Saturday, October 31, 2009

Group Sexual Assaults and Masculinity: Mainstream Media Keeps Missing It

The recent case of a 15-year-old girl who was allegedly gang raped by a group of boys in Richmond, CA has garnered quite a bit of recent press, understandably so. One of the attendant issues being discussed is that there were a number of bystanders who did not participate physically in the assault, but were complicit by cheering on or simply by observing but not intervening in any way to stop the group assault.

One of the things I've noticed among the expert discourse on National Public Radio is discussion of bystander apathy, noting the classic and tragic 1964 homicide of Kitty Genovese who was killed as bystanders diffused their personal responsibility to do anything, including calling the authorities. What has not been discussed is how a violent and misogynistic masculinity plays into these types of male-driven assaults.

In fact, it took a caller on
this podcast (go to about 26 minutes into the podcast) to point this out. But even then, the expert panelist responds to the caller by swaying away from the gendered nature of this alleged crime, focusing instead on her personal interests of bystanders "freezing" while watching abusive behavior.

Within the literature on masculinity, a number of scholars have theorized group assaults of males on females and males on other males, specifically noting how these group assaults are a male-based bonding mechanism, enacted as a form of violent participatory theater for the perpetrators. Michael Messner and Jeff Benedict (see Public Heroes, Private Felons) have written a great deal on this issue as it relates to male athletes.

From Messner's Taking the Field: Women, Men and Sports:

...the dynamic underlying gang rapes is a statement of group-based male power, expressed through a dual process of misogynist denigration of women and erotic bonding among men, and this process has its roots in the erotic bonding of the misogynist joking culture of athletic teams. (p. 40).

However, this violent, misogynistic dynamic is not limited to the sporting world. In multiple arenas where heterosexual males form bachelor societies (e.g., fraternities, military units, prisons, sports teams), extreme forms of gendered violence are more likely to develop. Karen Franklin's excellent article titled "Enacting Masculinity: Antigay Violence and Group Rape
as Participatory Theater
," published in Sexuality Research & Social Policy speaks to this phenomenon. Her article dissects the case of a 2003 Long Island, New York high school football team (graphic language):

According to a subsequent Grand Jury investigation report (Pingel, 2004), the assaults began on the first night of camp, when one of the young victims was taped to his bed. The boy was then forced to go to an adjoining cabin and put powder and gel in the hair of another underclassman. The next day, two assailants held down a boy while a third assailant sodomized him with a broomstick. This was done in front of other players, who laughed and joked about it. The broomstick assault was repeated the day after that. This time, the assailants applied duct tape to the victim’s pubic area, buttocks, legs, and eyebrows, inflicting severe pain by pulling off the hair on these parts of his body. Again, other players witnessed the assault. (p. 30).

To understand these public and gendered assaults inflicted upon females and males, Franklin offers the following explanation:

Participants in antigay assaults and group rapes usually recall feeling positive emotions at the time. During the assault, there is a drug-like high produced by the excitement and danger. Afterwards, there is a feeling of closeness and camaraderie, a sense of bonding produced by communal transgression. But there may also be an enormous, collective sigh of relief, in that they have survived this public test with their masculinity intact.

In other words, underneath the experienced veneer of camaraderie and warmth is a desperate struggle to achieve dominance, maintain status, or even to get through the ordeal with one’s masculinity intact. This competition for status or survival is not directly acknowledged. Rather, it is camouflaged by the ostensible goal of debasing a weaker, more feminine outsider.

There is more to Franklin's thesis than what is provided above (the entire article is worth a close read). However, in applying Messner's and Franklin's theoretical approach to the Richmond, CA case, if we can assume (1) all the alleged perpetrators were male and (2) all or most of the bystanders were male, then the collective assault was made possible by objectifying the victim so that she became an object used to help the boys/men bond.

In other words, the mainstream media is once again missing it. Although diffused responsibility is present in the Richmond, CA case and similar cases, that analysis alone is markedly incomplete. These examples of sexualized violence speak to the ongoing crisis in masculinity that permeates our world. As long as males build a sense of hegemonic masculinity through the debasement of women and other males, we will continue to have these types of sexual assaults perpetrated in the form of mass war crimes, small group and individualized assaults.

Additional NPR coverage:

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How Women are Framed in Sports: Yankee babes vs. Phillies babes

It is always interesting to see how the media integrates women, if at all, into major sporting events. This year's World Series pits the New York Yankees against the Philadelphia Phillies. With the series about to commence, The New York Post has a photo-story up titled "Yankees babes vs. Phillies babes," showing 12 photos of Yankee or Philly players with their "babes" (i.e., wives, fiances, or girlfriends). A few examples from their gallery:

(Caption: "Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth and his wife Julia Werth.")

