Archive for April, 2010

In a world where athletes are products, actions do matter

April 29, 2010

Yesterday on an NPR segment, Frank Deford argued that we need to get over the fact that athletes aren’t good role models, and come to terms with the idea that role models can be positive or negative. If you’re scratching your head thinking, “What the hell are you talking about, Frank Deford??” then you’re not alone.

Deford says this in regard to the Ben Roethlisberger sexual assault scandal and how Ben is suspended for the first six games of the season because athletes “have to be held to a higher standard,” according to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Deford says that the entire notion that we should look up to athletes is flawed to begin with, and these kind of sanctions don’t actually teach the athletes anything.

First, the idea that not all role models should be positive, and hence that it’s OK that some are negative, is ridiculous to say the least. The entire connotation of a role model is that it’s something positive — why on earth would you encourage people to mimic negative behavior? Calling a murderer or a rapist a “role model” immediately is repulsive, because you don’t want people to continue murdering and raping people.

So yeah Frank, I’d prefer that role models only be positive. To say otherwise is merely semantics and an attempt to create a loophole for athletes who want to commit criminal behavior. And it’s odd that Deford concedes, “OK, if they violate the statute law, fine, put them in the hoosegow,” especially considering that the celebrity and power of these athletes is a big reason why they don’t get slapped with criminal charges in many cases, or why they get lesser sentences.

Considering that Roethlisberger is rich and famous, and that sexual assaults often don’t make it to trial for a variety of reasons, I’d say Roethlisberger’s money was an easy way to keep him out of court and jail. The survivor doesn’t have to go through the often emotional and traumatizing process of a trial, and Ben doesn’t risk actually being convicted of a felony.

Does him not going to court change the fact that what he allegedly did was reprehensible? No. And it’s not like Tiger Woods, who Deford references, because adultery is not a crime. People don’t like it, but cheating on your wife is different than sexually assaulting or raping someone. Woods is apologizing not only because his morality is in question, but because he was marketed as a role model.

Roethlisberger, like all athletes, is inherently a role model because we have attached that stigma to athletes, which is something Deford is against. But not only are athletes valued for their talent, strength, determination, and ambition — they are role models because athletes today are sold as products. Think of how many athletes are spokespeople for clothes, shoes, drinks, food, etc. If athletes are like products, then of course you don’t want to be marketing bad products.

And to the American people, bad products are products that don’t fit into the moldable, marketable ideal that society holds for athletes. If this marketability didn’t exist, a lot of athletes — like Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps — might not be as wealthy as they are because their sports without sponsorships don’t net close to what they make with these jobs. Like anything being sold to us, we aren’t buying unless we like what we see — and what American likes seeing someone who is going to sexually assault women?

I get that athletes might not want to be role models, but they are. It comes with the territory, and I don’t think it’s a revolutionary concept (did no athletes today have athletic role models when they were growing up?). And with more recognition comes more pressure to be a good product, but that recognition usually carries benefits like money and prestige. Deford asks:

Why, pray, of all people, are athletes, pretty much alone in our society, expected to be sweeter than the average angel? It is politicians and clergy and those maestros of finance on Wall Street who ought to be held to a higher standard.

No one’s asking athletes to be sweeter than the average angel — the average angel doesn’t go around sexually assaulting women! And politicians and clergy are both held to a higher accountability than average Americans. Why do you think the Vatican doesn’t want to turn its child molestation problem into a public affair? Why do you think political careers can be ruined by leaked information — see Larry Craig and John Edwards, to name a few.

Sure, sometimes people bounce back — Bill Clinton is still a beloved president despite having multiple extramarital affairs. My own former U.S. representative, Steve LaTourette, was caught have an affair and still is serving in office. Sometimes athletes do, too — Michael Vick was America’s enemy when he was convicted of dogfighting but then after his nearly two-year sentence, many fans were eager to cheer for him — but Deford is completely offbase is asserting that Americans only scrutinize athletes.

So yes, athletes in a very basic sense should only be judged based on their athletic ability. But then you add fans who will pay hundreds of dollars to see you play games and companies who will pay millions of dollars for you to market their products, and it’s about a lot more than how many touchdowns you can get. Athletes might be frustrated that they are scruntinized off the field, but sports is a business just like anything else, and athletes who sexually assault women are bad for business and for humankind in general.

Glee: The fine line between being a guy and talking “guy”

April 28, 2010

What’s a blogger to do when 16 and Pregnant is over for this season? Discuss Glee, of course. And not discussion of its songs or dance numbers, but the topics it sheds light on. Last night, the topic that most struck me was the relationship between Kurt and his father.

Kurt — the only openly gay main character on the show — often has funny one-liners or is drooling over Finn, but last night we got to see the struggle that is likely common in a lot of households: the struggle between parent and child to form a connection or bond; in this case, the struggle between a straight, masculine father and his gay, feminine son.

