Balls of Steel (Trigger warning – Abortion)

August 2, 2013 § 11 Comments

A week or so ago, I saw this on the “Being Liberal” Facebook page, and loved it.

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Today, I was driving down the main street of my hometown and got stuck in traffic for no apparent reason.  Then, I drove by the reason.  (TRIGGER WARNING – Disturbing abortion photos.  I am inserting many empty lines so that in order to see them, you must scroll down.  If you wish to leave this post, now is the time.)

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This is what made me late to my son’s orthodontist appointment.  Why traffic was so slow.  Inspired by the “Being Liberal” picture at the beginning of my post, in the waiting room I borrowed a sharpie and a blank piece of paper.

After the appointment, I parked in the next parking lot over from this truck and told my son to stay in the car.  Then I approached the truck and began taking pictures of it.  My legs were shaking for some reason, but I couldn’t figure out why.  Maybe it was from anger, maybe it was from fear (anyone who drives this around and parks it on a main street can NOT be right in the head.)  No one was in the truck, to my great relief.

I planned to leave my sign on the windshield, but I noticed the window was open a smidge.  (It’s August.  Can’t let the “spread-the-vicious-hate-mobile” get too warm on the inside.)  Even better.  I slipped my sign through the window, and it landed between the two front seats.  I wish I had taken a picture of it before I sent it through the window, but here it is.

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“Someone who LOVES gay people AND sodomy touched your car.”

I know, I know, I could have also mentioned being an abortion-rights supporter.  I figure that can be assumed.  And that this particular message would gross them out even more.  So, there it is.

I have, on occasion, been accused of having balls of steel.  Today, I agree.

The Plan B Pill: If It Were MY Daughter…

June 22, 2013 § 4 Comments

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…I’d want Plan B to be available over the counter.

I say this realizing there are great moral complexities involved here.  I’ve thought about it a lot regarding under-age girls seeking abortion.  When it comes to abortion, I ask myself, “Would I want to be notified if it were my daughter?  Would I want the doctor to insist on my consent if it were my daughter?  My husband’s consent?  If my daughter was 15?  What about if my daughter was 13? 12?”  Of course the answer to all of these questions is “Yes.”  While most parents I know would also answer “yes” to these questions, I realize there are girls who aren’t living in healthy families.

I also, however, have done everything I know how – used everything in my parental arsenal – to make it clear to my daughter (and sons) that when they are in trouble of ANY nature, we are their allies.  Not their crutches.  Not their protectors.  Not their enablers.  Not their shields from consequences.  Their allies.  We know more, we’ve lived longer, we have better access to resources, etc., etc., etc.  “We will ALWAYS be prouder of you for calling/telling us you’re (insert a stupid/dangerous/against-the-rules situation here) and you need help than we will be mad at you for having found/gotten yourself into (insert stupid/dangerous/against-the-rules situation here) to begin with.”

So far, this has served us fairly well.  We’re not delusional – we assume there are still plenty of stupid/dangerous/against-the-rules situations they have not told us about, and will be in the future.  There have been times, however, when we’ve gotten calls from them.  And as strange as it sounds to say, I hope we continue to get those calls.  I’d rather get calls from them than from the police or the hospital.  This is what we have hammered home, and hopefully has set the tone for the basis of trust and confidence they have in us.

I hope this would extend, for my kids, to sex and unwanted pregnancies.  In an ideal world, they’d come to us first.  In a slightly less ideal world, they’d go to a doctor first.  In an even less ideal world, they’d have their friend drive them to a drugstore to buy Plan B, also known as the “morning after” pill.  But in a world I’d consider unacceptable, they would have no access to Plan B.  And then, once a pregnancy results, they’d have no access to Planned Parenthood.   Safe abortion would be hard to come by, and god forbid, they’d seek a back alley.

Just because I think I’ve done a good enough job making my own kids comfortable coming to us with their problems and mistakes, doesn’t mean they would.  Just because I wish all kids felt comfortable going to their parents doesn’t mean they do.

What of the kids whose parents aren’t there for them?  What of the girls who’ve been raped and whose parents would throw them out of the house for being a slut in their eyes?  What of the girls whose fathers are womanizers themselves, but would beat their daughters if they got pregnant?  What of the daughter of a prominent family that cares more about outward appearances than helping their kid?  Just because my daughter is not in one of those families doesn’t negate the fact that other daughters are.