[Caption: "Yankees' designated hitter Hidecki Matsuit (misspelled) holds up a drawing he did of his bride" (note the contemporary visual of Matsui, a Japanese national and "his" picture bride).]

(Caption: "Karen Burnett, wife to Yankees pitcher AJ, hangs out with Amber Sabathia, Kate Hudson and Michelle Damon.")

[Caption: "Stephenie LaGrossa, fiancee to Phillies' pticher (misspelled) Kyle Kendrick."]

As is common in sports media, women in this photo-story are framed as appendages to the more central male athletes. This may seem obvious to the average sports fan since the athletes are the celebrities and therefore merit being the photo-story's central focus. The point, however, is that society still affords males this particular institution of male privilege where women are consistently marginalized.

How often are there stories where female athletes are shown with their male boyfriends, fiances, or husbands? One may argue those stories of women with their "male appendages" do not exist because there are simply fewer female athletes. But that's part of the gender disparity, part of the male privilege in sport and society.

Furthermore, women are relegated symbolically to figures whose worth lies in their sexuality and/or readiness to support their men. When women in this photo-story are shown by themselves (ostensibly centered), they are still cast on the margins of the sporting world, sitting in the stands and/or flaunting their sexuality. As is "par for the course" in the sporting world, we see again how women are valued.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Old Boys Club: Sports, Social Networking, and Politics at the Highest Level

The New York Times has a great story up illustrating how different components of hegemonic masculinity can fuse together and further male privilege at the highest political level possible: "Man's World at White House?: No Harm, No Foul, Aides Say."

The story explains how President Obama is engaging in activities historically considered male-appropriate that in effect still exclude contemporary female aids from further political exposure and the casual, but highly important fields where social networking matters immensely.

The most obvious activity noted is pick-up basketball. Sports, of course, have been a long standing site where males from multiple status levels can temporarily erase the occupational hierarchy and bond over traditionally masculine conversation/competition, thereby providing a friendly social network for lower-level males who hope to move up the working ranks. Perhaps not surprisingly, the story notes that there can be a general ambiance in the Obama Administration that is male-centered:

“There is a sense that Obama has a certain jocular familiarity with the men that he doesn’t have with the women,” said Tracy Sefl, an adviser to Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign who speaks regularly to some female aides in the administration.

In interviews, five women who work in the White House or advised officials there described the culture with more of a collective eye-roll than any real sense of grievance or discomfort. One junior aide, who like the other women spoke on the condition of anonymity because of concerns about appearing publicly critical, said that the “sports-fan thing at the White House” could become “annoying” and that her relative indifference to athletics could be mildly alienating. And while this is not uncommon in any workplace, sports bonding can afford a point of entree with the boss.


Mr. Obama is hardly the first commander in chief whose penchant for sports and other guyish stuff (comic books, “Star Trek”) has become part of his presidential persona. The first President George Bush presented himself as a horseshoe-playing, pork-rind-eating Texan. He was followed by the Big Mac-gobbling, cigar-chomping Bill Clinton and the brush-clearing, bike-busting George W. Bush. It worked to good effect, said Mark McKinnon, a media adviser and mountain bike companion of the latter Mr. Bush.

This criticism is naturally downplayed by President Obama and his supporters, citing the prominent women/girls in Obama's personal and professional life:

“Women are Obama’s base, and they don’t seem to have enough people who look like the base inside of their own inner circle,” said Dee Dee Myers, a former press secretary in the Clinton administration whose sister, Betsy, served as the Obama campaign’s chief operating officer.


[Senior adviser Valerie Jarrett] cites the prominent women Mr. Obama has appointed to top positions, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and six other cabinet-level officials; Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor; the health care czar, Nancy-Ann DeParle; and the domestic policy adviser, Melody Barnes. According to figures provided by the administration, there is a 50-50 gender split among White House employees.

It's an interesting choice of words to say, "Women are Obama’s base," illustrating to some degree the age-old pattern of women supporting male leaders, often times in relative anonymity. In this case, however, Jarrett argues Clinton, Sotomayor, and DeParle are hardly invisible.

While the gendered composition of President Obama's visible and influential allies may be up for debate, this story provides an excellent stimulant for discussion on how the old boys network manifests in different contexts, crisscrossing males' social connections across friendly and professional boundaries. In turn, women and those men who do not fall into a traditionally male box are left to advance without the assistance of the hegemonic male springboard. It's really no wonder why, on average, the visible leaders in society continue to be heterosexual males, many of whom simply do not want to relinquish their power-base.

(Photos courtesy of The New York Times).

