it inhibits female violence. It does this by restricting women to the role of highly unfree sex objects, and honoring them to the degree that they submit to those roles or shaming them when they rebel. This encourages men to treat women as sex objects, and encourages women to conform to that sex role; but it also encourages women (and men) to treat men as violence objects. (p. 789, 790).

Additionally in MMA and sports at large, there are simply fewer financial opportunities for women outside of these limited occupational spaces. Thus, when women do capitalize from their sexuality in or out of MMA, they are turning to a viable avenue to earn income made possible by the industry and broader patriarchal demands.

Sexist Language

Sports have always been characterized by women's subordination. Too often, this occurs through language used by athletes, coaches and those who oversee sporting institutions (
e.g., promoters, commissioners). Use of clichés, such as "You throw/hit like a girl" or "Quit being a little bi*ch" relies on the collective understanding that femininity is subordinate to masculinity. Thus, when one uses those types of clichés in an insulting manner, even if conscious intent to denigrate women is not present, the process supports a broader sexist culture.

Examples of this type of language abound in MMA and undergo minimal scrutiny. In MTV’s MMA-based reality show, Bully Beatdown, characters in virtually every episode utilize language that subordinates femininity. The following are a small sample of such lines expressed in the reality show: "Adam and Josh went to Mayhem for help cause they couldn't do it themselves. They're too much of a little bi*ch to take care of business on their own" (episode two); "On your back like a little bi*ch!" (episode four); "Easy targets. They put themselves out there. They're little girls. They cry about everything. They just don't know how to take a joke. They're not men that's all" (episode three).

And while not the norm, it is not uncommon to hear male MMA fighters use similar language in pre-fight interviews. In the widely viewed special, UFC Primetime, which hyped the UFC 94 match between B.J. Penn and Georges St. Pierre, Penn said of GSP, "GSP, saying he's not a quitter, but I was right there watching him quit. You tap from strikes, you're a little bi*ch."

EMBED-Dana Whites Fight Night 18 video blog - Watch more free videos

In probably the most obvious example from April of this year, UFC President Dana White closed out an official UFC Fight Night promotional video log with the following statement: "You fu**in' dumb bi*ch. Fu** you Loretta Hunt." Additionally in the same piece, White used the words "retard" and "fa**ot" as a way to disparage various individuals. As noted previously in Part II, Hunt is one of the few female journalists in the MMA industry.

Following heavy criticism from numerous MMA media outlets, White quickly apologized for use of the homophobic language. No apology was made for language that belittles women or the mentally challenged. More importantly, it appears no structural changes in the industry have manifested that would aim to shift people's attitudes, raise consciousness, and prevent future discriminatory behaviors (see final section of this post on "equity policies").

In fact, across the MMA blogosphere, although criticism of White's words was quite heavy from online journalists, a large proportion of commenters/readers supported White (see commenters’ statements in response to Maggie Hendricks’s article). Presumably, a high majority of online MMA readers/commenters is heterosexually male, enabling them to interact with one another in anonymous virtual communities where written sexism/homophobia can go relatively unchecked, depending largely on the sites' designers and moderators.

This provides a textbook example of how sexism operates simultaneously on interpersonal and institutional levels. Following a blatant example of sexist language used in an official company promotional piece, support for the victim is minimized because of her minority status in the industry as a whole, where athletes, managers, coaches, fans, and fellow journalists are largely male, and are therefore unaffected (perhaps even privileged) by sexism. Thus de facto discrimination goes on, "business as usual."

Sexual Assault and Harassment

Given the lenient atmosphere that ensconces MMA and sport with regard to sexism, when sexual assault and/or harassment does occur, it is not terribly surprising that it goes on absent of serious scrutiny, even after sexual harassment is carried out publicly.

By now, many sports fans have been made privy to the sexual assault enacted upon ESPN reporter, Erin Andrews who was video taped unknowingly without wearing any clothes through a hotel peephole. The video was then posted over the internet before being removed. Unfortunately, examples of sexual assaults by athletes are bountiful (see for example, here). Nothing so harmful has occurred in MMA (at least not to the public’s knowledge). However, similar occurrences have taken place.

The sexual assault perpetrated against ESPN reporter Erin Andrews was deplorable. Unfortunately, it reflects a broader trend in the sporting industry.