Plan B (and even more medically significant, abortion) is something of which I hope my daughter wouldn’t avail herself without my knowledge. If, however, my daughter is in a situation where she is too afraid/embarrassed/shocked/traumatized to come to us first, all the MORE reason I would want safe emergency contraceptive (and safe prenatal care or abortion) available to her.  And if I want it for her, how can I not want it for those daughters who are less fortunate than she?

 

This post originally published at The Broad Side.

Image via The Moderate Voice

How Far Can You “Lean In” If You ARE Pretty?

May 28, 2013 § 3 Comments

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Tracy Thompson wrote a great piece on the The Broad Side today, entitled, “How Far Can You ‘Lean In’ If You’re Not Pretty?” It laments the universal inequity of the role of attractiveness between the genders. Men can soar in their careers being merely average-looking, but in order for women to soar, they must be drop-dead gorgeous. A quick look at some Forbes’ “Top 20 CEOs” lists confirms her suspicion.

We all know this is true. It’s played out (of course) in entertainment to the nth degree. It drives me bonkers. How many TV/movie wives/girlfriends are gorgeous, yet paired with an average-looking/dumpy man? Let me think. ALMOST ALL OF THEM. How many TV/movie husbands/boyfriends are gorgeous, yet paired with an average-looking/dumpy woman? Hmmm. Let me think. Hold on…I’m still thinking…um…could it be… NONE OF THEM? (Seriously. If you can think of even ONE, I will eat kale.)

Something else has been bothering me, though. It involves reports this month of a British woman named Laura Fernee, who claims she is too pretty to have a job. Hilarity around the interwebs ensued, mostly on social media, in the form of “Wah, wah, wah. Poooooor baby.”  She was also ridiculed for what she is doing instead, which is living in her parents’ flat, and enjoying the primping/shopping lifestyle at their expense.

I have trouble with this, not just because I’m envious of her current lifestyle, which I am (Mom and Dad? Hint, hint?) I have trouble with this because everyone’s attitude seems so dismissive of the reasons she stopped working.

Fernee is a scientist. A researcher. She holds a Ph.D. and is an academic. Despite these heavy credentials, it seems she felt hounded by male colleagues for dates and resented by female colleagues for her looks. She’s being ridiculed as a self-centered, conceited, spoiled brat. Perhaps that is exactly what she is.

HOWEVER, and this is a big however, is that reason to pay no attention to the treatment she alleges to have received? I understand office (or laboratory) romances are commonplace, and oft-pursued. Yet, has anyone denied that she was pursued by multiple male colleagues on a regular basis? Has anyone contradicted the implication that regardless of how she dressed (scrubs or suit, make-up free or not) she was regularly left romantic gifts and love notes that made her uncomfortable? Can anyone – especially based on the nastiness of the reaction she’s received since her pronouncement – say with a straight face no female colleague might resent and/or bully her for the unsolicited romantic attention she received?

Please don’t misunderstand me. I completely get that announcing to the world you’ve left your £30K/year research position to live a £75K/year lifestyle at your parents’ expense leaves one open to massive ridicule. Maybe even deserved, when you’re claiming the reason is that one is “too attractive” for employment. The possibility that she’s a leech with an ego problem doesn’t for me, though, wipe out the likelihood that her male colleagues acted unprofessionally and created an environment in which it was difficult for her to face work every day. It doesn’t preclude the reality that attractive women are often resented by their female colleagues. Professional women, it seems, can be as stuck in Junior High School mode as easily as professional men can. Of that I have no doubt.

Of course, I wish she had stuck it out, stood up to the aggressive men and resentful women and had the benefit of a supportive HR team behind her. However, I’m unfamiliar with the professional culture of scientific research laboratories, and know little about her psyche, so I’m loathe to pass judgment.

I also wish this case could be a lesson on how the academic elite – and people in all fields, really – should behave in a professional setting, rather than an opportunity to mock and smear. It’s a bad idea to openly (or secretly) romance a colleague. If a woman is sending a clear message that she wants and expects to be treated professionally, RECEIVE that message. Take it as a directive to follow, not as a challenge to overcome.