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Ethnocentrism in the Media

Examining the ways stories are framed in the media is a useful way of illustrating how ethnocentric we are as a global society. On the current front page of National Public Radio (; 10.22.09) are international stories on Iran's failure to meet deadlines on nuclear proposals, the lack of key American politicians working with Afghanistan, and traumatic brain injury from gridiron football. It's obvious NPR has an international eye, but it appears the international stories typically covered are those that have a close connection to the United States.

On Al Jazeera's front page one can see immediately in its website structure, a broader international focus, with user-friendly links established so readers can quickly go to pages dedicated to Africa, the Americas, Asia-Pacific, Central/South Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. On "The America's" front page (10.22.09), the major stories promoted focus on the the U.S. envoy and the Afghan elections, an explosion in Puerto Rico, and the shifting government in Honduras. In Al Jazeera's conception of "The America's," the United States is not necessarily framed as the center.

While ethnocentrism (or some may say nationalism) embedded in major news sites may seem fairly obvious, what's less obvious is the way ethnocentrism shapes our international awareness and sensibilities. As an example, one recent and hideous story only making marginal news across U.S. websites, but which is being covered much more heavily on Al Jazeera, is the terrorizing of protesters in Guinea who were advocating for democracy and speaking out against Guinea's military government at the end of last month (September 2009).

The violence enacted against the protesters was grotesquely physical and sexual, said to be carried out openly by military forces backing Moussa Dadis Camara, Guinea's military leader who assumed leadership via a bloodless coup last year (not so bloodless anymore).

With Guinea perceived as less consequential for the United States at this moment, one has to search with far greater effort to find U.S. news sites that pay even moderate attention to this issue. Conversely, finding background stories on Guinea within Al Jazeera' site is rather easy. Because these stories are erased from or are never introduced to the West's public consciousness, we continue to look inward and ignore certain global crises, and in this case, the attendant forces that shape international terrorism.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Facebook and Violent Masculinity

I was recently directed to this story about a man who was found guilty of killing his wife after she changed her Facebook "status" to single. For all the hoopla about how the internet will liberate society, there will be an equal number of examples showcasing how the internet is used to extend different forms of discrimination. In this case, although the net was certainly not the root cause of the problem, it did to some degree help spark the interpersonal violence. From the story (posted back on 1/23/09):

Edward Richardson, 41, was found guilty of stabbing to death Sarah Richardson, 26, a hairdresser, in her parents’ house in Staffordshire on May 12 last year.

Fiona Cortese of the Crown Prosecution Service said: “Richarsdon became enraged when Sarah changed her marital status on Facebook to single and decided to go and see her as she was not responding to his messages."

Stafford Crown Court heard that Richardson, a carpenter from Biddulph, Stoke-on-Trent, had sought out Mrs Richardson in her parents house and entered by breaking the front door window.

“Once inside he found Sarah in her bedroom and subjected her to a frenzied and brutal attack with a knife and then attempted to take his own life,” said Ms Cortese.

Here we see how dimensions of masculinity (in this case a violent sense of ownership over one's spouse) fuses with a new form of electronic surveillance, and leads to a tragic outcome. In a highly patriarchal culture, even those institutions that appear to be the most socially helpful will be used to maintain and perpetuate gender imbalances.

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More on the Subtleties of Racism and Romance

Building off my previous post on the Justice of the Peace in Louisiana who refused to marry an African American man and white woman, this podcast was recently aired on NPR's "Tell Me More": "Love Might Be Blind, But Online Dating Isn't." Nothing terribly surprising here. As has been captured before in studies examining inter-racial marriage patterns, white men are the more common partners of choice for women in heterosexual relationships. Likewise on the whole, white women are considered the most desireable by men.

The interesting differences emerge when examining how people rate men and women of color. Generally, men of color are seen as the least desireable marriage partners, or in this case for online dating. Some women of color, however, are portrayed as highly desireable, a likely indicator of race and gender stereotypes portraying them as exotic and/or compliant. Notably, however, African American women, were found to be less desireable. From the "Tell Me More" podcast:

MARTIN (interviewer): And what made it particularly interesting is that you asked people what they were looking for, and then you could determine whether their behavior matched what it is they said, which is one of the things that intrigued me. And I have to tell you, some of the findings will be fairly painful, depending on your values, for some people to discover.

You found that black women get the least response to their messages. They also respond the most to received messages. You found that Indian men fare very poorly overall but also with Indian women, that Indian women do well overall. White women and men do the best.


So what do you think is going on here?