The dichotomy has been addressed on the show before, as his father was more proud of him than ever when Kurt was a kicker on the football team. But on last night’s episode of Glee, the tone was more serious, as Kurt tried to get his dad and Finn’s mom — both who were widowed — to start dating in order to get closer to Finn. The plan backfired, however, as Kurt’s dad took an interest in Finn that he had never showed in Kurt before.

Kurt’s dad and Finn were able to talk sports, which hurt Kurt because he has never been able to have that kind of relationship with his father. What really stood out was when Kurt’s dad commented that he knew it had offended Kurt, and he said that it was “just guy talk” and Kurt replied, “I’m a guy.”

The line is powerful — Kurt’s father assumes there is this understanding between himself and his son that involve “guy things” — e.g. sports — and “non-guy” things — like singing and dancing. This is interesting (1) because Finn is also in Glee Club and therefore is also interested in a “nonguy” thing and (2) Kurt’s father is admitting that he doesn’t view his son as a true “guy.” It’s not that whatever guys talk about is consequently “guy talk,” it’s that there is a predetermined set of topics that are socially deemed masculine.

I was glad to see this topic discussed because Kurt’s homosexuality is often thrown into the shows in a comedic light — but for Kurt and likely many gay men, there is nothing funny about not being able to form a bond or connection with your father. And for Kurt, whose mother died eight years ago, his dad is his only parent. Though his dad has shown support by coming to his musical events, Kurt yearns for that true interest and father-son bond that comes out of interest rather than obligation.

And though Finn also sings and dances, his masculinity is confirmed by his interest in sports. He is still a true “guy” in this regard — what about the guys, of any sexuality, who aren’t interested in those typical “guy” things? They often have to constantly overcompensate or prove their own masculinity to fit in with “the guys.”

This episode shows the difference between sex and gender — biologically, Kurt is a man (we assume he isn’t transgender or intersex). But socially, he is not considered a man — his gender is not entirely male because he doesn’t take interest in the things that society deems “masculine,” such as sports.  

At the end of the episode, Kurt thanks Mercedes for singing “Beautiful,” which is an acknowledgment that Kurt has been feeling ugly for not meeting up to the expectations of a true “guy.” He obviously yearns for his father’s acceptance, and it’s tough to watch his dad so easily and eagerly accept Finn while Kurt has been trying his entire life to become close with his father and gain his acceptance.

Damned if “I do,” damned if I don’t

April 27, 2010

Many people view being single as a problem. They assume that if you’re single, you are unhappy, depressed, and obviously not single by choice. They treat it as a sickness in that they are constantly looking for cures — friends to hook you up with, people at social events who look attractive, etc.

Many people view getting married young as a problem. They assume that if you get married too young, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. They think you’re naive, and they talk your ear off with stories about college, divorce, midlife crises, maybe even quarter-life crises.

The problem with both these scenarios is that they often apply to the same people — young adults in their early 20s. Although being single and never married is pretty much always some kind of social deficiency no matter what your age, being married gets pretty normal and expected around 24 and 25.

But the contradiction lies in that both peers and parents think being single too long is bad thing, because it wastes time you could be spending finding Mr. or Mrs. Right, but they also judge people for getting married too young. If you get married in college, you are making a big mistake and will miss out on your college years — but if you aren’t engaged by the time college is over, then you’re equally frowned upon.

For example, being recently single, my mom has already confessed how sad she is that she is even further from having grandchildren and comments on how attractive everyone we encounter is — the customer service rep at the car dealership is cute, the cashier at the grocery store is cute, as if she needs to keep reminding me to be on the prowl for fresh prey.

A friend of mine, who got married when she was 20, said that she encountered someone who asked about her being married and immediately starting explaining why she wasn’t married yet. My friend was taken aback, as if this girl thought not being married was a sin and she needed to confess to my friend in order to receive absolution. Though my friend encountered scrutiny for getting married young, this woman was expressing deep guilt for not getting married young.

You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. And if you aren’t even interested in marriage and you’re heterosexual? Big trouble. It’s nothing new that society’s pressure — especially toward women —  to not be sad, lonely, unmarried creatures is intense (like every magazine cover about Jennifer Aniston, which all assume she is single and miserable), but how do you win when you’re naive to get married too soon but pitiful if you get married too late?

Being single is not a disease. I often wonder if people ask “Are you OK?” after a break-up (especially if you did the breaking up) not to see if you are emotionally stable, but to see how you are dealing with the idea of not having a lifelong companion lined up. There really is no right age to get married — unless you’re talking getting married as a teenager, which most researchers say is a bad idea.

If you are a young, heterosexual woman, then your love life is pretty much scrutinized regardless. You’re defective if you’re single by circumstance, and you’re a whore if you’re single by choice (because you’re obviously implying you want to just sleep around!); you’re naive if you get married too early, and you’re suspicious if you get married too late (you’ve been together five years already, is there a problem in paradise?); and if you get engaged, you’ll probably be hounded until you admit you aren’t just getting married because of a pregnancy, too.