I imagine that someone who studies science to the doctorate level and pursues a career in research has got to have more depth and better intentions than Fermee is being shown to have. She is someone who “leaned in” and is attractive, like Thompson asserts is often necessary. If what truly prompted her exodus is the way people reacted to her looks, rather than her research, instead of feeling hostility and derision towards her, I just feel sad.

For as much as we scream and clamor that we need female scientists, another one bites the dust. For as much as we urge our girls to be powerful intellectually, while embracing their natural beauty, our culture screams at them how sexy they should be, how slutty they shouldn’t be, how attractive they should be, how threatening to other women they shouldn’t be. Speak up! Be quiet! Lean In! Lie back! It’s enough to make me want to tell my daughter, “F&*%  it. Just be yourself.” Which might not be bad advice. It might even be the advice Laura Fermee’s parents gave to her.

This piece originally published on The Broad Side on Tuesday, May 28, 2013.

Image via KatieCouric.com

I Call Bullsh*t.

March 18, 2013 § 29 Comments

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Apologies in advance.  This post will contain foul language, grammatical errors and abuse of parenthetical statements, and a really poor drawing of a gavel.  I am sorrier for the grammatical errors and abuse of parentheses.

(If you have trouble with my using the word bullshit and other profanity, I have the okay from Norman Lear.  Good enough for me.)

I wanted to do a post entitled “I Call Bullshit” last week, and here’s what I wanted to include:

1.  Upworthy and Nicole Sherzinger.  Here’s the link to a video and commentary on Upworthy.  Normally I really enjoy Upworthy posts, but this one made me roll my eyes.  In it, NS is being interviewed on Conan O’Brien wearing a dress out of which 3/4 of her 8th Wonder Of The World breasts spill.  Upworthy gives her “props” for “matching wits” with Conan, by reminding him to focus on her face.  Gimme a break.  She not only didn’t match wits with him, he gave her EXACTLY what she deserved.  I’m not saying she was asking to be abused, but she sure as hell was asking for attention to be paid to her breasts-o-magnificence by EXPOSING most of them.  Even *I* couldn’t take my eyes of those orbs. Please.

2.  ESPN.  Here’s the link to a Deadspin article detailing the firing of an ESPN executive for sexting a stripper.  A STRIPPER.  A single man.  Sexting a STRIPPER.  The stripper and her boyfriend tried to extort Scott Sassa, and he refused to pay up.  So the stripper and her boyfriend forwarded the texts to an ESPN colleague, and ESPN FIRES Sassa. ESPN is owned by Hearst publishing company, and justified the firing thusly:

“Hearst ‘prides itself on being a very ethical, clean-cut company.'”

HAHAHAHAHAH.  Journalism as a rule is so ethical and clean-cut.  Especially at Hearst, the inventor of yellow journalism way back in the 20th century.  Especially SPORTS journalism, wherein the very nature of the culture of professional sports involves sexualizing and objectifying women.  If sports journalism was so concerned with ethics and cleanliness, how about banning Go Daddy and Cialis ads instead of giving a shit if one of their single (or married, for that matter) partners was sexting privately with some woman (and apparently her boyfriend) who takes off her clothes (and apparently is into extortion) for a living?  How is this ANY of ESPN’s business?  How about capping salaries at slightly less than obscene rates and charging a little less for beer?

Since I’m a big believer in lists having at least three items on them, I didn’t publish the above.  Until now.  Why?  Because the universe dropped the biggest opportunity to call bullshit in my lap over the weekend.  Steubenville.  Now I have three.  Cue the thunder and lightning and bats and maniacal laughter from the Count on Sesame Street.

3.  Awwwwwww.  Those poor boys.  Can Mommy come wipe your face with a tissue as you cry remorsefully about having TAKEN PICTURES of the girl you raped and dragged around to various parties for people to witness said rape????  You pieces of SHIT?  How dare anyone, ANYONE , let alone CNN express the tiniest iota of sympathy for these “boys?”  How dare they???  Have they even SEEN this video where drunk onlookers are laughing at how dead and raped she was?  What do DESPICABLE, lower than slime, pieces of fucking shit like these kids deserve but derision, dismissal and jail?  Now, I’m sorry, but being drunk doesn’t turn you into a different person – I firmly believe that in most cases, it turns you into more of the person you already are.  And these boys are sociopaths.