Mr. YAGAN (interviewee): Well, because we're able to adjust for compatibility, and what that means is we've already normalized for how well we think each person is going to get along with the other person, the only factor left in determining response rate really is the aesthetic appearance of the person who sent you that message. Obviously, there's more to aesthetic appearance than just race, but that is going to be the first thing that someone notices when they look at a picture. So we think that there really is racial bias in determining who people want to date.

As society continues to evolve in how it functions electronically, it is important to dissect how social distance between racialized and gendered groups is widened and closed. In this case, social distance presumably closes between white men and women of color, but on what terms and based on what race/gender stereotypes? What might these stereotypes contribute to in some inter-racial relationships when it comes to power imbalances (e.g., control, isolation, violence)? Conversely, social distance between women from all ethnic groups (whites included) and men of color widens, again, based on what racialized and gendered perceptions of diverse men of color?

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Assigning Values to Manhood: An Example from Academia

Peter McAllister, an Australian anthropologist residing temporarily in Cambridge, studied fossilized footstep prints of Aboriginal hunters from about 20,000 years ago, documented in his book, Manthropology. He gauged the prints of an Aboriginal, dubbed "T8," and concluded that T8's running speed on soft ground translates to greater running speed than current 100 meter and 200 meter world record holder, Usain Bolt, on a rubber track. From the story:

An analysis of the footsteps of one of the men, dubbed T8, shows he reached speeds of 37 kph on a soft, muddy lake edge. Bolt, by comparison, reached a top speed of 42 kph during his then world 100 meters record of 9.69 seconds at last year's Beijing Olympics.

In an interview in the English university town of Cambridge where he was temporarily resident, McAllister said that, with modern training, spiked shoes and rubberized tracks, aboriginal hunters might have reached speeds of 45 kph.

"We can assume they are running close to their maximum if they are chasing an animal," he said.

"But if they can do that speed of 37 kph on very soft ground I suspect there is a strong chance they would have outdone Usain Bolt if they had all the advantages that he does."

McAllister also argues that women from eras ago were "superior," as exemplified through their ability to out-do Arnold Schwarzenegger in an arm wrestling contest. Isn't it interesting how he uses an example which pries at men's physical insecurities by having a woman from the past being able to out-muscle a male icon of physicality?

Any Neanderthal woman could have beaten former bodybuilder and current California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in an arm wrestle.


McAllister said a Neanderthal woman had 10 percent more muscle bulk than modern European man. Trained to capacity she would have reached 90 percent of Schwarzenegger's bulk at his peak in the 1970s.

Okay, so comparative anthropology shows that average Homo sapiens from back in the day were more athletic than today's elite athletes. Maybe, maybe not. According to McAllister, they were. But so what? What's the big deal? Who cares, and why?

Apparaently McAllister cares becuase this decline in athleticism is a so-called indicator of men's decline, or physical "softening" in society. Good lord, how long is this male identity crisis in physicality going to go on? Note how McAllister assigns value to masculine physicality. More from the article:

"If you're reading this then you -- or the male you have bought it for -- are the worst man in history. [emphasis added].

"No ifs, no buts -- the worst man, period...As a class we are in fact the sorriest cohort of masculine Homo sapiens to ever walk the planet." [emphasis added].


Manthropology abounds with other examples:

* Roman legions completed more than one-and-a-half marathons a day carrying more than half their body weight in equipment.

* Athens employed 30,000 rowers who could all exceed the achievements of modern oarsmen.

* Australian aboriginals threw a hardwood spear 110 meters or more (the current world javelin record is 98.48).


"We are so inactive these days and have been since the industrial revolution really kicked into gear," McAllister replied. "These people were much more robust than we were."

We already know how society at large privileges manhood in terms of physical strength and aggression. We see this pervasively in popular culture (e.g., movies, television, novels).

But now we see how even academia perpetuates the socially constructed understanding that "good" masculinity is rooted in physical strength, power, an speed. Whereas the "worst" man is someone who is unathletic and who has been "feminized" by a more sedentary corporate culture.

Gee, this is the premise of the movie, Fight Club. Knowing that even academicians perpetuate these gendered values, it's no wonder guys continue to engage in violence against people from all genders and sexualities across the globe.

(Photo courtesy of

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Friday, October 16, 2009

"I try to treat everyone equally": Except When It Comes to Miscegination

I had to re-read this article from The Guardian a few times to make sure I wasn't missing something.

A Louisiana justice of the peace said he refused to issue a marriage licence to an interracial couple out of concern for any children the couple might have.

Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace in Tangipahoa parish, said it was his experience that most interracial marriages did not last long.

"I'm not a racist. I just don't believe in mixing the races that way," Bardwell said. "I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else."

Bardwell said he asked everyone who called about marriage if they were a mixed race couple. If they were, he did not marry them.


"There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage. I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it."