While probably not defined as sexual harassment technically, Gina Carano being forced to undress at the EliteXC public weigh-ins prior to her October 2008 match against Kelly Kobald was completely inappropriate. Although men do this regularly when on the edge of making weight at public weigh-ins, the experience is different since the audience is predominantly male. How many pictures of male fighters weighing in behind towels were plastered across the MMA blogosphere versus those of Carano?

Having a small group of men hold towels around a woman's undressed body while she weighs in as groups of young male voyeurs in the audience take pictures hoping to sneak a peek illustrates a lack of gender awareness and infrastructure in an industry run by males. A simple solution would have been to take Carano backstage and weigh in with a female official and women from her and her opponent's camp. Instead, the public spectacle of having Carano strip down and weigh in behind towels prevailed over a rational and equitable solution.

An example of sexual harassment, this time against MMA reporter Heather Nichols, occurred July of this year when Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, one of the UFC's biggest stars, grabbed Nichols mid-interview and began emulating sexual intercourse with her (see below).

Sports Videos, News, Blogs

MMA reporter Heather Nichols was not appreciative of how "Rampage" Jackson conducted himself during their interview (assist to Mike Menninger).

Nobody intervened to stop Jackson's actions during the interview. According to a subsequent interview with Nichols, she did not approve of Jackson's actions and at the time of interview had not received an apology from him. That this example happened in the most public of spaces only makes one wonder what occurs throughout the MMA industry behind closed doors and how young males may model their behavior off these types of actions.

Sociological Terms and Models to End Sexism in Sport

What we see in MMA with regard to women's inclusion are the beginnings of "gender equality" with very small degrees of "gender equity." Sports sociologist Richard Giulianotti states, "Equality policies open doors to disadvantaged groups, including women. Equity policies restructure the sports system per se to ensure sport experiences are qualitatively similar for men and women" (p. 89). Though some important structural changes have been made in MMA that indicate equity policies (e.g., 5-minute rounds), what we see much more, are indicators of women slowly being included in a heterosexual men's world, where sexism persists in different forms and on different levels.

Further theorizing gender in sport, Giulianotti relies on work by Jennifer Hargreaves, who offers three political strategies for women in sport: (1) "Co-option" involves women showing greater numbers in sport as athletes, referees, journalists, promoters, etc. In short, co-option pushes for women to join sporting industries like MMA, but without shifting the deeper structural arrangements that privilege masculinity; (2) "separatism" calls for women (or other minority groups) to operate independently from men by creating their own sporting organizations; and (3) "co-operation" seeks for women and men to work collaboratively in creating new sporting paradigms that end gender differences.

A few examples of separatism exist (
e.g., women's only MMA promotions), but these organizations are generally not sustainable in a world that relies on capitalism and high ticket sales. Co-operation is a bit harder to identify. That is not to say co-operation does not occur in private settings or in less visible spaces. However anecdotally, it does not appear that co-operation is occurring on significant levels throughout the MMA industry. Of the three models, what we see most in MMA and other sports is co-option. As female mixed martial artists and women in other professions enter the predominantly male world of MMA, they certainly make laudable, courageous progress in fighting for the right to fight and work. But in the process, men are not working with them to create equity policies, at least not at levels that lead to extensive and sustained change. Thus far, women are slowly being included, but on men's terms.

This coming Saturday night, Christiane Santos and Gina Carano will compete in what will surely be the most celebrated women's MMA match to date. As the main event on a fight card full of men, their match marks a symbolic and tangible change in MMA. But simply having one marker of gender progress does not indicate industry-wide equity. We also just had America's first Latina elected to the U.S. Supreme Court, the second woman on the current "roster" and only the third woman ever. In terms of numbers, attitudes, behaviors, and structural arrangements, we've got a long way to go.

Suggested further reading:
Academics Blogs

Monday, August 10, 2009

Fighting for the Right to Fight: Part II -- Covert Gender Disparities


[Cross-posted on]

With Christiane Santos and Gina Carano headlining a major mixed martial arts (MMA) card, this 3-part series examines the state of women in MMA. Part I of this series overviews the progress women have made in MMA.

This piece outlines some of the more subtle setbacks women still face as they integrate into this male-dominated sport. It should be clarified that the sporting world is male-dominated. Even sporting organizations like the WNBA are bankrolled by the NBA, which has no gendered marker (
i.e., MNBA). Furthermore, criticism made in this piece in no way suggests a distain for women's progression through the sport, but rather points out, we've got a long way to go to reach gender equity.

