Thursday, February 17, 2011

Playing with the Boys: Gendered High School Wrestling in Iowa and Hawaii

One of the news stories gaining quite a bit of attention over the past 24 hours is the fact that two girls qualified for this year's varsity state wrestling tournament in Iowa. For those unfamiliar with the sport, high school wrestling in Iowa is, well, an obsession. It is huge there.

Wrestling is one of many traditionally male sports, and in most states, high school wrestling is so dominated by boys that girls essentially never sign up, or if they do, they must practice with and compete against males. Conversely in Hawaii, high school wrestling is so popular among girls that girls wrestling has its own infrastructure; at many schools they have their own coaching staff. Likewise at the end of the year the girls and boys wrestling teams in Hawaii have their own separate tournaments - but held in the same arena at the same time - where individual wrestlers and teams for boys and girls are crowned state champs.

But even in Iowa, where wrestling reigns king, girls must enter the male-dominated wrestling system. Hence, when girls are successful enough competing against boys in the regular season and qualify for the state tournament, it is big news and comes with a bit of added drama.

One of the girls who qualified for Iowa's tournament lost her two first matches, thereby eliminating her from further competition. Another girl, however, won by default because her male opponent did not feel it was appropriate to compete against a girl.
He respectfully bowed out of competition stating:

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy and Megan (Black, the tournament's other female entrant) and their accomplishments. However, wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times. As a matter of conscience and my faith, I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most of the high school sports in Iowa."

And it should not go unmentioned that this male competitor had a record going into the tournament of 35-4, giving him a legitimate chance to place, illustrating how strongly he felt about not wrestling against a girl even though she'd qualified by competing against boys throughout the season.

This all serves as a perfect example of the social tensions that Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappano discuss in their book,
Playing With the Boys: Why Separate is Not Equal in Sports. At least in explicit principle, if we do not segregate education and work by way of sex, then why should we segregate sport? Shouldn't athletic competition be based predominantly on ability, which would enable boys/girls and men/women to compete with and against each other?

McDonagh and Pappano argue that by segregating the sexes in sport, we further the broader social inequalities between the sexes. Women are further seen and treated as second-class citizens.

There are other perspectives, however, and not just those that would callously diminish women's upward mobility in sport. Take for instance the sport of track & field. If women and men competed with/against each other in sprinting events such as the hurdles, and let's assume the male standard was kept in the 110m high hurdles, how many fantastic, elite female hurdlers who now compete in the women's 100m race with lower hurdles could effecitvely clear the hurdles and sprint through them when raised to 42 inches?

If a woman/girl could do so, she should not be excluded - a key point made by McDonagh and Pappano. But I would not go so far as to eliminate an infrastructure that caters to women's smaller, on average, physical size. If we went that far, some important female role models would lose status and the rewards they have worked hard to attain.

In the case of the girls who are competing in Iowa's state wrestling tournament, we see an example where a sporting infrastructure for girls has not been established. And that is the unfortunate aspect of this story. With wrestling being so popular in Iowa, it is unfortunate that girls are not encouraged nearly as much as boys to partake in this sport. Why, because it is too violent? Girls cannot handle physical competition?

Bottom line, the athletic system is not established in a way to promote gender equity. If Iowa has a wrestling system like Hawaii that provided more expanded coaching and competitions for girls, more girls could work their way towards state recognition in a sport that garners extensive attention in Iowa. Why deprive girls of the sport's benefits when coaches constantly say, "Sports are an extension of the classroom"? Wouldn't that be institutionalized gender discrimination in education? Fix the system.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentines Day!

I thought this symbol up on the front page of "" was indicative of the massive social push to remind us all that today is Valentine's Day. Talk about a commodified holiday.

So I went into a certain store that I very, very rarely frequent (and I only went there because someone asked me to do so), and I was simply overwhelmed by the constructed pressure to spend for Valentine's Day.

As seen in the pictures, below, there is an unlimited number of ways to show your sweetheart how much you love him/her on this specific day. Just buy away! Don't worry so much about how you treat him/her the other days of the year. I mean, one shows love through the dollar on certain days (Valentine's, anniversaries, etc.), not through other behavioral actions, right?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Contextualizing Dating Violence in Jersey Shore

The past few weeks of MTv’s reality television show,
Jersey Shore, have provided strong examples of the ways co-occurring violence can emerge in young people's intimate relationships and have differing effects based on the respective individuals' sex. For those unfamiliar with the show, you may read a sociological perspective here.

Among the show's cast of characters are Ronnie (a muscular and physically imposing individual) and Sammi – a romantically involved couple. The couple has incessant conflicts tied to jealousy and lack of trust (Ronnie, apparently, cheated on Sammi in a past season). The show typifies many reality shows in that contentious relationships between the characters are further problematized through participants' youth, a lack of structure, and easy access to alcohol.

