Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Gendered Dichotomy of Social Pressures in Sport

Yesterday I read a Telegraph story about Australian sprinter Jana Rawlinson, the two-time World Champion (2003, 2007) in the 400 meter hurdles. Rawlinson’s personal record in the 400m hurdles is 53.22 seconds, and 50.43 seconds in the open 400m. The story explains how Rawlinson recently had her breast implants removed so that she would maximize her chances at the 2012 Olympic Games.

What struck me about this story was that someone so innately gifted and athletically driven would ever feminize herself via plastic surgery in a way that would inevitably harm her athletic performances.

Speaking from past experience in Rawlinson’s specialty (the 400 hurdles), I can say with a mild degree of expertise that once somebody reaches a certain level of success, the most minute details matter immensely. Being a few pounds over or under weight matters. The proportionality of one’s musculature across his/her legs, arms, shoulders, and torso matters. How much sleep/recovery one gets and stretching one does matters. Mental focus and clarity are crucial in training and formal competitions. As one gets older, diet becomes more critical. The training process becomes a rather complex science.

These details don’t matter as much for those just starting out in track and field (or other sports), because in the early stages of one’s career, people just need to learn the fundamentals of running (and hurdling) and they need to get in sprinting shape. But upon reaching a highly competitive level, every tiny detail escalates in importance. For in track and field, a hundredth of a second can literally mean the difference between qualifying for the next level or staying behind and having to wait until the next year.

Rawlinson obviously re-shifted her priorities, knowing that having implants would hurt her chances of winning an Olympic medal – something she has yet to accomplish. This notwithstanding, she made the following statements, illustrating the pressure even the world’s elite professional women face in trying to live up to conventional female beauty standards.

"I absolutely loved having bigger boobs, but finally I've grown up enough to know myself; to be honest about who I am when I look in the mirror," Rawlinson told the Woman's Day magazine.

"I don't want to short-change Australia either - I want to feel the most athletic I can, to know that I'm standing on the track in London the fittest I can be."


"When I looked in the mirror I just saw muscled arms, broad shoulders and big, strong legs," she said. "These are assets I need to run well, but they didn't make me feel like an attractive woman."

"There are a couple of girls - who I won't name - in world athletics who are Olympic champions, but they look like men and I don't want to be like that."

Rawlinson’s experience, while less dramatic, is reminiscent of that faced by
Caster Semenya of South Africa last year – the 2009 800m World Champion. Like Rawlinson, Semenya didn’t fit into conventional notions of femininity, and she underwent awful forms of discrimination that may result in her being banned from track & field all together.

But while female athletes with a high degree of musculature are not praised as athletes or women, highly muscular male athletes are praised and supported in the sporting world (as well as in most other social contexts). Consequently, as Rawlinson’s now removed breast augmentation shows, female athletes who do not fit into society’s accepted female box, often go to great lengths to sexualize themselves. In doing so, they gain their own sense of self-esteem (which at one point seemed to be the case with Rawlinson), and/or can acquire corporate sponsors that would otherwise probably not be offered [see examples of
Serena Williams and Gina Carano (I am not convinced the covers with Dwight Howard and Adrian Peterson were nearly as sexualized, especially for a sports focused, male-targeted readership)].

Conversely, the more athletic and muscular a male athlete is, the more he will be praised in his line of work. Ironically for female athletes, in some ways, being athletic is a bad thing.

Academics Blogs

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Denying Racism and Blaming the Victims

It is not just bothersome, but extremely adverse for society when prominent figureheads and state officials deny that racism is a motivating factor in patterned hate crimes. In Melbourne, Australia, there has been a number of violent hate crimes in which Indian students are the targets.

This hasn't been covered much, if at all, in the American media, but Al Jazeera has posted a number of stories on the violent crimes.
Back in the middle of 2009, Indians in Melbourne protested a spate of attacks on Indian college students. From a June 2009 story:

The mainly Indian protesters say a spate of attacks in recent days – one of which left an Indian student with serious injuries after being stabbed with a screwdriver – are racially motivated.

Not surprisingly, Melbourne police argued that the attacks on Indians were not entirely racially motivated, but rather, were also due to Indian students' tendency to walk alone at night with expensive computer equipment:

Police officials say that while there may be a racist element to some attacks, Indian students are often assaulted because they travel alone late at night to part-time jobs and are known to carry valuable items such as laptop computers.

"I think some of the attacks are opportunistic in that they just happen to be Indian students in the wrong place at the wrong time," Simon Overland, the Victorian state police chief, told reporters on Monday.

In effect, by lessening the focus on racism as a motivating factor in the crimes, the Melbourne police are blaming the victims for their own victimization. Indian students are essentially at fault for their own victimization since they are said by police to walk alone at night with laptops.

Today, Al Jezeera has another story covering the murder of an Indian graduate student in Melbourne. This time, governmental officials are denying that racism was a contributing factor in the murder at all

The murder of an Indian student in the Australian city of Melbourne was not racially motivated, the government has said.

Nitin Garg was stabbed to death while walking to work last week.

"What we have to do is to let the investigations take their course, but certainly on the basis of what we're being told so far, by the Victorian authorities, there's no basis for a racial motivation behind this," Simon Crean, the acting foreign minister told local radio on Tuesday.

Garg, 21, was a graduate accounting student at an Australian university.

His killing is the latest in a series of attacks on Indian students in the country.

Media in India have labelled the series of attacks against Indian students in Australia as racist, but police and the Australian government have said the attacks are criminal, not racist.