Women's Representation is Minimal Throughout the MMA Industry

When discussing the paucity of women in MMA relative to men, people are frequently referring to athletes. In fact, Dana White has expressed a reluctance to bring women into the UFC or WEC because it would be difficult to establish a full division of female fighters. In the weight classes ranging from 125 to 145, it is possible to create a robust women's division. However, doing so would probably require recruiting female fighters long-term from Japan, which could be difficult.

Megumi Fujii may be the best pound-for-pound mixed martial artist (male or female). But if offered, would she really sign a long-term deal with the UFC or WEC?

But in addition to fighters, as in other sporting industries, women in MMA are grossly under-represented as coaches, managers, promoters, referees and reporters. Many female mixed martial artists also coach. This notwithstanding, the number of coaches in MMA gyms is still overwhelmingly male. Moving up the ranks in the MMA industry, the gendered disproportionality becomes even more skewed. The number of female MMA managers and referees is very small, though Kim Winslow has made a breakthrough as an official. Among MMA promoters, Diana Ocampo is one of only a handful who is female in North America and perhaps the world.

And then there is the media. Quickly browsing around the various MMA news and blog sites, one can see that the vast majority of writers (and probably commenters) is male. Maggie Hendricks of Yahoo! Sports and Loretta Hunt of are two prominent female MMA journalists. And may be the only MMA website with a Youth Contributor -- Samantha Roberts (MMABrat), who happens to be female. As will be detailed in Part III, discrimination enacted upon female sports journalists is still far too common in MMA and sports as a whole. The lack of women in sports and MMA media limits our perspective on how sport affects society, as males simply hear one another's points of view.

Emphasized Femininity

With women being under-represented in sport and simply having fewer opportunities to earn income through sport (female mixed martial artists frequently earn less than their male counterparts), those women who can emphasize their sexuality for profit sometimes do. Male athletes do this as well, but not nearly as often, and the media tends not to promote male athletes' sexuality as much as it does women's.

Despite being a fantastic athlete, Gina Carano's popularity is fueled heavily by her aesthetic appeal. Undoubtedly, she, MMA promoters, and various media entities have capitalized off this. Carano has appeared in the magazine, Maxim, which caters to heterosexual men, and a handful of other female MMA athletes engage in similar promotional practices. Of course, spotlighting female athletes' sexuality over their athleticism has been a long-standing media practice. Danica Patrick (auto racing) and Maria Sharapova (tennis) are two of the more recent female sports stars to have an emphasized femininity presented in magazines, though there are many more.

Danica Patrick (top), posing for Sports Illustrated, and Gina Carano, posing for Maxim. Sexuality has always been made a bigger factor in women’s sports than in men's.

The Said Threat to Traditional Femininity

Building off the above point, Strikeforce's main event match between Carano and Santos is reminiscent of the greatest female sports rivalry of all time in its promotional tactics. The card is titled "Carano vs. Cyborg," rather than "Carano vs. Santos" or "Conviction vs. Cyborg," pointing to the opposing ways these two women are being characterized. Carano is painted as the acceptably feminine athlete, as "Mixed Martial Arts' (MMA) leading lady,” who is “armed with both skill and beauty,” thereby supporting conventional gender norms. On the other hand, the more muscular Santos has her nickname, "Cyborg," inserted into the card's title, distinguishing her as the female threat to Carano, and in turn a threat to acceptable femininity.

The promotional tactics of "Carano vs. Cyborg" mimic the long-standing, eventually friendly tennis rivalry between Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert from the 1970s. Navratilova's femininity was always questioned, even ridiculed by the media due to her foreign status and sexuality. Evert was conversely presented as the mainstay for proper womanhood. As the two women dueled it out on the tennis court, they came to represent these diverging perspectives on femininity.

Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert shared a classic rivalry and still share a friendship, but their femininity was portrayed by the media in oppositional fashion.

Although the two tennis stars were the same size, Navratilova's musculature was frequently highlighted in pictures -- an alleged threat to the more traditionally feminine and American smile of Evert caught on camera. According to FightTicker's Mark Figula, Santos is well aware of how her match with Carano is being played out in similar style, saying, "I know people see this as the beauty and the beast. I am just happy to do what I love."

Manipulated pictures like this one of Christiane Santos stand in stark contrast to more traditionally feminine pictures of Gina Carano.

In sports, because they tend to be so male-centered, gender disparities become normalized. Fans too frequently take for granted that men hold a disproportionate amount of power through every level of athletic institutions. Consequently, these gender disparities and sexist media tactics are rarely challenged; they are so normalized, they rarely even reach people's consciousness. Instead, people (men and women) are resigned to accept that "that's just the way it is." As Part III of this series will illustrate, when gender disparities go unchallenged, the degrees of sexism in MMA and sport as a whole can intensify immensely.

