Friday, February 28, 2014

Go For the Gold

The 2014 Winter Olympics ended this past Sunday.  While watching the events I found the reactions of my friends, family, and the media, as well as myself, very telling of how our society looks at women.  It is not enough that these women are some of the best athletes in the world, they must be pretty too.  Without realizing it we judge female athletes more on their looks than on their outstanding ability in their respected sport.  Not only does this affect how we look at them, but it affects how they act.  These women feel they must live up to a higher standard of skill and good looks.  In a recent interview figure skater, Ashley Wagner, said “I feel like the media and society in general--because it is easy--put female athletes into two boxes.  You’re either a very pretty athlete or you go to the opposite end of the spectrum and you’re very sexy.”  There is no room to be an unattractive female athlete.

NBC marketed eighteen year old figure skater, Gracie Gold, as the “face of the Olympics.”  As an Olympic athlete she should become a household name for her talent, not because she’s being billed as “America’s Sweetheart.”  This is the first year women’s ski jumping has been included in the Olympic games.  How cool would it be if they were the “face of the Olympics?”  These women have worked so hard to get to go to Sochi and will forever be a huge part of Olympic and Women’s history.  I can’t think of anything wrong with using strength and willpower to promote the games, not just a pretty face.

Before traveling to Sochi, Alpine skier Julia Mancuso provocatively posed for GQ magazine wearing nothing but what she calls her “lucky underwear.”  She has since won the bronze medal in her event but will continue to be known more for this photoshoot.  The Russian team posted photos on their website of their female athletes scantily clad in lacy lingerie and see through garments saying “Our Russian team defies stereotypes that women in sports are just a heap of muscles and masculine shapes.”

These sort of photo shoots are often defended saying athletes in winter sports wear so much gear and equipment, its humanizing to see them without their pads and goggles.  I applaud New York Times for successfully achieving this without having the athletes strip down.  Their article on the US women’s ski jumping team shows them training and in full uniform but also having fun and interacting with each other.  While this is a huge problem in the world of women’s athletics, itis not as much in men’s.  A google search of “Female athletes 2014 winter Olympics” will provide pages of results like “15 Hottest Female Athletes,” “Hottest Olympic Athletes,” and “The 50 Hottest Female Athletes of the 2014 Winter Olympics.”  A search for “Male Athletes 2014 Winter Olympics” gives you more skill-based headlines, “List of Olympic medalists” and “Meet the 2014 US Olympic Team in Sochi.”  We must work to make ability the priority for all genders of athletes.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Can Beyonce have her cake and eat it too?

Since the release of her self-titled album Beyoncé has been placed on a feminist pedestal, so to speak.  The video for the song “Pretty Hurts,” the moral of which is “perfection is the disease of our nation,” depicts Beyoncé as a vulnerable pageant contestant.  Her song “Flawless” samples Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, “We Should All Be Feminists.”  Despite these powerful messages, there is one lyric on the album that does not sit well with me.

In the song, “Drunk in Love,” Beyoncé collaborates with her husband Jay-Z.  It is without a doubt one of her most sexually fueled songs to date.  The couple explicitly describes their sex life, but it is Jay-Z’s verse where you can find the troubling lyric: “I’m like Ike Turner, turn up/Baby no I don’t play/Now eat the cake Anna Mae.”

The line references the 1993 biopic based on Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship, “What’s Love Got to do With It?”  In one scene, after experiencing the satisfaction of hearing her own song on the radio Tina, born Anna Mae Bullock, meets Ike in a diner where he has purchased her a cake to celebrate the newfound success.  After she says she does not want any, Ike forces the cake into her face yelling “Eat the cake, Anna Mae.”

Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship was infamously tumultuous.  She has said her 1968 suicide attempt was because it was the only way she believed she’d feel free.  She ultimately had corrective surgery on her nasal septum due to the number of times he had beaten her.  He is quoted in a 1985 Spin interview saying “Yeah I hit her, but I didn’t hit her more than the average guy beats his wife...If she says I’ve abused her, maybe I did.”

A London-based radio station had the lyric removed saying it displayed the “promotion of domestic violence against women.”  I was surprised to hear the lyric during Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Grammy performance (which aired during the eight o’clock hour) and even more surprised to see Beyoncé sing along with it.

