Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gendered Consumerism and Romance: Sex And The City

A great synopisis of how Sex And The City reaffirms traditional notions of gender. True, there's women's sexual liberation and role reversal with regard to male objectification, but is expanded objectification how society should "even out" gender inequality? Or should we just work to stop objectifying?

I'd have to agree, Sex And The City, much like the film Just Wright, really revolves around women finding the right guy, despite their intellect and occupational prowess. And the tie between women and shopping, well, the connection is not made much tighter than in this series.

I like the term, "open cultural product" (a product that can be interpreted and enjoyed in multiple ways). However, I think given Sex And The City's character demographics (white, upper-class), their central romantic goals, and propensity for fashion, I don't know how "open" the series truly is.

Monday, May 24, 2010

More on the Ban on Ethnic Studies in Arizona

Let's hope Arizona's backlash to minority rights is not leading the way for the rest of the United States. The latest is a ban on ethnic studies, alleged to be divisive for society.

Let's face it, if classes are relegated to 1 or 2 courses on "American history" and/or "European history" throughout high school as mandated by the government, absolutely key issues of systemic discrimination are going to be excluded, which were central to the building of America. There is no denying, America would not have been built in the way it was without, among other travesties, slavery or the extermination of Native American tribes.

Also excluded will be the key concepts that revolve around these ugly, but central, aspects of American history and contemporary society. Without understanding, or even knowing, these key concepts (e.g., discrimination, cultural diffusion, assimilation, race, power, stratification, amalgamation) and how they still operate in society, students will be deprived of learning the critical thinking skills that we all need when we go out to work in the "real world."

NPR's Talk of the Nation did a decent job in illustrating both sides of this issue in this 30-minute podcast: "Ariz. Ban On Ethnic Studies Divides Educators."

A few things, however, are being lost in this discussion, or only marginally addressed. First is the fear factor, and how this ban on ethnic studies coincides with xenophobic immigration policy. Most demographers state that by 2050 Caucasians will no longer comprise a numerical majority in the United States. Thus, while we can expect some states/regions of the country to oppose backlashes to minority power (for instance, Los Angeles' proposal to boycott Arizona), we can ultimately expect increases in proposed policies against immigration, ethnic studies, and affirmative action.

Moreover, we can expect that these proposed policies will be tied to the ongoing demonization of people of color through other "red flag" issues, namely crime and deviance. That is exactly how proponents of Arizona's immigration law framed their argument -- among the brown people who might resemble immigrants visually, we need to know who is a U.S. citizen and who is not, because if they are not, they just might be a violent drug cartel member.

I found this great example, "Arizona's immigration law creates a police state for immigrants in order to solve a drug-war problem," where Phoenix city councilman Sal DiCiccio is quoted,

You know, if you look at what's happening in the state of Arizona -- I really want to talk about this, this is more a plea to the national audience -- they need to take a look at what's happening in our state. In the city of Phoenix alone, the area that I control along with the other members of the council and the mayor, but we have a responsibility to protect our citizenry. We had over 350 kidnappings in the city of Phoenix alone, primarily due to the illegal immigrant trade (video available HERE).

Fear induced code words?: "Watch out, that Mexican looking guy might kidnap you or your child, so let's check all Mexican looking people for their papers."

Also being lost in the discussion (unsurprisingly) are the global connections that make our immediate locales all the more multicultural. Whether it be through major trade policies (NAFTA) that cause immigration (legal and illegal) or information technology advances, our world will continue to become increasingly connected. Thus if anything, a need for ethnic studies classes will be even more necessary.

We should not be questioning whether or not ethnic studies classes should be offered (i.e., either have 'em or cut 'em entirely). More appropriate questions might be, how should ethnic studies courses be offered, and how can education as a whole be valued in such a way that a multiplicity of voices and perspectives are adequately included in the curriculum.

Er, uh, wait, that's right. I forgot, we don't value public education in the United States. It increases taxes.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Women's Provocative Attire and "Deserved" Abuse posted the following videos that were created by ABC's "What Would You Do?" show. These shows are idiosyncratic with an extremely small, haphazard sample. Still, they illustrate very interesting and bothersome patterns in society that have been empirically proven in prior research.