If he did an interracial marriage for one couple, he must do the same for all, he said.

"I try to treat everyone equally."

First, how ironic is it for Bardwell to say he "treat(s) everyone equally." How can he possibly make such a statement after he clearly rejects some couples and accepts others according to their racial composition?

But the most interesting aspects of this article are how Bardwell justifies his actions, first through his so-called evidence of non-racist attitudes and behaviors by befriending African Americans and letting them "use (his) bathroom." And then through his anecdotal "evidence" that African American and Caucasian families don't treat mixed race children well.

Bardwell is using his power to further essentialize racial differences and divisions in society. He is literally influencing peoples' behaviors without their consent by forcing them to seek marriage elsewhere and cope with the emotions of knowing those in power still generalize socially constructed groups' behaviors (e.g., African American and Caucasian families won't treat mixed-race children fairly).

Next, let's return to the issue of "prooving" one's lack of racism by having friends from the racialized group being discriminated against. The is the exact same argument Boston police officer Justin Barrett used after writing in an e-mail that Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was a "banana eating jungle monkey" -- he's not racist because he has black friends even though he writes glaringly racist statements.

Having African American friends, even marring a minority spouse in itself, proves nothing of one's supposed lack of racism. Men from majority groups frequently marry minority women specifically so they can control them. People frequently, often times unconsciously, befriend minorities based on racial stereotypes (e.g., I play basketball all the time with my black friends).

Let's not forget the grotesque case of police brutality enacted upon Haitian immigrant, Abner Louima, by four white New York police officers back in 1997. Two of the officers had intimate relationships with African American women -- Justin Volpe (who inflicted the most severe damage on Louima) and Thomas Wiese. From a 1999 article in the World Socialist Web Site before the trial was to begin:

One of the arguments that will be made by the defense in the Louima case is that branding the cops involved as racists is contradicted by the facts of their personal lives. One of the officers, Wiese, is married to an African-American woman and is the stepfather of her son. Another, Volpe, is engaged to a black woman.

As Bijan Bayne of accurately notes, racism exists along a continuum of severity, and simply because one holds espoused positive relationships with members of minority groups does not mean attitudes and acts of racism automatically dissipate. If Bardwell does not want to be labeled a racist, then he needs to do more than have African American friends over for dinner and allow them to use his bathroom. He needs to stop essentializing his attitudes about African American and Caucasian communities and stop using his position of power to steer interethnic couples away from forging their relationships.

Approaches to anti-miscegenation take new twists, turns, and justifications...

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Commodified Labor in Mixed Martial Arts

About a week ago, MMAFanhouse and other websites reported that former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighter, Junie Browning had been arrested for assault after being taken to the hospital for over doing it on anti-anxiety pills. Read below:

Junie Browning, whose antics on the UFC reality show The Ultimate Fighter made him one of the bad boys of mixed martial arts, was reportedly arrested in Nevada and charged with assaulting three nurses who were treating him for a drug overdose.

Lawrence Mower of the Las Vegas Review-Journal
reports that the 24-year-old Browning was at the hospital because he "took 16 pills of Klonopin, an anti-anxiety drug, in an attempt to harm himself." Citing the arrest report, the Review-Journal reports that Browning is accused of pushing a female nurse, punching a male nurse and kicking another male nurse, and yelling, "Do you know who I am? I will kill you and rape your family."

Browning was portrayed on The Ultimate Fighter in 2008 as a drunken lout who picked fights outside the Octagon, and the UFC and Spike TV were criticized in some circles for tolerating his antics. But Browning has said since then that he has changed his ways and devoted himself completely to his training.

In two UFC fights since leaving The Ultimate Fighter house, Browning has gone 1-1. His last fight was a loss to Cole Miller on April 1, and he did not have another fight scheduled.

Update: According to
Yahoo! Sports' Kevin Iole, the UFC has decided to release Browning following the incident.

This is an excellent example of worker expendability in a corporation with little (if any) protection for workers. Junie Browning, as MMAFanhouse says, was The Ultimate Fighter reality show, season 8 bad boy. Out of anger and in non-competition environments, he tried to throw a contestant in a pool, he got in the face of another contestant immediately after that contestant had finished competing, he consumed immense amounts of alcohol, and he threw a glass at another contestant that shattered. Despite multiple warnings from the UFC’s President, Browning was never kicked off the show. Perhaps his controversial persona was too valuable for the show’s ratings.

Instead, after the glass throwing incident, Browning was given the opportunity to fight, with the caveat that if he lost, he’d have to leave. He lost and left. Of greater importance, MMA was turned into an institution of criminal justice, used to solve non-sporting violence. I cannot think of another sport, mainstream or otherwise, that would define itself in such a way. But in the world of MMA, Browning appeared to be a valuable commodity to the UFC -- he was loud, controversial, and would inflate ratings.