Academics Blogs

Fighting for the Right to Fight: Part I -- Feminist Gains in MMA


[Cross-posted on]

Like other sporting industries, mixed martial arts (MMA) is a microcosm of society at large. Demographic patterns and social movements in sport frequently reflect broader societal trends seen beyond athletic courts, arenas, fields, or in this case, the cage. August 15's Strikeforce card, titled "Carano vs. Cyborg," is being heralded as a symbol of women's progression in MMA, with Gina "Conviction" Carano and Christiane "Cyborg" Santos competing in the card's main event match.

In the YouTube video below, veteran MMA commentator and analyst Mauro Ranallo states, "You talk about ground breaking, that's never happened before where a female mixed martial arts fight headlines a card featuring the guys." Ranallo is absolutely correct.

Still, women's headway into MMA has come with steps forward and back in the sport's short lifetime. While "Carano vs. Cyborg" is both a symbolic and real representation of feminist gains in sport, within the wider spectrum of the industry, MMA tends to follow the gendered patterns of society at large that maintain male privilege.

This is the first of a 3-part series focusing on the state of women in MMA. With the August 15 Strikeforce card less than a week out, a good deal of attention will be paid to that event. However, this series will attempt to address women in MMA as a whole, placed in the historical context of women's athletics since the turn of the twentieth century.

A Brief History of Women in American Sport

Sports began to flourish in the United States right around the late 1800s when women began pushing more fervently for suffrage and against family violence. Athletics popularized as part of a larger backlash against the women's movement. As women advocated for their right to play sports, their inclusion was conceded with two primary conditions: (1) "true" women would not play sports that involved heavy contact or pounding (
e.g., basketball, boxing); and (2) "acceptable" women would play non-contact sports that supposedly portrayed physical beauty and grace (e.g., swimming, tennis, golf, figure skating).

Babe Didrikson (right) is widely considered the greatest female athlete of all time. Initially, she excelled in sports considered "non-feminine" for her time, including basketball and track & field.

Didrikson later focused exclusively on golf so that she would be accepted by society and could earn a living as a female athlete.

In comparison to minority women, these conditions privileged upper-class white women who had economic access to "acceptable" women's sports. But overall, sports helped to define "proper" womanhood in terms of bearing children. Medical doctors at the time stated that even mild collisions in sport would jeopardize childbirth even if female athletes were not pregnant. Consequently, women's inclusion in sports such as tennis, coupled with their exclusion from sports such as basketball was rooted in how they were valued as mothers who could procreate, rather than their right to play whatever sport they chose.

As the decades passed, women's sports developed structurally in comparison to a privileged male standard. Women were completely excluded from some competitions (
e.g., women did not compete in Olympic marathons until 1984 since long distance running was said to jeopardize reproductive organs; they did not compete in track & field's pole vault until the 2000 Olympics due to their alleged lack of upper body strength). The time frame was shortened for some women's sports (e.g., women play the best 2/3 sets in tennis matches, as opposed to men who play the best 3/5). And for some sports, particular components differ due to men being on average, of larger physical size (e.g., the net is set shorter in women's than men's volleyball)**. Additionally, obvious disparities exist in the amount and type of coverage women's athletics receive in the media.

Prior to 2000, women were not allowed to compete in the pole vault. In 2000, Stacy Dragila became the first woman to win Olympic gold. Her personal best is 15'10".

Feminist Gains in MMA

Although women have not yet penetrated MMA's most prestigious MMA organization (the UFC) and do not comprise a large proportion of all fighters, the fact that women are competing in MMA at all is significant. Contemporary female athletes in sports involving heavy pounding and physical contact (
e.g., track & field, soccer) compete relatively free from large public criticism.

However, professional fighting takes sporting contact and collisions to another level, involving the intentional infliction of pain through strikes and submissions. Within the MMA industry, very little overt criticism has been expressed suggesting women should not compete simply because it makes them unfeminine. There is disinterest by some, but not extensive criticism. And often times, female fighters receive great support from the largely male fan base. In contrast, some sports analysts are upset simply because female tennis players are said to grunt too loudly.

Tara LaRosa (top) is arguably the top female mixed martial artist in the game. Very few question her right to compete as a woman.