When this video was leaked, a friend on Facebook urged us to show it to our daughters.  I didn’t – she’s already got a healthy terror in her about losing control of her senses and actions via alcohol, but I sure as hell showed it to my son.  My son who is in his first year of high school, and entering the world of high school sports.  I watched him come to the computer happy, and walk away sickened.  I didn’t make him watch all 12 minutes.  It went without saying (but I said it anyway) engaging in any type of sexual activity with a girl this drunk was rape, and while I’m not worried he’d perpetrate such an act, I want him to be aware he might witness and/or hear of something like this going on.  And if he does, for god’s sake, get the hell out of there and get help for the GIRL.  Make use of the technology in your hands to HELP HER.  Text the address to 911.  Take a snapshot and forward it to the police.  Get the hell OUT OF THERE and get her help. Or, even STAY THERE and help her.  Believe me, kids are as susceptible to peer pressure to do good as to do evil.  And if anyone, ANYONE gives him a hard time about doing the fucking right thing, they will suffer my wrath – so help me fucking god, I will have his back.

What do all three of these instances of bullshit have in common?  Well, dear readers, they all have the effect of making women harder to take seriously.  They reinforce the sterotype of women as sexual objects above all else.  Nicole with her peek-a-boobs, the stripper with her extortion, ESPN and Hearst with their hypocrisy.   But the CNN coverage of Steubenville is the worst, because it perpetuates the culture of victim blaming in cases of rape and sexual abuse.  It distorts beyond recognition the notion that bullies are victims, too.  Oh, how SAD to see these promising young men have their lives ruined.  What about the ACTUAL fucking victim???  How about being ENCOURAGED that the two most blatantly responsible for the VICTIM’S potentially lifelong nightmare are being held responsible???  Where is our sense of justice?

I once read (and I cannot remember who wrote it – apologies for that, too) that the advancement of a civilization is directly proportional to its treatment of women.  Well, it would appear we have a lot of goddamned work to do.

Are Feminists the New Republicans?

March 8, 2013 § 13 Comments

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This is not, I repeat, NOT a review of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In.”  So there.

Is this what it’s come to?  Fairly or not, Republicans have the reputation of being the party of “My-Way-Or-The-Highway” mentality of policy and politics.  They are famous for closing ranks around the most powerful among them, and flinging anyone who dares to deviate from the standard party line to the ground.  If a Republican deviates, suggests a compromise, or reaches across the aisle he or she is met with derision and accusations of anti-patriotism from fellow Republicans.  Frozen out.  (While this is, of course, not true of all Republicans, and Democrats engage in this behavior, too, it’s a fairly common perception.)  At any rate, as a result of this infighting and the results of the last election, many are (rightly or wrongly) ringing the death knell for the Republican Party.  Are Feminists heading down the same road?

Not only are women slamming Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg for being out of touch with the average worker, we’re slamming each other for slamming them.  How many layers of disgust and venom must we pile on one another before the insanity stops?  Dare to call BS on Mayer’s new Yahoo! policy or Sandberg’s new feminesto (feminist + manifesto = feminesto.  It’s just fewer syllables, k?) and you are a “hater,” “absurd,” and (I loved this one…) “Dowdian.”  As if it were in insult to be quoted by Maureen Dowd.  Dare to support or defend Mayer or Sandberg, and you’re setting back the cause of Feminism or insensitive to the needs of mothers.  Why such polarization?  Is it necessary?  Is it productive?

What are we doing to elevate the level of discourse?  Joanne Bamberger (full disclosure – a friend of mine) wrote a powerful piece in USA Today about Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg.  She cogently argued that the duo is setting standards for the workplace that are destined to foster resentment and guilt among mothers in the workforce.  I don’t agree with everything in the piece (I’m not sure, for example, that Sandberg isn’t interested in giving women a hand up,) but much of it rings true, and I definitely get where she is coming from.  Mayer’s decree is tone-deaf and feels much more like it comes from the castle tower – though as I’ve said before, time will tell if her banning flextime and working from home was a good business decision.  Sandberg’s exhortations that women stand up for themselves in the workplace and not be afraid to ask for more than they’re offered seems to come from a better place, but still leaves a bad taste in the mouths of people who don’t have the luxury of using their vacation days to launch a movement or a book tour.