Browning of course had agency as a contestant and subsequent employee. He used The Ultimate Fighter and UFC to build a controversial personality, to brand himself an extreme bad boy that would sell tickets and reap the ensuing rewards. But the power differential between employer and employee was too great. In the end, what the UFC got out of Browning was far more than what he got out of the company. According to the
SPIKE website, UFC President, Dana White, framed his lenience with Browning as a constructive opportunity for someone with problems.

“Obviously, I’m very disappointed,” White said. “I haven’t heard anything regarding Junie where he’s acted up or been bad in a long time. You could tell on the show he had issues. I saw (fighting) as an opportunity for the kid to turn his life around and make something of himself…”

“He was given an amazing opportunity, but he has some serious issues that are beyond me and what I can do. I’m there for guys and I realize nobody is perfect and guys are going to get into trouble. When that happens, I want to try to help and do something for them. But he needs more help than I can give him. I did what I could for him.”

But is opportunity through fight sport the best way to help an individual who may have serious mental health problems? As also stated on the official SPIKE website:

It was beginning to look like Junie might have just been a victim of the stressful and bizarre environment of The Ultimate Fighter house, but this news sadly reveals that Browning really does have mental/emotional problems that require serious attention.

As an athlete with pedestrian skills in the UFC, Browning’s controversial personality could only sell so many tickets. With the social structure of MMA unable to constructively address Browning’s mental health concerns, he has clearly fallen into personally unhealthy and socially criminogenic behaviors, thereby minimizing his usefulness to the UFC and rendering him a company threat. If the UFC truly wanted to help him, couldn’t he have been given a health plan that offered (and perhaps mandated) some kind of mental health assessment and therapy? Instead, Browning was essentially turned into commodified labor.

Whether intended or not, the company got what they could out of this emotionally unstable employee -- higher ratings for a minimal time period. From the UFC and MMA structure (or lack there of), Browning’s mental health problems appear to have escalated; he now faces serious criminal charges, and appears to have been a threat to the community. Any question as to who came out where in this business with virtually no worker solidarity or protection?

(Photo courtesy of

Academics Blogs

Monday, October 12, 2009

Commodifying and Controlling Love in the Global Economy

From a story linked up on -- “Get an Aussie hubby for $10K.” The story explains how high-income, professional women from Singapore can dish out a fee to have access to men from Australia looking for marriage.

When most marriage consultants are helping men to find foreign brides, one company in Singapore has come out with a blue ocean strategy, only for women.

In view of the rising number of unmarried women in the republic, the company has an ideal package to offer.

The company is matching up its clients with Australian lifetime partner and is charging a fee of S$10,000 (RM24,540) for each successful match.

The men, aged between 30 and 60, and mostly from Brisbane.

“So far, we have paired up about 30 couples,” he said, adding some of the men they introduced were professionals such as lawyers and engineers.

Most of the local clients were career women aged between 20 and 50.

“We also have Chinese women who are working here as well as single mothers who are accompanying their children studying here,” he said.

He said Singaporean women had high expectations of their prospective husbands. They wanted men with a stable income and to look decent.

A few comments. First, this represents the theoretical position of “co-option,” where a smaller number of women are able to utilize the same types of leverage as men in constructing gendered relationships. In short, some women enter the men’s world but must play by the same rules. Thus, the gendered relationships don’t exactly shift since the structure remains the same.

However, this story also has a few twists that illustrate further male privilege in the global marital building business. Even when higher-income women use men’s tactics to purchase access to potential marriages from overseas, these Singaporean and Chinese women appear to be pursuing men who will advance their collective economic advantages. Thus, the women and men are on equal footing economically and likely educationally.

This is drastically different from western men who purchase access to meeting women for potential marriage from lower-income countries. As documented in the Asian American Studies literature, western men frequently marry women from low-income countries who are disempowered once in their new “home,” lacking adequate language and educational skills, and virtually no social-networking connections that would help these women know where to turn if being abused.

Thus, when men are in essence purchasing poor, foreign women for marriage, there tends to be a more deliberate effort to perpetuate race and gender power imbalances. In these cases, the globally constructed marriage is on far less equal footing.

Then another story from Southeast Asia, covering a stepfather who chained his stepdaughter as a prisoner because he did not approve of her boyfriend. From AsiaOneNews:

KUCHING, MALAYSIA: A 20-year-old woman has lodged a police report against her stepfather for keeping her in chains in the house.