This post wasn’t meant to be earth-shattering, but more of me talking out loud about how absurd it is. The contradiction is absurd simply because of the obvious fact that men don’t feel this same intense pressure to settle down and get married at the age of 23 (boys will be boys, you can’t tame a lion), plus it causes a lot of unwarranted anxiety for women.

16&P (pt.2): Plan B, dads, escalating emotional abuse

April 27, 2010

The 16 and Pregnant “Life after Labor” special wasn’t as good as last season — with 10 people to interview this season, as opposed to six last season, the interviews were mostly superficial, short and left a lot to be desired. Although, with the shorter interviews, Dr. Drew had less time for his usual “get-the-teen-moms-to-admit-they-live-awful-lives-now” routine.

Because a lot of the interviews reiterated themes and topics mentioned throughout the season, a lot of the show content has already been discussed. But a few points that are worth mentioning are the morning-after pill, pregnant teens and biological fathers, the risks that follow going back to emotionally abusive partners.

1. The morning-after pill. When Dr. Drew asked Nicole and Tyler if they were using contraception, they said they were only using condoms. When Dr. Drew asked if they had emergency contraception — the morning-after pill — Nicole responded that she thought the morning-after pill was like abortion. It’s a common misconception that the morning-after is an abortion pill, so let’s clear it up right now.

The morning-after pill is NOT an abortion pill. If the sperm has fertilized to the egg and already attached itself to the uterine wall, the pill can’t do anything about that. The morning-after pill is different from the abortion pill, RU-486 or mifepristone, which prevents the hormone progesterone from being made and consequently causes the uterine line to break down, which ends the pregnancy.

UPDATE/FYI: The abortion pill is not a single-dose treatment — you take the mifepristone, and then you take misoprostol within three days of the first pill to empty the uterus, followed by a check-up with your doctor. Without ensuring the uterus is empty, bacterial infections and subsequently death can occur, as was the case with four women in California who did not take the second pill, which is the course of treatment approved by the FDA.

The morning after pill works in a few ways to prevent egg fertilization — its first method of defense is to prevent ovulation so that an egg isn’t released; its second method is to thicken the mucus lining of the cervix so that it’s more difficult for the sperm to get through and meet with the egg; its third method is to thin the lining of the uterus, making it difficult for the egg to attach to the uterine wall.

You can get the morning after pill over the counter; you cannot get the abortion pill over the counter. Emergency contraception, like they say in the commercials, isn’t meant to end a pregnancy that has already started — it’s purpose is to make fertilization more difficult and prevent a pregnancy from starting. If you think birth control is inherently abortion, like some antiabortion-believers do, than I understand why it would be associated with abortion.

Nicole was planning on starting birth control, so I don’t think she’d fall into the “every-type-of-birth-control-is-abortion-because-eggs-and-sperm-are-people-too” category.

2. Pregnant teens and biological fathers. I felt uneasy when Dr. Drew asked everyone who had a biological father in their lives to raise their hand — not only because it singled out those whose dads had left their families, but it singled out the two adopted teens who both had adoptive fathers. It begs the question of whether you need a biological father or just a father figure.

It also begs the question of whether it matters how you lost your father. The first assumption would be that the fathers walked out on their families — but this isn’t the case with all the girls who are without a father. For instance, Nicole’s father died when she was two years old. So if you take out of the equation the girls who had adoptive fathers and the girl whose father died, then you are left with only four out of the 10 whose fathers walked out on them.

I only highlight this because I think Dr. Drew was trying to insinuate that all these girls — by not having their biological fathers in their lives — shared a similar experience. Yes, technically seven of the girls are without biological fathers, but it’s slightly skewed if you don’t take into account that three of those seven don’t fall into the perceived “dad abandoned them” category.

3. Emotionally abusive partners. Another thing that made me uneasy was how many of the teens continued to get back together with their babies’ fathers, even though the relationships were toxic and emotionally abusive. Both Chelsea and Nikkole admitted that they continued to go back with their babies’ fathers even though the guys were emotionally abusive.

Chelsea’s ex sent her degrading text messages all the time, and the worst one on the show was this:

no i want u to feel like the most worthless stupid **** in the world u better beleive [sic] its so over for the rest of ourlives ya fat stretch mark bitch tell me where and wen [sic] to sign the papers over for that mistake

Chelsea admitted that this text wasn’t even the worst of the abuse, which is really frightening. After he sent her this text, she continued to try to make things work despite continual break-ups. Finally, she said she was through with him and that they didn’t talk anymore.

Nikkole, despite the fact that her ex Josh was controlling, immature, manipulative, and broke up with her specifically to be with other girls, still wanted to make it work. When Jenelle asked her why she wanted to make it work, Nikkole didn’t have that inspiring of a response. On the special, Josh was visibily still immature and rude. But, Dr. Drew made an interesting point — emotional (including verbal) abuse can often turn into physical abuse.