In the meantime, Joanne was called a “hater” and had her scholarship questioned because she didn’t explicitly state in her piece that she had read Sandberg’s book, “Lean In,” before she critiqued it.  (She HAD read the book, by the way.)  When I heard this, I marched (as much as one can march on a laptop) right over to those other articles, my protective side having been called to the surface, ready to defend my friend.  I read Joan Walsh’s piece in Salon magazine.  Apart from lumping Joanne in with the “haters,”  I actually found myself agreeing with a lot of this article.  I haven’t read “Leaning In” myself, but I certainly would now, just to see whose version I feel it more closely resembles.  I like the advice Walsh described about asking for more than you’re offered, and choosing your spouse wisely so that you are supported in ALL of your important goals, including career, and her defense of Sandberg seems sound to me.  I disregarded the snark (which was definitely there,) detracted from the piece.

Anna Holmes’ piece in the New Yorker also smacked down many who criticized Sandberg, but with much more derisive language and, it seemed to me, outright hostility.  She takes great liberties in her assumptions of the critics (my friend, included).  However, I actually happen to agree with her on other points, particularly when she identifies one important problem with the criticism of Sandberg.  She’s “galled…by the subtext that because Sandberg is rich she can’t possibly be sincere in her advocacy of women.”  So even as I truly disliked the tone and knew some of her presumptions to be false, I found something of value in the piece.

At the risk of sounding like I’m sighing, and saying, “Why can’t everyone think more like I do?” – well, WHY CAN’T EVERYONE THINK MORE LIKE I DO???? I can disagree without resorting to name-calling.  (Though I did call the guy from Suspension Notice a Drama Queen.)  I can hear an opposing viewpoint without taking it personally.  You know what?  I can even hear someone being critical of my viewpoint without being insulted!  Unless, of course, we’re talking about the Mets or the Orioles.  That’s personal.

I’m a big believer in diversity of opinion and background being a strength rather than a weakness.  The intense pressure to conform to the thinking of whatever the group troubles me deeply.  Joanne has every right to be critical of Sandberg and Mayer without being labeled a hater.  Holmes and Walsh have the right to disagree with Joanne’s criticism, and can do so very eloquently WITHOUT the name-calling and baseless accusations of her not having read the book.  Why must we make this PERSONAL, people?  Shouldn’t we, as women and feminists, be setting the standard for mature discourse – given the appalling LACK of it from our predominantly male legislators?

Maybe I’m naive, but I believe everyone has something to contribute.  Furthermore, I feel a responsibility to distill the information and discussion down to what speaks to me and helps me learn.  To take from the criticism what makes sense, and maybe call BS on the parts that don’t – while doing my damnedest to be respectful of the people with whom I’m disagreeing.  The more rational the critique, the more powerful in my eyes.  But when was the last time rationality sold magazines?  That might explain why I don’t make enough to file taxes…or buy a copy of “Lean In.”

Go Daddy Inspires This Go Mommy to Go BYE-BYE.

February 6, 2013 § 22 Comments

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Maybe I joined them because I had heard from others more experienced that their product really was the best available at the time.  Maybe I stayed with them because I had already paid for 2 years of my domain name.  Maybe I stayed because I had actually had very good customer service help from them, and had never experienced any difficulties with my site.  I’ve often gagged at their aggressively sexist advertising, but I am a technophobe, and the less I have to deal with the mechanics of my domain name, the better.  I gagged, but I swallowed.

Well, I am proud to say I refuse to swallow any more.  I’m embarrassed it has taken me this long, but for the sake of so much I care about and write about, I am throwing Go Daddy out.  Their 2013 Superbowl ad was the proverbial straw.

There is so much wrong with their advertising campaign in general, I don’t even know where to begin.  Feel free to go to Google or YouTube for examples.  I would rather not link to it here.  Suffice it to say it has always been blatant in its promise of pornography and objectification of women.  The ads that did make it to television (many have been banned) invite you to visit the website for the longer, unrated versions of these commercials.  Feel free if you’re into long close-ups of the unadorned female genitalia. I have no problem with pornography (well, that’s not true – many things about it bother me) but I’d rather not see it advertised on something I’m watching with my 9-year-old.