The girl claimed that her stepfather, a foreign national, and her mother took her away from the boyfriend's house at Kampung Rampangi in Santubong and forced her to return to their home in Bandar Baru Semariang on Friday night.

The couple then shackled her legs with chains to prevent her from leaving the house. He secured the chains with a padlock.

The ever-growing inter-cultural relationships that emerge with globalization are clearly ridden with power inequalities, influenced by patriarchy manifesting across stratified countries, class groups, and within families.

[Photo courtesy of].
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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Selling Disrimination: "He Is Gay -->"

President Obama appears to be taking a more overt and strong stance against the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. From The Independent:

"I will end 'don't ask-don't tell'," Mr Obama said to a standing ovation from the crowd of about 3,000 at the annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay civil rights advocacy group.

The law was passed by Congress in 1993 and signed by President Bill Clinton, who also promised to repeal the ban on homosexuals in the military but was blunted by opposition in the military and Congress.

Mr Obama said he's working with Pentagon and congressional leaders on ending the policy.

"We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve the country," Mr Obama said. "We should be celebrating their willingness to step forward and show such courage ... especially when we are fighting two wars."

So the wheels might be in motion to end an obvious example of institutionalized discrimination (for a great interview on this topic, click HERE).

Yet on a broader cultural level, the casual nature of discriminating against the LGBTQI community remains pervasive to say the least. I saw the shirt pictured here advertised in a store window yesterday in Honolulu.

The shirt saying, "He is gay -->" is reminiscent of a shirt widely sold from the past which said, "I'm with stupid -->." Just as it is perfectly acceptable in many schools, families, and peer groups for children and adolescents to say, "That's so gay" as an insult, here we have another glaring symbol illustrating how acceptable it is in our society to discriminate based on sexuality.

And of course nobody seems to care that suicide attempts and ideation among gay/bisexual men are off the charts relative to the heterosexual population. What's more important? -- Utilizing whatever strategy
works to boost sales in the global marketplace, even when those strategies rely on obvious forms of discrimination.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Selling Fitness Lifestyles and Beauty Standards

So I enjoy challenging myself physically through different workouts. Much of the time I'll view what I know is a very difficult workout as an opponent that I will eventually "defeat." Definitely a blessing and a curse, but if I feel a workout augments my running, I'll at least give it a shot.

In any case, one cannot help but notice how the fitness industry is not so much about physical and mental health as it is about physical appearance. Yes, stating the obvious. A few times a week I've been doing this workout called "Insanity," and I have to admit, I love it. It's not the most difficult workout I've ever done, but it's certainly up there (although admittedly they say you're supposed to do it six days/week, and I stick to only two).

I learned the "Insanity" crew is part of a larger fitness corporation called "BeachBody," which sells other workouts put on DVD (P90X, Hip Hop Abs), nutritional supplements, workout attire, and they even have their own social networking system. They're not simply selling a product, but a lifestyle and community that encourages ongoing spending and selling of multiple fitness products.

A central dimension of that lifestyle is pursuing the fountain of youth. But again, this youthful pursuit does not seem to revolve around staying physically fit as a means to lower cholestorol, lower blood pressure, prevent diabetes, and so forth. The fitness pursuit seems ultimately about reaching a socially constructed aesthetic ideal where one turns heads at the beach.

Hence, the standards of beauty for women as portrayed through this industry are not the tall, gaunt models, but instead the ripped fitness instructors with rock hard abs, thighs and triceps for everyone to see; the same goes for men. By setting the aesthetic standards so high, the public must keep working out and purchasing the fitness lifestyle. All the while, consumers continue to age away from the unatainable standard, thereby requiring an even stronger pursuit, ostensibly achieved by purchasing more products.

In the following video describing "Insanity," there is little (if any) mention of physical or mental fitness, unless that ultimately leads to looking fit. Starting at 4:18:

"…because Insanity is going to test your limits physically and mentally. You see Insanity is probably the hardest workout ever put on DVD. But if you can stick with it for 60 days, you’ll end up with the hardest body you’ve ever had."

In the realm of popular culture, it is critical to keep tabs on how beauty standards are shifting and coinciding with capitalist ventures. How will this industry spread to other countries in East Asia, Southeast Asia, South America, and other global markets? For men, these beauty standards are not terribly new. However, the ultra-toned, athletic look is definitely emerging and spreading as a new standard for the average female consumer.

But will the pursuit for that look truly be healthy, or eventually ridden with laxatives, supplemental muscle mass products, bulimia, depression, credit card debt, etc.? Genetically, we're all very unique, and no matter how hard some people work and discipline their diet, some simply cannot look like those in the video, nor should anyone feel pressured to do so. Fitness should be about health, not vanity.