In this social experiment, we see how a few bystanders are willing to intervene when witnessing clear cases of intimate partner violence (IPV) if the female victims are dressed conservatively. When dressed provocatively, however, bystanders keep their distance, some blaming the women for their own victimization, presuming she may be a prostitute (as if that merits her being abused).

Check out the videos. First, with the women dressed conservatively (sorry, may have to get through some commercials first; or if you cannot see the videos, go HERE):

Now with the same women dressed more provocatively:

Makes you wonder what you would do in such a situation. Men who work with organizations that aim to prevent violence against women often ask how they can safely intervene in these situations, in ways that are safe for them and female victims. Good teaching tool for students in classes focusing on IPV.

Friday, May 21, 2010

"Just Wright" About What?

It's rare that I will pass up a sports movie. With the NBA playoffs in full swing and after listening to NPR pump up the film "Just Wright" ('Just Wright' And The Rhythm of Romance; Common, Sanaa Hamri Get It 'Just Wright'), I decided to check out Queen Latifah and Common's latest cinematic endeavor.

Okay, so the film is cute, extremely cliche and predictable. What else would one expect from an American romance? It's interesting, however, how much the film is being cast as a progressively feminist flick simply becuase it tells the story of a hunky pro basketball player and his choice to marry a "plus sized woman," rather than the stereotypically slender basketball wife.

Ultimately the film is not about breaking gender lines. Instead, in typical American fashion, it is just another rendition of how women define their worth through their relationship with men. In "Just Wright," Queen Latifah plays a talented, successful physical therapist who just can't land a man.

Despite all her occupational talents, humorous traits, commitment to family, and other likeable characteristics, it's Scott McKnight (Common), the NBA All-Star, who completes her life.

It's interesting, "Just Wright" comes out during a time when "plus sized women" are making the headlines as supposedly overly sexual, as discussed in this NPR podcast: "Plus-Sized Models An Increasing Presence In Ads." But again, this trend in trying to make "plus-sized" women acceptably feminine is hardly progressive. Fundamentally, femininity is not changing. It's simply including more women in its current cultural framework.

The feminine dogma that calls for women to be physically attractive for men now includes a new set of women. Thus, the central narrative really hasn't changed at all. Bottom line, women need to look pretty for men, because it's through their connection to men that they enhance their status.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"By The Time I Get To Arizona" -- Public Enemy Had It Right!

First, the attack on immigrants, and now an attack on ethnic studies. From CNN, Arizona Bans Ethnic Studies in Public Schools:

Fresh on the heels of a new immigration law that has led to calls to boycott her state, Arizona's governor has signed a bill banning ethnic studies classes that "promote resentment" of other racial groups.

Gov. Jan Brewer approved the measure without public statement Tuesday, according to state legislative records. The new law forbids elementary or secondary schools to teach classes that are "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group" and advocate "the overthrow of the United States government" or "resentment toward a race or class of people.

The bill was pushed by state school Superintendent Tom Horne, who has spent two years trying to get Tucson schools to drop a Mexican-American studies program he said teaches Latino students they are an oppressed minority. There was no immediate response from the Tucson Unified School District, the law's main target.

Brewer's signature comes less than a month after she approved a state law that requires immigrants to carry their registration documents at all times and allows police to question individuals' immigration status in the process of enforcing any other law or ordinance. Critics of the law say it will lead to racial profiling, while supporters say it involves no racial profiling and is needed to crack down on increasing crime involving illegal immigrants.

Thankfully there has been protest to the immigration law, despite the fact that a majority of Arizona residents and slight majority of American citizens support it. The code words that proponents of these measures are using are laced with racism. The immigration law is not supposed to be racist and will supposedly not promote racial profiling...yet, immigrants who are largely Latino are clearly connected to "increasing crime."

Ethnic studies classes supposedly promote tension rather than a sense of pride that is typically erased in America's Eurocentric textbooks. And shouldn't education at all levels be teaching, dare I say, reality? We are supposed to erase how America, among other things, forcibly overtook the Southwest?