Don’t get me wrong.  The ads that make it to TV aren’t pornographic, but they are clearly USING pornography to sell their product, and I can’t in good conscience participate in it any more.  I know my measly site with actual subscribers only in the double digits, and average monthly views in the triple digits realistically means  nothing to them.  I also know that the very same thing that motivates me to cut ties actually propels them to great success.  Doesn’t matter.  They’re still gone.

Here are some other reasons I can no longer stomach Go Daddy.

1.  Their recent ads are based on the notion that brains and beauty don’t often come packaged together.  They are mutually exclusive in Go Daddy’s eyes.  Except in THEIR product.  They can make being smart sexy!  Because lord knows when you see a beautiful woman, it’s WAAAAY too much to ask that she have intellectual substance, too.  And lord knows if you see a man who isn’t a Calvin Klein model, there’s no WAY he can have a sexy side.  This premise is so insulting to BOTH genders, and it does way more harm than good.

2.  Danica Patrick.  One step forward, three steps back.  Her breakthrough career in the man’s world of racing opened doors for women, although she’s always been comfortable using her beauty to get ahead.  I’m not sure a female racer who looked like Jabba the Hut would have made it that far – even if she had the talent.  But Danica Patrick DOES have talent, and I don’t fault her for using her looks to further her racing career.  By lending her name and image, though, to such blatantly sexist advertising – advertising that does its level best to REDUCE women to sex toys and nothing more – I’d assert she is making it MORE difficult for women to succeed and be taken seriously in ANYTHING they undertake.  I mean, seriously – is this a career path you’d recommend for Sam Gordon?  The 9-year-old girl who plays football, and DESTROYS any team she’s playing?  Not with her looks, mind you – but with her incredible talent?

3.  “A Perfect Match.”  This is the title of their 2013 Superbowl ad in which an Israeli (female, did I really need to say that?) supermodel represents “Sexy” while a pudgy, red-faced man shaped like a water balloon represents “Smart.”  They kiss for at least 20 seconds of the spot.  We’re treated to close-ups of their mouths and slurpy audio that goes with their kissing for almost that entire time.  My family room and everyone in it at the time wanted to poke out their mind’s eye and ear with a fork.  If it was possible, I’m sure the wall onto which the TV is mounted would have ripped itself from my house and run into the woods screaming, “MAKE IT STOP!!!  MAKE IT STOP!!!!”

Now, before anyone gets all up in my grill about if the guy was hot, would I have liked it any more, let me be clear.  No.  No, I would not have.  I will be honest with you – I dislike being that close to anyone engaging in anything sexual no matter WHAT they look like.  Unless, of course, I am one of the people involved.  I’d be willing to bet many people feel that way.  When you engage in sexual activity in public – on a park bench, at the movies, etc., you make it very difficult for people NOT to look at you.  Of course, I can look away, but when I am in public, I resent being put in that position.  When I’m watching the Superbowl with friends and family, I shouldn’t find myself diving for the remote frantically trying to find the “Mute” button.

To me, Go Daddy is the Howard Stern of the advertising world.  Smart, successful, funny – because to be fair, quite a few of their commercials are smart and funny – but so degrading to women that I cannot support them with my business.  Here’s the bottom line.  The degree to which Go Daddy demeans women is so egregious, for me it completely erases any positives their services have to offer.  Their tactics go beyond entertaining.  Beyond offensive.  Beyond sexist.  Beyond aggressive.  We’re bordering on sociopathy, here, and I’m done.

Musburger Weaves a Tangled Webb.

January 10, 2013 § 1 Comment

I sat down today to write about the heinous, inhuman and grotesque crimes committed by a group of teenagers in Steubenville, Ohio – two of whom “allegedly” dragged an incapacitated drunk girl from party to party to be sodomized, raped, urinated on, and mocked online.  For some reason, I’m coming up blank.  Thanks, Brent.