This is an extremely important piece of information, especially for teenage girls — who are young, naive, and impressionable — to know. It is especially concerning because emotional abusers often use taking away children as a powerful form of emotional abuse. Emotional abusers seek control and power, and inviting them repeatedly back into your life is trouble, and they will use your child as a pawn to get what they want. In a way, Jenelle is emotionally abusive to her mother because she constantly threatens to take the baby away and never come back if her mother doesn’t do what she says.

Though they are just teenagers now, trying to keep the toxic relationship alive will get more dangerous as time goes on. The abuse will get worse, and it often escalates into physical violence. Every time that guy does something terrible and still is wanted by that teen mom, he gets more and more power and will feel able to do worse and worse things without repercussion.

Also, I could see how the abusive relationships could be construed as these girls clinging to a male figure, but Chelsea has a very prominent male figure in her life. Her (biological, no less) dad plays a very important role in her life. It’s not as easy as saying their actions are symptomatic of single parenting or growing up without a male role model or something along those lines.

16&P (pt.1): Estranged parents, cohabitation, the pregnancy “decision”

April 22, 2010

Last night’s 16 and Pregnant was a double-whammy — meeting Kailyn and also watching Dr. Drew’s “Life After Labor” special. Unfortunately, with so more teens than last season to interview, Dr. Drew didn’t have as much time to try and force the teens to admit that they wished their babies had never been born and that they were huge mistakes.

Anyway, first we met Kailyn, a 16-year-old who had a rough life story. She had never met her father, had an estranged relationship with her mother, and lived with her boyfriend Jo’s family. Being a pregnant teen mom was just one of many obstacles Kailyn had dealt with in her short life.

We learned about having a mother who isn’t entirely present, the “decision” to get pregnant, expectations about meeting parents for the first time, and the difficulty of living with a partner.

1. Having an estranged mother. I missed the first three minites, so I’m not sure if they explained why Kailyn’s mother was so estranged, but she was. Although they lived in the same town, Kailyn lived with her boyfriend Jo’s family because her mother didn’t have a house or a job. She spent her time looking for a job, house, or with her boyfriend, which constantly upset Kailyn.

She even had the audacity to go crib-shopping with Kailyn and then stick Jo’s parents with the bill. After giving birth to baby Isaac, she begged her mom to see her and the baby more. Her mom had a new house that was five minutes from Jo’s parents’ place, and getting her mom to agree to stop by was like watching someone try to pull teeth. Her mom was finding every excuse she could about why she couldn’t see the baby, including telling  Kailyn it wasn’t on the way home from work because  she didn’t go that way. Kailyn suggested simply changing her route, and her mom was ilent.

On the reunion special, we learned that Kailyn’s mom was completely out of the picture, which obviously upset her very much. She was lucky enough to have Jo’s mom, Janet, in her life, as she basically took over in a mother-type role for Kailyn. This makes motherhood important for Kailyn in the same way that it did for Valerie and Lori (even though Lori was forced to give Aidan up for adoption) — they all sought some connection to family that they were missing.

In all the episodes with teens who grow up with a biological mother and not their father, it was interesting to see a teen who was growing up without a mother or a father. It showcases the fact that, although we assume single parents are usually mothers, this isn’t always the case — they might be fathers (16 percent of custodial parents are fathers) or perhaps they might be estranged like Kailyn’s mom. The estrangement factor — the fact that her mom lives near here but isn’t taking care of her at all — is what really makes Kailyn’s story unique and tough to put in the context of statistics.

2. The “decision” to get pregnant. People slip when they are fighting, and Jo — Kailyn’s boyfriend — did this when he exclaimed that the pregnancy was Kailyn’s decision.  I applauded his parents for jumping on that comment and telling him how wrong it was to say that, but it raises two important points: 1) that a woman is assumed to be responsible for birth control and 2) a woman’s decision to keep the baby gives her all the responsiblity.

Because only women have the ability to get pregnant, some people rest the responsibility of birth control entirely on their shoulders. Men often expect women do be taking birth control of some sort — the pill, the shot, an IUD, the patch or a vaginal ring. This was expressed in the movie Knocked Up, when Ben (Seth Rogan) and Allison (Katherine Heigl) argue about how they got pregnant in the first place, and Ben counters that he assumed she had been taking something.

Though it was framed in a comical way in the movie, it’s no laughing matter in the real world. Some men will take this assumed contraceptive responsibility on women and remove themselves from the pregnancy situation completely because they feel no sense of accountability. It’s a woman’s responsibility to protect her body, in their opinion, so they need to deal with the consequences — the guy was just along for the ride (no pun intended).

Ignoring the fact that if it’s a woman’s body is her responsibility then there should be no male counterattack on her right for abortion, another problem is that the “her decision” also leaves some men feeling like they shouldn’t have to care for a baby if she decides to keep it. If a woman and a man disagree on whether to keep, abort or put the baby up for adoption, then the man sometimes chooses to wash his hands of the situation by saying, “Well, I chose abortion, you didn’t, so it’s your decision and your responsibility now.”