Another sign of women's headway is the inclusion of 5-minute rounds. The more widely viewed women's MMA matches have involved 3-minute rounds (e.g., EliteXC’s matches from 2007 and 2008), suggesting, like the gendered time differences in tennis, that women are unable to fight effectively in matches with 5-minute rounds. However, in addition to the upcoming Strikeforce main event, a number of MMA organizations have promoted women's MMA matches with 5-minute rounds.

In recent years, Bodog and the Ultimate Warrior Challenge held women's matches with 5-minute rounds. As early as 2002, Hook-N-Shoot promoted 5-minute round women's matches, showing that in this regard, many female fighters have been given the opportunity to compete on the same terms as their male counterparts. Said Dr. Rosi Sexton of female mixed martial artists fighting 5-minute rounds as a standardized practice and the progress of women's MMA as a whole (September 2008 interview):

I think it will come. I mean everyone is saying women should fight 5-minute rounds. The fighters are saying it. The commentators are saying it. The reviewers are saying it, and I think eventually, it will have to happen. It's just a question of when, so I'm just gonna have to hang in there and wait for the inevitable. The thing is when you get caught up too much on things like that, you tend to miss that fact that we are so much farther along than we were before.

Dr. Rosi Sexton (10-1-0) locks down an armbar. According to Dr. Sexton, all but one of her 11 professional MMA matches have been scheduled for 5-minute rounds, a marker of gender equity.

Finally, while in competition, female mixed martial artists are not sexualized nearly as much as women in some other sports. Take for example, Anna Kournikova in tennis. Obviously, she and other athletes have been sexualized outside of sport through modeling opportunities (and some athletes actively pursue those opportunities).

However, even while in competition, predominantly male commentators have harped on Kournikova's physical aesthetics more so than her athletic talent. Likewise, in the Olympic Games, commentators tend to focus on domestic issues (
e.g., mothering, romance) significantly more with female than male athletes, and media conglomerates provide greater air time to women's sports that bear more skin, frequently using camera angles that provide for a sexualized gaze, which impacts women in society differently than men.

Both in and out of competition, Anna Kournikova and other female tennis stars have been disproportionately celebrated for their physical beauty by sports media.

Some sports scholars theorize that in addition to being gifted athletes, 2008 Olympic gold medalists Kerri Walsh and Misty May, received such a large amount of air time because of their aesthetic appeal.

Conversely, commentary in MMA matches with women tends to be focused simply on the fight. And while women, like male MMA fighters, bear skin in competition, this is simply part of MMA. As in sports like track & field and volleyball, minimizing clothing is essential to freeing oneself so an athlete can compete at an optimal level. Most female fighters wear clothing that is simply athletically utilitarian without accentuating their sexuality. And again, media coverage while in competition has been athletically focused in MMA (both visually and verbally), more so than media covering some other women's sports that incessantly highlights female athletes' physical beauty.

In Sydney's 2000 Olympic Games, commentators repeatedly made note of Marion Jones's smile. Male athletes, such as Michael Johnson, also smiled frequently, but were described more so in patriotic and athletic terms.

Above, Iman Achhel competes against Felice Herrig in a UWC match. The gendered commentating practices that occur in many other sports happen less frequently in MMA matches involving women.

With Christiane Santos and Gina Carano headlining Strikeforce's August 15 card, MMA provides another example of its efforts to push women in MMA at a faster rate than many other sports. In the opening picture of this piece (presented again below), Carano and Santos are clearly the centerpiece of Strikeforce's advertisement, with Melendez and Ishida on the margin. This MMA advertisement demonstrates a marked and positive change for women in sports -- when women earn the right to be the centerpiece, they actually are.

**Some argue this latter set of differences reflects sexist tendencies, though I disagree. For instance, watching women sprint through 100m hurdles set at 33" is more exciting and empowering than it would be to watch the few women who could compete in the 110m hurdles set at 42".


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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Masculine Insecurity and Targeting Women

Another public shooting by an unstable male, this time at the LA Fitness sporting club in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania. The 48-year-old male perpetrator, George Sodini, reportedly entered the gym, went into an aerobics room with female attendees, turned out the lights and opened fire on the complete strangers. Twelve women were shot, three fatally. Sodini then committed suicide by shooting himself.

Emerging reports about Sodini’s online blog are providing further insight into the motives behind his actions, specifically identifying insecurities he held about his sexual masculinity. From the New York Times:

Tortured by loneliness and his lack of success with women, George Sodini developed a plan to get even. On Tuesday night, he executed it, opening fire in a fitness center here and hitting 12 women, 3 fatally, before turning a gun on himself.