Police do need to investigate crimes with a level of objectivity. However, when police and governmental officials deny that racism could be a significant factor in the violence after a series of attacks on Indian students, there is a clear case of the state engaging in public relations -- attempting to hide the reality from themselves and the rest of the world that extreme racism exists in their society.

Thus, hate crimes are turned into "crimes of opportunity" that, again, blame the victims for their own victimization, rather than getting at the root of the problem -- racism.

An additional motivation for Australian officials to deny racism's existence is that they get money from international students. From another Al Jazeera story:

Australia's international student sector is the country's third largest export earner, behind coal and iron ore, totalling $11.7bn in 2008.


Australian universities also sought to reassure students and their families that Australia was a safe place to study.

But a recent study forecast a 20 per cent drop in Indian students in 2010 due to the attacks.

Denying racism's significance in these violent crimes will not solve the problem, improve the society, and make Melbourne a welcoming place for international students.

This story coincides with Bijan Bayne's article from (August 2009), titled, "
But My Best Friend is Black!: Racism is not an either/or proposition. When did the R-word become as offensive as the N-word?" Here, Bayne argues that by denying the possibility that we carry racist values of any level, society fails to address racism at all, thereby facilitating racism's power and existence.

Furthermore, when majority group members continue to deny that they and their society holds elements of racism, minority group members are forced once again to explain and prove racism's significance:

It’s left to African Americans, the offended party, to explain ad nauseum why seemingly innocuous items are offensive. We do it because we want to educate, to stop the offensive language and behavior, not because we are "playing the race card." We are always up for the teachable moment, but it does get exhausting.

For years, black Americans have tried to explain the nuances of racial discrimination in law enforcement, education, health care; racism isn’t the sole province of the Klansman.

And this is exactly what the Indian community is having to do now in Melbourne since the police and government are denying the possibility of racism in multiple attacks on Indian students.

The burden of change is placed on the victimized minorities. They must change their behaviors and avoid their attackers. The majority group attackers don't have to change their racist attitudes, since as the authorities say, racism doesn't exist in their "pristine" society.


Updated (1/9/10): Really, oh really, not racially motivated? "Indian man attacked and set alight in Melbourne" one week after the homicide covered above.

Academics Blogs

Stereotypes and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Drs. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Columbia Provost, Claude Steele have a conversation up on, theorizing how stereotypes operate in society. The conditions, according to Steele, that give stereotyping more power include:

  • Integration (Steele explains this would be the earlier stages of integration and that more extensive integration can dispel stereotypes)
  • When the stereotyped group is numerically small
  • Having a homogenous culture despite the existence of some diversity
I think Steele, here, is talking about how stereotypes operate in small group situations (e.g., workplace environments). He provides the example of being the sole woman on the U.S. supreme court, and how inter-group dynamics shifted immensely after just one more woman was added.

On a macro level, however, I wouldn't say the power of stereotyping is contingent upon the stereotyped groups' numerical size or proportion in a particular realm. The classic example when explaining how minority-majority group relations depend on power (not group size) is South Africa, where black South Africans are a numerical majority, but are still minorities when it comes to power. Being minorities, they would be the group more at-risk of being stereotyped in ways that have major adverse consequences even though they comprise a bulk of the country's population. Here's the video.

The Root Interview: Claude Steele on How Racial Stereotypes Harm Performance (doh, guess you cannot watch the video here, so just click on the link to view it)

And then some research illustrating one of the points Steele was making -- that simply an awareness of being stereotyped can be distracting and have adverse consequences in everyday situations. This example is a little dated, but definitely falls in line with the subject matter offered above, with a specific focus on gender:

Both videos provide strong points on the subtleties of stereotyping and how stereotypes can operate in society.

Academics Blogs

Monday, January 4, 2010

Differences in Defining Consentual Sex as Deviant

NPR has a short story up illustrating how consentual sexual behaviors are construed as deviant differently in different cultures - "52 Couples Caught In Malaysia Hotel Raids Face Jail." Considered by many to be a country governed by a "moderate" level of Islam and Sharia law, Malaysia still enforces a cultural system that criminalizes consentual sex:

Fifty-two unmarried Muslim couples face charges of sexual misconduct and possible jail terms after being caught alone in hotel rooms by Malaysia's Islamic morality police during a New Year's Day crackdown, an official said Monday.


The detained, mostly students and young factory workers, are expected to be charged with "khalwat," or "close proximity," which under Malaysia's Islamic Shariah law is described as couples not married to each other being alone together in a private place.

"We chose to have this large-scale operation on New Year's Day because many people are known to commit this offense while celebrating such a major holiday," Hidayat (a spokesman for the Selangor Islamic Department) said.

Imagine police departments in western countries or say, Japan, raiding hotels on New Year's or Valentines Day and arresting young adults who were in "close proximity" with one another. Then imagine if the law only applied to targeted groups. More from the story:

The Shariah laws apply only to Malaysia's Muslims, who make up nearly two-thirds of the population, and not to the Christian, Buddhist and Hindu minorities.

Thus, the story demonstrates how religion fuses in this context formally with the criminal justice system, and in turn how distinct groups (young people, Muslims) are criminalized for certain behaviors, while others are not (Christians, Buddhists, Hindus).

Related: "Six arrested in Indonesia for 'sexy dancing'"

Academics Blogs

Friday, January 1, 2010

More MMA Stuff That Makes Me Shake My Head

I have no intention of writing about this now. For the few people who follow my little blog, I'm just kind of posting these videos so I have them cataloged and can write about them at a later date. Enjoy, be disgusted with a sport for which I once had more respect, or both...



Academics Blogs