Should a man have to support a child he didn’t want to keep? Well, considering he initially made the decision to have sex, and pregnancy is a consequence of sex, he isn’t without responsibility. He might not like the result of his actions, but the actions were originally his and he was merely banking on the fact that pregnancy wouldn’t happen — he took a risk. Although then we get into the women who try to get themselves pregnant to save a relationship, etc.

3. Expectations about meeting parents. Whether it’s someone who was adopted meeting their birth parents or someone who has an estranged parent, it seems like people have a lot of expectations about parents whom they’ve never met. For Kailyn, there was a lot of excitement about meeting her father, but the excitement quickly faded when she spent an entire week alone with him.

One of the problems was that her father wasn’t really the one who arranged the visit — his sister did. Kailyn’s aunt was excited about connecting them, but there was an unfortunate disconnect between Kailyn and her father because he wasn’t extremely interested. This left Kailyn disappointed, and it illustrated that much like trying to force someone into rehab, some things won’t work unless the person involved wants to do them.

Another problem was one that is understandable — Kailyn likely had a lot of expectations about what it would be like to meet her father. Excited because her aunt had contacted her, she was eager. But as the adoption information site laboroflove.com explains, meeting your parents — whether you were adopted or abandoned — for the first time involves having realistic expectations:

First, it is important to understand what exactly you are looking for. If you are looking for acceptance, don’t count on getting it … If you are looking for some self-identity, you can’t expect to get that either. However, if you are trying to find out information about your family history, or even a family medical history, you can usually accomplish these sorts of things. Anything else, while great when it happens, may be somewhat unrealistic.

It was difficult to watch Kailyn go through this — it seemed like after 15 minutes of conversation, she knew her expectations were far too high, and she immediately wanted to go back home. I don’t blame her; she was seeking this missing part of her and assuming their biological connection would lead to a physical connection — one where they would be able to talk about anything and there would be no awkwardness because they were blood related.

We saw this on an episode of True Life (I’m Looking for My Father), when Craig met his dad, who left him at the age of three. Despite the negative reaction from his mother and sister about his search, he eventually found him. He was elated, but I’m not sure he got what he wanted — they hung out once or twice and talked on the phone, but then contact diminished and he was pretty much in the same place he started.

It’s tough to understand how, though the saying goes that blood is thicker than anything, that DNA connection isn’t enough to build long-lasting relationships after years of being apart.

4. The difficulty of living with a partner. Something all these episodes of 16 and Pregnant touch on is how difficult it is to live with someone. Many people move in together on the show, and I don’t know how they deal with living with a partner and taking care of a baby for the first time. Even for people like Kailyn and Lizzie, who were living in their parents houses with their partner, it’s difficult.

I am all for cohabitation before marriage because sometimes you just don’t get along with someone if you actually have to live with them — see their habits, daily routines, idiosyncracies, lifestyle — it’s important to know if you’ll mesh well. Perhaps your partner is always looking neat, and then you find that s/he is a complete slob and filthy. You want to know these things before you start talking about houses, marriage, etc.

For Kailyn and Jo, sharing a bedroom was really difficult. There weren’t anymore trips to the movies or dates because it seemed like Jo’s space was being infultrated — he saw her all the time, so the last thing he wanted to do was spend his free time with her, too. At 16, they yearn for freedom — having someone else always around suffocates that freedom.

Living together is a big step, especially at such a young age. Combine being thrust into responsibility with losing any sense of privacy and freedom, and it’s a recipe for disaster. You’re trying to figure out how to get along with each other and compromise about living — whose stuff goes where, who does the dishes, how things are arranged — and then you have to raise a baby. What added to the stress was that Kailyn and Jo were sharing a bedroom, so neither really had any space of their own like they might have in an apartment.

________________

Part 2 of this post will come shortly, after I’ve watched the full Life after Labor episode!

College stereotypes enable sexual harassment, assault

April 20, 2010

College campuses are hotbeds for sexual assault, and college-aged women are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than other women. Although some might qualify the increase in sexual assault by saying that college is a hypersexualized place, perhaps the problem is that too many college students are buying into that same theory.

Amanda Hess made a great point on her blog The Sexist about how sexual assault on college campuses isn’t treated as seriously as it is in other parts of society:

Because many college students choose to have sex—and sometimes, lots of it—we deny them to right to ever choose not to do it.

Because we hypersexualize college students in this way, we tolerate sexual assaults on college campuses that we would never tolerate in other communities—in the workplace, in public spaces, in society at large.

This plays a big part in the victim-blaming game — college is expectedly so rife with alcohol and sex that people seem to expect sexual assault to happen. But this expectation doesn’t end with people outside of college communities — this expectation trickles down to college students themselves.

This is a dangerous notion, because college students also buy into the hype. Men feel unashamed when they try to grope women at parties or in passing, and women feel ashamed about confronting a man who gropes them because it’s seen as playful, innocent and harmless — college men are expected to do a little groping, and women who protest are prudes. Because of this, women tend to brush aside most groping incidents because they normalize it in their minds, too.