Mr. Sodini, 48, described his anger and frustration in painstaking detail in notes he carried with him and left at his home and in a chilling online diary, offering an extraordinarily stark portrait of a killer’s motives. Officials said Mr. Sodini, of Scott Township, a suburb about six miles southwest of Pittsburgh, prepared for the assault for at least nine months, buying ammunition and at least three guns and making practice runs to the fitness center.


In his online journal, which has since been taken off the Internet, Mr. Sodini, a programmer-analyst at a local law firm, said that he had not had a girlfriend since 1984 and that he had not had sex since July 1990, when he was 29.

"I actually look good," Mr. Sodini wrote in an entry dated Dec. 29, 2008. "I dress good, am clean-shaven, bathe, touch of cologne — yet 30 million women rejected me — over an 18- or 25-year period. That is how I see it. Thirty million is my rough guesstimate of how many desirable single women there are.

"A man needs a woman for confidence. He gets a boost on the job, career, with other men, and everywhere else when he knows inside he has someone to spend the night with and who is also a friend."

Note his isolation (i.e., anomie). But more importantly, I recently read an absolutely outstanding journal article by Angela Harris titled "Gender, Violence, Race, and Criminal Justice," published in the Stanford Law Review. Among making a number of excellent points in the article, Harris theorizes masculinity, its relationships to gendered insecurity and violence:

Manliness is one of those ideas that is often made real with violence. Violent acts often carry idiosyncratic moral or emotional meanings to the perpetrator. But violent acts are also, sometimes, the result of the character of masculinity itself as a cultural ideal. In these cases, men use violence or the threat of violence as an affirmative way of proving individual or collective masculinity, or in desperation when they perceive their masculine selfidentity to be under attack. (p. 781).

Later, Harris discusses work by Jackson Katz and James Gilligan in her footnotes, offering further perspective into the Pennsylvania tragedy, specifically describing issues of male sexual anxiety, additional patriarchal gender-role expectations, and the potential for violence:

"Humiliation always embodies an awareness of impotence," remarks Katz. Conversely, impotence-literal or figurative-always brings with it the threat of humiliation. Katz's analysis connects humiliation to male gender identity since women cannot be impotent.

Gilligan, based on interviews with violent criminals, argues that the main motives for violence are "the fear of shame and ridicule, and the overbearing need to prevent others from laughing at oneself by making them weep instead." GILLIGAN, supra note 14, at 77 (1996). Gilligan also connects this emotional dynamic explicitly with gender:

The male gender role generates violence by exposing men to shame if they are not violent, and rewarding them with honor when they are. The female gender role also stimulates male violence at the same time that it inhibits female violence. It does this by restricting women to the role of highly unfree sex objects, and honoring them to the degree that they submit to those roles or shaming them when they rebel. This encourages men to treat women as sex objects, and encourages women to conform to that sex role; but it also encourages women (and men) to treat men as violence objects. It also encourages a man to become violent if the woman to whom he is related or married "dishonors" him by acting in ways that transgress her prescribed sexual role. (p. 789, 790).

Harris’s article is a highly recommended read, as she also delves into the public's romance with gender violence and the hyper-masculine composition of predominantly male groups (namely police departments, street gangs, and the state). Our fascination with gender violence coupled with violent male institutions results in the public believing that "a certain amount of gender violence is necessary for law and order" (p. 802).

More from Harris on the social construction of gender:

Most of what is important about masculinity and femininity is not innate, but rather is generated by social institutions and conventions. If masculine gender performances repeatedly take certain destructive forms, this is not because men are inherently bad but because social conventions take on a life of their own. The question is not how to alter men's nature, then, but what can be done to alter the connections between masculinity and violence. (p. 802).

Thus, in order to prevent and reduce shootings like that carried out by Sodini, Harris theorizes that institutions need to be de-gendered. The specific examples she uses are police departments. Theoretically, however, her analysis would also call to revamp the media and other institutions that influence men like Sodini to feel inadequate and to feel that adequacy can be achieved by dominating women through various forms of abuse (sexual, economic, emotional, this case death). To say the least, extensive gendered reform is needed.

Full citation for the Harris article:
Harris, Angela P. (2000). Gender, violence, race, and criminal justice. Stanford Law Review, 52 (4), 777-807.

More multimedia on the tragedy from a Reuters post.
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