Jersey Shore's episodes offer little in the way of substance. Characters are given employment,
consume alcohol excessively, party at nightclubs, and among a few other activities, pursue mostly transient sexual relationships. Still, due to the show's immense popularity, it merits some scholarly analysis, especially when sexuality mixes with violence to a degree of regularity.

Episode 18: "Drunk Punch Love": Contextualizing Dating Violence

In episode 18 of season 2, titled "
Drunk Punch Love," Sammi verbally accosts Ronnie (pictured above) after he re-forges his friendship with another female cast-member, Jenni (a.k.a., "Jwoww," also Sammi’s enemy). Upon admitting friendship with Jenni, Sammi punches Ronnie directly on his chin as he sits on a bench, completely unprepared. Sammi storms off while Ronnie responds by sitting relatively unfazed, mildly feeling his jaw.

This episode of dating violence illustrates the problem with an emergence of teen dating violence studies that Jody Miller and Norman White critique in their important article, "
Gender and Adolescent Relationship Violence: A Contextual Examination." Miller and White point out that a good portion of quantitative studies on adolescent dating violence suggests boys and girls are equally as likely to be perpetrators of dating violence (e.g., hitting a dating partner). These studies, however, are misleading because they completely de-contextualize what appear to be equal levels of violence between boys and girls (or young men and women).

Although girls may hit their male intimate partners as often as males hit their female partners, this does not mean the precursors to violence or ramifications of violence are equal. As seen in Jersey Shore, Sammi's physical violence is preceded by Ronnie's unfaithful history; she has immense trust issues specifically because he cheated on her. And though this does not excuse physical violence on Sammi's part, it helps provide a context to her actions.

Secondly, we see very vividly that Sammi's physical violence directed towards Ronnie has almost zero physical impact. Her strike directly upon his chin, with Ronnie completely unprepared, still leaves Ronnie unharmed (at least physically; he later breaks down emotionally). And in fact, teen dating violence studies have found that male adolescents frequently laugh off being hit by their girlfriends. The same cannot be said nearly as often when males hit females.

Thus, when dating violence studies find equal rates of physical violence between heterosexual adolescent couples and report those findings without proper context, they are missing critical information tied to gender imbalances between males and females. This episode of Jersey Shore effectively illustrates how irresponsible it is to report that males and females hitting one another at equal rates is actually equal.

Episode 19: "Should We Just Break Up?": Being a Bystander During Dating Violence

The Jersey Shore dating violence drama continues in episode 19, "
Should We Just Break Up?" In this episode, the couple continues intensely arguing to the point that the other three male cast-members – Michael, Paul, and Vinny (a.k.a., "MVP") – intervene.

Ronnie, who is far larger and more muscular than any of the other males, never strikes Sammi (pictured above). Still, he is extremely physical when expressing his anger and has been in at least one fight with another male (non-cast-member) in a past episode. As the "MVP" trio intervenes, both Ronnie and Sammi magnify their verbal aggression and physical bravado, though neither partner strikes the other. Eventually, the male trio successfully gets Ronnie to leave, thereby creating a reprieve to the dating violence.

Unfortunately, the lure used to help Ronnie leave is taking him to a nightclub, where he may consume more alcohol. And unsurprisingly, Sammi and her female cast-mates decide to go to the same nightclub where she openly flirts and dances seductively with male patrons. Seeing Sammi's actions as a sign of public disrespect, Ronnie is infuriated, goes back to the house and tears apart her belongings in a fit of rage. The Jersey Shore cast-members watch on at this point without intervening.

This sequence of events again illustrates young people's unfamiliarity with how to address obvious forms of dating violence. Weisz and Black, in their study titled "
Peer Intervention in Dating Violence: Beliefs of African American Middle School Adolescents," found that high percentages of African American middle school students would not intervene in a peer-couple's relationship even if they knew violence was taking place. Students (male and female) reported they would not intervene because (among other reasons) it was none of their business, intervening could hurt them, and their intervention may cause more unforeseen problems.

Again, the way the scenarios played out on Jersey Shore effectively demonstrated how young people do not know how to cope as bystanders with peer dating violence. Truth be told, the "MVP" trio did a good job of initially stopping the dating violence. However, both the male and female bystanders/cast-members probably did the worst thing in having Sammi and Ronnie go out and consume more alcohol in the same location. Watching Sammi dance seductively with other males, Ronnie felt his masculinity was publicly violated, leading him to engage in violent property damage.

As an outside observer, it is impossible to say how much of Jersey Shore is constructed by the production team. This notwithstanding, recent episodes showcase how dating violence emanates among young people. We can see dating violence contextualized along imbalanced gender lines, as well as how bystanders of dating violence struggle to cope with the social problem largely because they don't know how to intervene in a healthy manner.

Not that we can expect more from MTv, but it would be nice if the company at least complimented these Jersey Shore episodes with supplementary videos on how to prevent teen dating violence. They must have the resources that could speak to greater social responsibility. I mean really, does MTv want young viewers thinking that true love is supposed to be violent?