But what is normal isn’t necessarily what’s right, and it isn’t right that college women are sexually assaulted more merely because society construes college to be a high-risk environment and enables the behavior. Far too often, men feel entitled to sexually harass, grope and assault women, and this entitlement is prevalent more in college than anywhere else.

This normalization of sexual harassment and assault needs to stop, especially because it enables a pattern of behavior that continues after college ends. Men might feel comfortable continuing this behavior in the workplace, for example, and women might continue silently taking it because it’s become routine and is occuring in a more serious place — a work setting — where the consequences for being outspoken could be extreme if the perpetrator is in a position of power.

Nipping the problem in the bud means not enabling anymore. As women, we need to be more comfortable with and outspoken about confronting men who grope. Don’t nervously laugh it off anymore. For men, the solution is simple: don’t grope. The whole “prude” argument is ridiculous — you know very well when you’re groping someone without their consent. And don’t nervously laugh when you feel uncomfortable about a friend who’s groping someone else.

Instead of buying into the stereotypes, society at large needs to realize that first and foremost, college is supposed to be a place for learning. College-aged students might be enjoying freedom for the first time, but since when is sexual assault the price of freedom?

Lady Gaga’s lyrics are underappreciated, eclipsed by persona

April 19, 2010

Lady Gaga’s outrageous outfits, unusual hairstyles, and complicated music videos get a lot of media attention — but her lyrics are extremely underappreciated. People probably think of dancing, drinking, and sex when they think of her songs, but her latest CD has some songs that deal with deeper themes in the lives of women, and to some extent men.

Her first CD, The Fame, admittedly was mostly surface-based songs about dancing, partying, love, sex, and fame. This is not a dig at Lady Gaga, as I love her first CD and listen to it over and over and over again. But as I listened to her latest CD, The Fame Monster, I realized that it tackled deeper themes, which are often overshadowed by the catchy, amazing beats and Gaga herself.

A few examples:

1. “Monster”

As Amanda Hess pointed out on her Washington City Paper blog, The Sexist, “Monster” is a song that directly addresses date rape. Gaga sings about a guy who looks like a “wolf in disguise” who looks oddly familiar. Though she acknowledges and consents to dancing together in the club, she shows early on in the song that she isn’t looking for a hook up:

He licked his lips/Said to me/Girl you look good enough to eat
Put his arms around me/Said “Boy now get your paws right off me”

It’s a creepy image, but it’s one many women can probably relate to — you engage in some conversation or some dancing with a guy at a bar or a club, then the creepiness level spikes and he tries to get fresh. Later, Gaga continues about how she wanted to only dance but ends up in a different situation:

I wanna Just Dance/But he took me home instead/Uh oh! There was a monster in my bed/
We french kissed on a subway train/He tore my clothes right off/
He ate my heart then he ate my brain

This stanza acknowledges that Gaga only wanted to dance but was taken — perhaps against her wishes or will, considering how it’s phrased that he took her home instead — away from the club, where her clothes were ripped off.

Although some might interpret this as intense passion, it easily seems like the “He ate my heart then he ate my brain” could be seen as very serious — she liked him enough to dance with him, so he won her over with his charm and then took advantage of her, as he “ate her brain” and traumatized her.

Of course, this is only one interpretation — just one message board about the lyrics elicits numerous responses, such as that it’s about fame, obsession, attachment to a man, and even a, um, largely endowed man. I can’t access MTV.com (where one commenter linked to her talking about it), but these all are valid given the lyrics.

Some lyrics websites also list her as saying “you little monster” in the background, which would somewhat pollute the date rape scenario because “little monster” is her affectionate name for her fans.

2. “Speechless”

“Speechless” is my favorite Lady Gaga song. I could probably watch her and Elton John’s duet on the Grammys on constant loop for the rest of my life. At first it seems like a song about a woman in love with a man who won’t commit, or spends too much time drinking, or even is abusive. Turns out the song has a deeper meaning about Gaga’s father.

She feared he wouldn’t get life-saving surgery for a heart condition — he originally didn’t want the surgery — and would also call her after drinking and make statements that left her speechless:

I can’t believe what you said to me/Last night when we were alone
You threw your hands up/Baby you gave up, you gave up

[…]

Could we fix you if you broke?/And is your punch line just a joke?

Many people have commented that she actually sings the words “Is your drunk line just a joke,” although the song does sound like she says “punch line” on the CD. “Drunk line” makes sense in the context of her own inspiration, as she is receiving drunken calls from her father and is confused about how to deal with or handle the things he is saying.

The way she says “baby” in the first stanza makes it seem like she is talking about a lover, but the person giving up is easily her father, who didn’t want the surgery and whom she viewed as simply “giving up” on life. Her fear of her father dying was so great that she exclaims that she will never talk or love again if his actions lead to his own demise.