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On Sexual Deviance and Masculinity

Interesting how sexual deviance is defined differently within and between cultures.

In the United States, infidelity by the likes of former President Bill Clinton, “Late Night” host David Letterman, and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford leads to enforced sanctions manifesting in the form of public shaming.

However, official sanctions imposed upon these high profile, powerful men have nothing to do with their infidelity. For example, in Sanford’s case, possible sanctions revolve around
leaving his post as governor, not gallivanting through Argentina with his mistress. In the end, sexuality in these cases is relegated to a private matter where state meddling is negated. And in the case of Letterman, it appears that getting busted for infidelity has increased his “Late Night” show ratings. Not surprising when we consider the social rewards men often receive for being sexual studs.

Not that any high profile married women are being publicized as cheaters (in all likelihood there simply are fewer), but we all know what would likely happen if the tables were turned. Discussions would burst, criticizing the woman’s excessive promiscuity and potential to break up the family. For the afore mentioned men, the former topic was explored moderately in the media; not so much the latter.

Moving over to Saudi Arabia, the official state sanctions imposed upon a male for boasting of his sexual exploits on television appear particularly harsh by American standards. From a story in
The Guardian:

A Saudi man who boasted about his sexual exploits on television has been sentenced to five years in prison and 1,000 lashes — drawing worldwide attention to the conservative kingdom's highly repressive laws on personal morality.

Mazen Abdel-Jawad, a podgy 32-year-old with receding hair, was convicted of "publicising vice and confessing to crimes on a satellite television channel" for describing his conquests on LBC TV's Bold Red Line talkshow. He bragged that he first had sex at the age of 14.

Abdel-Jawad was also told by a criminal court in Jeddah,
Saudi Arabia's second city, that he would not be allowed to travel abroad for five years after his release. His lawyer said he would appeal against the sentence


Many ordinary citizens reportedly filed petitions with the authorities after the programme was broadcast in mid-July, demanding that Abdul-Jawad be punished, even executed for "moral corruption".

While Clinton, Letterman, and Sanford did not necessarily boast of their extra-marital affairs (at least not publicly), the tendency of men to do so as means of bolstering their masculinity is clearly global. For Abdel-Jawad, because sexual promiscuity is defined differently (i.e., deviance) in Saudi Arabia, the official state sanctions levied upon him coincide with the culture’s values and norms.

I wonder, what would the sanctions have been had Abdel-Jawad been female? Or we could turn to another country, Iran (or "somewhere in the Middle East"), to see how infidelity by women is handled and depicted in film (see here for a description of Stoning of Soraya.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

The 1965 Immigration Act Isn’t Supposed to Work Like This

Thinking back to those old school days of Asian American Studies, I just don’t recall the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 being intended to operate this way. From an article in the USA Today:

Unions representing teachers in Louisiana have filed a complaint with state authorities alleging that a Los Angeles recruiting firm broke the law by holding more than 350 Filipino teachers in "virtual servitude" in order to hold onto their jobs in five Louisiana parish school systems, including New Orleans' Recovery School District.

The complaint, filed Wednesday by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), alleges that Universal Placement International charged Filipino nationals about $15,000 apiece to get jobs — more than 40% of some new teachers' salaries in a few Louisiana parishes — and required that they pay 10% of their monthly salary for two years to keep them.


"This is the kind of exploitation that we have read (about) in history books and taught our students — the fact that teachers would be subject to it in the United States in the 21st century is just totally and completely immoral," says AFT President Randi Weingarten. She notes that the allegations still have to be investigated, but says that, if true, it'd be "mind-blowing that a recruiter could actually get away with this. Even if it was an isolated incident, it would be horrible, but my hunch right now is that it's not isolated."

In Louisiana, many of the Filipino teachers told union investigators that they were required to rent housing provided by Universal, which sublet apartments at a profit. The complaint also alleges that Universal threatened to "take them back to the airport for a return flight to the Philippines" if teachers questioned the contract terms.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 shifted Asian American communities’ demographics tremendously. The act increased immigration by easing back on prior restrictions. Current immigrants present in the United States could use the family reunification clause to bring over relatives. A greater percentage of political refugees would be admitted. And potential immigrants with particular job skills lacking in the United States were given preference.

It is through this latter clause that we still see teachers and nurses from foreign countries (including the Philippines) migrate to the United States in higher numbers. Unfortunately, this story also shows that time doesn’t necessarily change occupational exploitation. Should these allegations be true, it appears the open and overt contract labor injustices (extortion through stolen wages, threats of heavy debt, deportation back to the Philippines, and actively exploiting populations from poor countries) from 19th and 20th century United States just aren’t dying out.

Also listen to this NPR podcast on the story HERE.

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