Arizona's current political trajectory makes me think of a song by Public Enemy -- "By The Time I Get To Arizona." They had it right (and no, I'm not advocating for any kind of violence; the symbolic message of racial oppression and attendant anger rings true):

(Photo of Arizona Gov Jan Brewer via CNN)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mixed Martial Arts and Masculinity: The Strikeforce Edition

Any time something particularly controversial happens in the heavily scrutinized sport of mixed martial arts (MMA), you can safely bet, rhetoric will materialize muddled with notions of traditionaly violent masculinity. Okay, that's not terribly surprising since the sport is already filled disproportionately with males at all levels (fighters, media, owners, commentators, etc.). Still, the examples provided, below, make for interesting indicators of how sport is constantly utilized as a medium to connect masculinity with various levels and types of violence.

A few weeks ago in mid-April, the MMA organization, Strikeforce, held an event that was broadcast on CBS -- free television. In the main event, middleweight champ, Jake Shields beat challenger, Dan Henderson in a 5-round decision. During the post-fight interview, Shields was challenged by previous foe, Jason "Mayhem" Miller. This didn't please Shields's training buddies, who subsequently began to express their displeasure by physically beating Miller in group form. See ensuing video:

Note in the midst of the brawl (beginning at 0:48) when interviewer and commentator, Gus Johonson, says into the mic:

  • "Sometimes these things happen in MMA; a lot of testosterone in the cage." Ostensibly suggesting that (1) non-sporting group violence is an unfortunate, but expected part of the sport's theatrical aura, at least on occassion, and (2) excessive masculinity ("a lot of testosterone") should be naturally connected with unbridled violence.
  • "Gentlemen, we're on national television. Gentlemen, we're on national television." Ostensibly suggesting that preventing and/or stopping the non-sporting violence is not the critical issue. Rather what's critical is making sure the non-sporting violence is not seen by the general public. The sport's explicit image is more important than the violent realities manifesting in real time.
In the heat of the moment, Johnson fell back on traditional assumptions of masculinity, identifying testosterone as the explanatory variable that propelled the violent behavior beyond MMA's structured sporting confines. In short, if we get a bunch of men in a competitive group setting, we can expect violence to emanate. Hence, masculinity's association with violence is defined as normal, or at least not abnormal.

In turn, the brawl and Johnson's widely heard remarks were heavily scrutinized by many of those in the MMA blogosphere, as documented by the folks over at, who posted an entry by writer, Eugene Robinson titled, "WAAA-HHHHH: The Decline of Balls in MMA." Robinson's entry chastised those who crticized the violent post-fight mele. Notably, the BloodyElbow administrator who posted the entry commented that he did not agree with the essay's premise, but that it offered a significant enough perspective on the incident. Some excerpts from Robinson's essay:

Flash forward to NOW, where a few days after one of the greatest MMA cards ever – JAKE SHIELDS v. DAN HENDERSON – a nation full of MMA fans, pundits and prognosticators are drinking the kool aid and wringing their hands like a coffee klatch all concerned about how MMA "looks" to the rest of America. Websites, this one included, like grandmothers, are talking about "the black eye" the sports been given and about how execrable [look it up] the post-fight fight wherein Team Cesar Gracie taught Jason MAYHEM Miller a lesson in deportment was.

Well, I am here to call bullshit on that.


I submit that MMA nowadays is so tender that the sensitive susans who are worried about CBS admittedly the most conservative of networks out there…and coincidentally smarting over it] and the sport suffering because, imagine this, fighters got into a fight at a fight…a fight brought about by a man named MAYHEM…well, the ladies protesteth too much.

[Emphasis added].

Robinson overtly associates those who criticize the brawl with "grandmothers" "sensitive susans," and "ladies." He suggests that MMA as a sport and the nation as a whole are decaying specifically because of their feminized objections to non-sporting violence. Not surprisingly, Robinson ends his piece by suggesting dissenters with his stance "...start following tennis. I hear they're looking to expand their fan base," a clear reference to tennis's historical connection with socially acceptable femininity.

Gus Johnson, however, was additionally attacked on a heavily personal level by a different MMA website, "," but again in a way that utilized traditional understandings of gender to ridicule him. As documented in's story, "Cage Potato Deserves No Pass in Gus Johnson Fiasco," an electronic and verbal spat between the website and Johnson provoked Cage Potato to doctor the following picture of Johnson for their website, shown in the comments section of this BloodyElbow story, "Gus Johonson Calls Cage Potato" (picture not posted by a BloodyElbow administrator).