Yes, I’m talking about famed sports announcer, Brent Musburger, and his televised comments about Katherine Webb.  Musburger admired (at length and repeatedly) the beauty of Ms. Webb.  She is Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron’s girlfriend, and, well, a BEAUTY QUEEN.  Miss Alabama, to be exact.  The camera was on her for a prolonged period of time during his inappropriate…um…commentary.  ESPN has since apologized, and I think rightly so.  Even though Katherine Webb wasn’t offended (of which I am glad,) millions of viewers (some of them male, if blog commenter IDs are accurate) were uncomfortable and creeped out by it.

There were predictable cries about the PC Police gone mad, and outrage that ESPN apologized.  I agree with them.  And I don’t.  Frankly, I’m conflicted about it in a way that I am, of course, NOT conflicted about Steubenville.  Maybe that’s why when I was experiencing writer’s block, and began jotting down stream of consciousness notes about it, my paper looked like this:

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Why is there outrage about this apology?  Are people sad they might be deprived of creepy imagery of old men who want sex?  I don’t think they have to worry.  I mean, if Cialis commercials aren’t enough to creep you out while you’re watching football with your 8-year-old, I don’t know what is.  Are they concerned about Brent Musburger being deprived of his 1st Amendment rights?  I doubt it.  Might they be pissed that Mr. Musburger is being called out and reprimanded for behavior in which they themselves engage?  Now, we might be getting somewhere.

Like so many human behaviors, expressions of appreciation of another person’s appearance is wide in range and acceptability.  Hardly black and white.  On one end of the spectrum, we have “What a beautiful young lady!” which imparts appreciation coupled with respect.  On the other end, we have “That chick is so hot!”  My friend, Shoshana, articulated many of my own feelings about this perfectly when she wrote,

“When you call someone hot or HAWT, as forty-year-old men who are acting like teenage boys text it, you aren’t saying “Wow, that is certainly a beautiful woman. Look how lovely her dress is.” You are saying, “Man, I want to drag that chick on the floor and fuck her brains out and not have to see her again in the morning….shhhhh…don’t tell my wife.” The second the word HOT comes out of your mouth, you are announcing to the room your intention to fuck. And I mean fuck.  To say it means anything else is a boldface lie and a plot testosterone-fueled men thought up because they thought they were being tricky. Guess what? You’re not.”

So, where was Musburger on that spectrum?  In my opinion, he was hovering around the middle.  How do we judge?  And more importantly, how can we teach?  It’s fuzzy, and of course, highly dependent on the setting, delivery, body language, relationship, and a myriad of other factors that sometimes, understandably, leave some men wondering “What did I say?  What was wrong with that?  I was just saying something nice!  Isn’t that a compliment?”

I’d suggest the following guidelines.

1.  Consider the reaction of the person about whom you comment.  Are they uncomfortable?  Scared?  Repulsed?  In this case, Katherine Webb was not offended and thinks we should cut Musburger some slack.  Granted, when one pursues the life of a beauty pageant queen, complaints of objectification and being recognized for one’s looks would ring hollow.  Either way, though, the important thing is Ms. Webb, by her own account, is and will be just fine.

2.  Consider the reaction of others who heard the comment.  Were THEY uncomfortable?  Concerned for the safety of the person about whom you commented?  Were THEY grossed out?  In this case, the answer to at least some of those questions was “yes.”  As ESPN broadcasted to millions of viewers that highly anticipated college football game, they were right to issue an apology that Musburger used poor judgement and made loyal fans get a second, less pleasant taste of their gametime snacks by publicly lusting over a woman 1/20th his age.

3.  Consider the daughters.  Whether or not you have them.  If you are in the habit of making such comments in public to and about people, ask yourself this:  What would your gut reaction be if another man – of any age – said that about your 13-year-old daughter?  I think this is a good guideline because if you imagine you wouldn’t like it, you probably should keep it to yourself.

I’m still struggling, though, with what this incident represents on a larger scale.  Why did I sit down to write about Steubenville and find myself instead writing about these relatively low-impact comments by an addled old sports guy?  Maybe because in both cases, the question screaming out is, “What are we teaching our boys?”  Maybe I felt it was easier to start with the less heinous of the two stories – the one lives weren’t shattered.  Perhaps I’m finding it painful to draw the connection between beauty queen culture and rape culture.  I feel certain, though, that a connection is there, and I also feel a responsibility as a parent to explore it.  So, stay tuned.

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