Although Gaga has allegedly claimed this meaning as the original inspiration,  I originally thought it could be about domestic abuse (psychological and/or physical). She could easily describe a rocky relationship — arms thrown in the air, a man slurring at her, and her line “punch line” made me think of physical abuse. She constantly is trying to fix him in the song, and is so devoted that she doesn’t think she can talk or love another person the same way.

This explanation could still hold water even if the line is “drunk line,” as alcohol abuse in a relationship causes countless problems. Plus, some have attributed the lines: “Some men may follow me/But you choose ‘death and company'” to be a reference to the New York City bar “Death and Company,” as Gaga grew up in NYC. This could be a hint at a man choosing alcohol over a relationship.

Either way, it’s a beautiful song that deviates from the heavy, fast-paced dance beats of her other songs, and it honestly deals with an aspect of life — death or the fear of death — which everyone encounters.

3. “Dance in the Dark”

Gaga has been straightforward about the meaning of this song, which many women can likely relate to:

[It’s about] a girl who likes to have sex with the lights off, because she’s embarrassed about her body.

The entire topic of body issues might get lost in the beat, but it’s an important one to make — and it’s one I’m glad Gaga was straightforward about. I’m especially glad Gaga is the one to sing about it, because she is open about her sexuality — most people probably assume that with her thin frame, she isn’t at all embarrassed in bed.

Two things here: 1) Gaga was overweight growing up, and actually was bullied because of this and other physical attributes. In connection with this, 2) Weight isn’t just a physical state — it’s a mental state. It’s why people with eating disorders think they are fat when they look skeletal, and it’s why many people who undergo a dramatic weight loss — e.g. gastric bypass — still see themselves as overweight even when they are thin.

Gaga herself allegedly starves herself and has lost about 20 pounds since becoming a pop icon, so as a co-writer for “Dance in the Dark,” it’s easy to see that she can likely relate to the insecurities women feel about showing their bodies to their partners:

She looks good/But her boyfriend says she’s a mess/
She’s a mess/She’s a mess/Now the girl is stressed/
She’s a mess/She’s a mess/She’s a mess/She’s a mess

Baby loves to dance in the dark/’Cuz when he’s lookin’/
She falls apart/Baby loves to dance in the dark

This first stanza is especially important because it not only highlights how when he looks at her naked, she completely feels uncomfortable and “falls apart,” but it illustrates how this man tears this woman down. She looks good, but her boyfriend — who should be a supportive person — is telling her she doesn’t look good.

Women often rely on how men view us as the building blocks for our self-esteem, which leads us to be self-conscious inside the bedroom because men send so much negativity outside the bedroom. It’s a social commentary about how women stay with guys who are emotionally and verbally abuse about how they look:

She looks good/But her boyfriend says she’s a tramp/
She’s a tramp/She’s a vamp/But she still does her dance/
She’s a tramp/She’s a vamp/But she still kills the dance

These three songs are the songs with the best lyric/theme combination, but they are also the most underappreciated.  None of them is mainstream yet, which is a shame because merely increasing awareness and starting discussion about these topics would be great.

Lady Gaga’s songwriting ability — the ability to combine lively, creative music with engaging, catchy lyrics that hold deeper meaning — is overshadowed by her overall unusual demeanor and innovative style. In a world where pop music lately is mostly one-note of either falling in love, heartbreak or partying, these songs add much needed substance and social commentary, without sacrificing anything in return.

Man’s hook-up manifesto paints vague actions as sex invites

April 15, 2010

Blogs written by college guys about how to get laid aren’t funny — but it’s frightening that many guys’ thought processes mimic the author of this blog, which details the top seven characteristics of a “promiscuous princess” — but its original title “7 Ways to Spot the Slut” is so much more descriptive.

Katy at Jezebel did a fantastic analysis of this piece, and I’d like to add to some of the points she made.

The most important thing to note is that the author, Jonny Valamehr, uses a disclaimer about how not deregatory the word “slut” is:

 […] when I say slut, I am simply referring to a woman who is ready to be sexually adventurous and looking to hook up. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Men and women alike have every right to identify what they want and go after it in the realm of dating.

Except that just because you say “no offensive” before then spewing offensive remarks doesn’t negate that you said something offensive. I can say, “Now, when I say you’re a pansy, I’m referring to a guy who is really feminine and delicate.” I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, but I’m smart enough to know that the word “pansy” is so loaded with negative connotation that trying to reverse its meaning in one sentence is impossible.

Even if this guy had the best of intentions in trying to redefine the word “slut,” his ideas for “finding” these women are, as Katy points out, basically blueprints for committing sexual assault and rape. Find women who have been drinking, doing drugs, are alone — but some of the scariest (and creepiest) points are the ones Katy leaves out.

One of his suggestions is to look for girls who are alone at parties, because:

[…] a woman coming alone to a social function is the most tried and true flag that she is looking to have a great time and forget her woes.  Most women are rarely found alone at social gatherings such as night clubs, so if she puts herself in that situation, she is well-aware that she is looking to meet and chat with some new people […]

So even though he decided to forget the stereotypes earlier in the post — he was redefining the word slut and being so empowered! — that was only momentary, because now we are back to the old “if she goes to a party alone, she is looking to hook up.” Because of course A) she wasn’t invited by a friend who perhaps doesn’t share mutual friends; B) she isn’t new to the college or town and trying to just make friends; and C) women can’t go alone anywhere. They always travel in packs and only separate for mating purposes.