Portraying Johnson in this manner clearly attempts to disparage him by applying so-called feminine indicators on his portrait. These tactics further demonstrate how those with power in the MMA blogosphere choose to operate within a rigid, juvenile, and sexist framework. I suppose one could argue MMA is still under two decades old. Its institutional components and individual actors are still growing up and therefore, should not be heavily critiqued. I agree, it's still growing up.

(Photos via

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

NBA's Phoenix Suns' Symbolic Protest Over Arizona's Racist Immigration Law

There has been a ton of back and forth rhetoric over Arizona's impending immigration (xenophobic) law -- a proposal supported by a majority of U.S. citizens (though certainly not all). The NBA's Phoenix Suns make a symbolic political statement, donning the new "Los Suns" uniforms. From Yahoo! Sports:

In general, people in the sports world keep their political leanings to themselves. Sure, there are a few guys who regularly speak out on political issues, but for the most part that's considered bad business. As Michael Jordan put it, "Republicans buy shoes too." That's why what the Phoenix Suns are doing is so amazing.

The Yahoo! article also quotes the Sun's star point guard, Steve Nash:

"I think it's fantastic," Nash said after Tuesday's practice. "I think the law is very misguided. I think it's, unfortunately, to the detriment of our society and our civil liberties. I think it's very important for us to stand up for things we believe in. As a team and as an organization, we have a lot of love and support for all of our fans. The league is very multicultural. We have players from all over the world, and our Latino community here is very strong and important to us."

And an official statement from the NBA Players Association:

The recent passage of the new immigration law in Arizona is disappointing and disturbing. The National Basketball Players Association strongly supports the repeal or immediate modification of this legislation. Any attempt to encourage, tolerate or legalize racial profiling is offensive and incompatible with basic notions of fairness and equal protection. A law that unfairly targets one group is ultimately a threat to all.

We applaud the actions of Phoenix Suns players and management and join them in taking a stand against the misguided efforts of Arizona lawmakers. We are consulting with our members and our player leadership to determine the most effective way for our union to continue to voice our opposition to this legislation.

Right on. Just speculating, but I'd imagine a good portion of NBA players have had their share of experiences being racially profiled. Though sports tend to be explicitly apolitical and implicitly conservative, perhaps in this case, the players' more overt political stance should not be so surprising.

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Punching with the Boys ... or with the Girls

Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappano's Playing With the Boys: Why Separate is Not Equal in Sports argues that athletics in its current form perpetuates gender inequity in society. In essence, because we automatically separate boys from girls and women from men in sporting competitions, society does not allow for females who can out-perform males or compete on an equal basis with them, to do so.

McDonagh and Pappano's thesis rests upon the notion that gender exists along a continuum, as does athletic ability (or really any intellectual/physical quality). Therefore, females and males should practice and compete together in sport, just as they do in school and work, and competitive brackets should be based on ability, thereby eleminating segregation resting upon rigid gender norms. Of course there would still be gender disparities in competitions, but socially constructed understandings of gender would not be a fundamental divisive factor in athletic competition.

Yesterday, I watched an interesting video over on, "Sam Stout's UFC 113 Vlog - Episode 2." As seen embedded in the video below, UFC fighter, Sam Stout is shown sparring quite extensively with a female kickboxer, Germain DeRandamie. Stout's commentary is quite refreshing in a sport that is obviously dominated by males from top (owners, management) to bottom (fighters, ring girls) (go to 2:35 of the video).

Watch Road To 113: Sam Stout's Birthday, Episode 2 on

I wouldn't say this is an exact example of what McDonagh and Pappano hope to see in sport. DeRandamie is still framed in the story in reference to Stout, who serves as the vlog's central focus. Also, this is heavy practice, not a formal competition per se. Still, this is a pretty unique example of progress in the striking dimensions of an MMA practice setting. DeRandamie has certainly garnered her male peers' respect by practicing with them at high speed.

I would argue this in more of an example of co-option in sport -- females (or in this case 1 female) entering a male dominated terrain without changing the overall nature of the institution, as opposed to co-operation, where women and men work collectively to revamp institutions such that they are gender neutral.

All this theoretical stuff notwithstanding, I say we have some progress demonstrated here, with much more to go. Oh, and it would probably be good if people weren't hitting each other in the head too much...the jury's still out on MMA and traumatic brain injury.

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