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Japanese Manga and Social Norms

The New York Times has an interesting story up regarding the manga phenomenon in Japan and its highly sexualized content, specifically with regard to portrayals of female minors - "Japan Debates Depictions of Young Girls in Comics."

The article offers some good examples of the way that patriarchy is weaved into Japan's formal social structure, namely, into the law. To put it mildly, manga comics frequently display animated pictures of girls in sexually suggestive situations. The industry is very lucrative, and has a history:

Japan, which has long been relatively tolerant of the open sale and consumption of sexually oriented material, lately has developed a brisk trade in works that in many other countries might be considered child pornography. But now some public officials want to place tighter restrictions on the provocative depictions of young girls — referred to as “junior idols”— that are prevalent in magazines, DVDs and Web videos.

One particularly big target is manga comic books that depict pubescent girls in sexual acts. It a lucrative segment of the $5.5 billion industry for manga, illustrated books drawn in a characteristic Japanese comic-book style.


Manga taps into a history of erotica that dates at least as far back as the ukiyo-e prints of 17th- to 19th-century Japan, including Hokusai’s famous portrayal of a fisherwoman and octopi in a salacious encounter. But it was as recently as the 1980s that comic magazines like Lemon People introduced a wider audience to sexual manga featuring young girls.

A new law specific to Tokyo's metropolitan government offers very moderate regulation of manga comics, ostensibly in order to prevent child exploitation. However, and unsurprisingly, the law doesn't have a lot of teeth.

The new Tokyo law, which applies to anyone under 18, bans the sale of comics and other works — including novels, DVDs and video games — that depict sexual or violent acts that would violate Japan’s national penal code, as well as sex involving anyone under age 18. The ordinance also requires guardians to prevent children younger than 13 from posing for magazines or videos that depict them in sexually suggestive ways.

Legal experts say that Japan’s laws against child pornography are lax by international standards. Japan has banned the production or distribution of any sexually explicit, nude images of minors since 1999, when Parliament passed a law in response to international criticism of the wide availability of such works in the country. But even now, unlike the United States and most European countries, Japan does not ban the possession of child pornography.

If patriarchy is defined as a system that privileges men over women, then we have a clear example of patriarchy here. Within Japan's current legal structure (at least since 1999) it is completely legal to own child pornography. And while child pornography harms girls and boys, the manga culture appears heavily centered on sexually embellished girls.

To this end, it is argued that the manga culture cultivates values that denigrate girls, increasing their vulnerability to male manga consumers who cannot (or choose not to) separate a patriarchal fantasy from real life experience. The manga culture is said to diffuse into the broader Japanese culture, altering cultural values and norms among males:

Hiromasa Nakai, a spokesman for the Japan Committee for Unicef, said the abundance of child pornography in Japan made it even easier for those who would normally not be considered as having clinical pedophilia, a psychiatric disorder characterized by a sexual obsession with young children, to develop a sexual interest in children.

“To a degree, it has become socially accepted to lust over young girls in Japan,” Mr. Nakai said. “Condoning these works has meant more people have access to them and develop an interest in young girls.”

And this diffusion impacts girls' self-images as well. The article describes a 13-year-old girl and her aspirations, clearly influenced by the manga industry:

“I loved the white bikini,” Ms. Iinuma, the 13-year-old model, told the adult male fans who turned out at the Sofmap electronics store in Tokyo for an event to promote the release of her second DVD, “Developing Now.” It is a plotless 70 minutes of Ms. Iinuma in various costumes and poses.

At the gathering, Ms. Iinuma performed a short dance, spoke about the video shoot, then posed as men approached her to snap photos, while her mother looked on from the back of the room.

Of course those advocating on behalf of the manga industry (or the sector of the industry that is under fire) argue that consumers are mature enough not to have their attitudes and behaviors actually impacted by the media.

The industry’s defenders say comparing manga to pedophilia involving real children is absurd. “Depicting a crime and committing one are two different things; it’s like convicting a mystery writer for murder,” said Takashi Yamaguchi, a Tokyo lawyer and manga expert.

And finally, the industry's economic health is said by some to be more important than wiping out dimensions of patriarchial culture.

Some also worry that stronger regulations will harm an industry whose fortunes have already fallen in recent years; sales of comic magazines, in particular, have dropped by a third over the last decade, to $24.3 million in 2008.

In short, eradicating sexism is not prioritized when placed against free market business ventures. And as noted previously, the society protects this patriarchial culture through the law.

Oh, and this cultural norm has diffused to some degree into American popular culture. Anyone remember the blockbuster film, Kill Bill 2, where we see the intersections of manga-influenced youth, sexism, and violence manifest in this character?

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

2011 Super Bowl XLV Halftime Show

@9:15 - "In America we need to get things straight / Obama, let's get these kids educated / Create jobs so the country stays stimulated."