In a world where two women a week are killed by a current or former partner and eighty-five percent of survivors know their attacker prior to rape or assault, we must do whatever we can to keep this topic serious and make a conscious effort not to trivialize the act.  Often times, we expect an artists’ work to reflect their own lives.  I’d love for this to open the floor for more conversation and eventually a statement from Beyoncé on the matter.  I can’t imagine giving my partner the okay to reference a man who seems completely unfazed by abusing his wife on something that has my name attached to it.  As this choice has me dumbfounded, I am begging to ask Beyoncé “Why?”

Source List:

Response to TFM's "Stop Crying Rape"

Recently Catie Warren, a correspondent for the website Total Frat Move, wrote an article titled “Stop Crying Rape.”  In this article, Warren describes college-aged girls who go out, drink excessively, and subsequently sleep with their male peers, only to claim they have been raped when they wake up the next day regretting their actions.  Warren believes that this practice creates a mockery of actual sexual assault victims.  While I agree with her that a remorseful sexual encounter is not rape, I do believe there are a few points which should be discussed regarding this article.

In Catie Warren’s article, there is an overgeneralization of exactly what rape is.  She writes as though the only victims of rape are college-aged women who have had too much to drink and fall into bed with someone.  Sexual assault is very prominent on college campuses, but it happens in many different situations as well.  Women can be victims; men can be victims.  The attacker and the victim may be of the same sex.  It can occur drunk or sober.  The attacker may be a stranger, or it may be someone you have known your entire life.  Even when it occurs on college campuses, only 5% of students who have been sexually assaulted will report the case.  So why should we try to discourage others from doing so?

There is a lack of knowledge about consent, making it more difficult to know exactly what is and is not considered rape.  Consent is an agreement between two people who voluntarily and willingly want to have sex with each other.  Consent is discussed before sexual activity has commenced and is consistently revisited regarding different sexual acts.  Consent is not implied or assumed, even if you are in a long-term relationship or have had sex with that person before.

Catie Warren’s article gives several examples of victim shaming (making a victim feel responsible or ashamed of his or her own victimization), a huge problem which attributes to today’s rape culture.  Rape culture is an environment where sexual violence is excused in reality as well as in media and pop culture.  Some examples of rape culture include blaming the victim, sexually explicit jokes, gender violence in movies and television, sexually fueled song lyrics, and refusing to take rape accusations seriously.  Some ways we can avoid rape culture are to avoid using language that is degrading to women, to speak out when someone makes an offensive joke, define your own manhood or womanhood without letting stereotypes shape it, and communicating with sexual partners about consent.

Yes, Catie Warren was right to stress the fact that sex which you agreed to, though you may regret, is in not considered rape.  But this article is missing several key points which I felt should be emphasized.  Rape is not just something that happens to girls at parties.  It can happen to anyone in almost any situation.  Consensual sex occurs when two people have previously discussed that they want to have sex with each other.  Therein lies an issue that needs to be discussed. How do we empower young women and men to have that clarifying conversation?  Talking about and defining consent is the beginning and needs to be the norm.  As a society we have to stop tolerating “rape” as a casual term.  For example, “our football team raped in intramurals” or “I raped that calculus exam.”  It is a powerful word with an emotional connotation and should not be used so innocuously it seems like an attempt to make an action of the word.  We must band together to abolish a culture where it is okay to excuse or joke about rape.

Originally written for the Georgia College Women's Center.

Introduction to Under Athena's Wing

I have recently started working at the Women's Center at my school and have come to the realization that Women's and Gender issues are my passion.  Though I will continue to post on my personal blog, I began this blog as a place to collect my feminist related writings.  Though Greek mythology is not known for being incredibly feminist, I believe Athena could act as a great role model for many women.  Not only is she my favorite goddess, she is representative of wisdom, courage, strength, and skill; all traits we must embody in order to make the change we want.  Growing up in Athens, Georgia, I was constantly seeing Athena in the form of a statue placed in the middle of our downtown.  I have always found this depiction of her regal and worth looking up to.  As I am still new to the feminist world, I titled this blog Under Athena's Wing to represent the position I believe I am in.  I have found something that I love so much and though I am no expert on the subject I am so ready and willing to learn and be able to put these lessons back into this world.

Photo Credit: Way Marking