Or maybe she just wants to go to the bar for a drink — it’s not uncommon for people to do so they aren’t inside a quiet apartment, but it doesn’t mean she is looking for sex. She might just want a margarita and good music.

Another piece of advice?

Women often do not like when another woman gets all the attention and is willing to throw herself at guys.  If she likes to sleep around, why would she want to get verbally harassed about it?  This is where the guy friends come into play.  They understand her needs and desires, and are totally cool with it.  Some even think that hanging around her may result in some sexual play.  And a lot of times, it does – trust me.

I think Jonny is trying to say that a woman surrounded by a lot of guys must sleep with all those guys. And women probably have no preference of who they sleep with, right? I mean, as long as you’ve got a penis, she has no consideration for physical attraction, STIs, your intoxication level, your relationship status, nothing — women who like having sex are obviously all nymphomaniacs.

And also, his assumption that only men can understand the female sex drive is laughable — sure, women can be judgmental, but a fair amount of women are sexually “adventurous” and don’t judge each other about it. And although Jonny wants you to “trust” him (um … right), many women — adventurous, not adventurous, in relationships — have a lot of guy friends, and we don’t just surround ourselves with them because we want a constant selection of sex partners.

But this one has to be by far my favorite, in response to a woman asking a man if he wants to hang out later:

HELLO?!?!?  Do I even need to elaborate on this?  Short of, “FUCK ME NOW”, this is the most obvious sign she is ready to roll on to the good times.

Really?? I can’t even ask if you want to hang out without it being assumed that I want to have sex? You can’t even make a study date with a guy without him assuming you are asking for sex. What’s worse is that a guy might actually read this and take it to heart, which is a really scary thought in the realm of sexual assault and rape — any suggestion of being alone with a man somewhere is assumed to be a sexual contract.

Also, if you don’t wear underwear, you’re a slut — although people go commando for comfort, for health reasons, and for environmental reasons (less laundry/clothes to buy).

I hope this column was written in jest, but I fear that it was sincere and that a lot of guys identify with this author. Men generally think women are confusing and send mixed signals, but Jonny’s interpretation of these signals is COMPLETELY off-base. Plenty of women go to the bar without a posse, hang out in a group of guys, don’t wear underwear, and suggest hanging out later.

And no matter what, none of these characteristics trumps consent — the one true sign you need before hooking up with any woman.

16&P: Marriage, cheating, sacrifices, death, home-schooling — whew!

April 14, 2010

This week on 16 and Pregnant we met Lizzie, a 17-year-old who was having a baby with her boyfriend Skylar. This is a long post, but the episode had a lot of food for thought. I’ve added some pictures to break up the text.

Specifically: getting married because you’re pregnant, blaming yourself for a partner’s cheating, giving up dreams because of financial necessity, maternal death during childbirth, and the benefit of family support — especially when your family can afford it.

1. Getting married because you’re pregnant. Lizzie and Skylar were dating for about a year when baby Summer was born, and before she was born Skylar proposed to Lizzie. He asked Lizzie’s father for permission beforehand, and her dad was visibly opposed to the entire situation. He told them that he preferred they live together and not get married right away, and that they didn’t need to get married solely because of the baby.

According to Campaign For Our Children, less than 8 percent of teen moms are married to the baby’s father within a year of giving birth, although most teen moms initially expect to get married to the baby’s father.  But her dad had the right idea — not just because a child’s well-being isn’t enhanced if it lives with parents who are unhappy together, but because teen marriage in general doesn’t have much success.

If the bride is younger than 18 when the marriage starts, one-third of those marriages will end in divorce within five years, and half will be divorced within 10 years. Getting married in your teenage years is risky — you’re young, immature, and probably still searching for an identity. People change a lot during their teenage years and during their 20s.

Maci and Ryan almost got married because of pressure from their families — Ryan’s dad especially kept trying to remind the two and push the two toward marriage as fast as possible. Luckily they decided to postpone the wedding, because now the two aren’t together and Ryan has said he wouldn’t speak to Maci ever again if Bentley didn’t exist. Despite Dr. Drew’s advice, I don’t think people should force themselves into marriage for the sake of a child who will not benefit from their parent’s fighting, animosity and resentment.  

Society pressures people who have kids outside of marriage to somehow validate the pregnancy by getting married — but even though people want to keep the romanticized notion of sex only accompanied with love, sometimes people have sex just to have sex. Or they were in love and then they fall out of love. Or maybe they stay in love forever — what’s the rush? Kids eventually will do the math and figure out your wedding anniversary is less than nine months before their birthday.

2. Self-blaming for your partner’s cheating. In this episode, for the first time (I think) we saw a couple deal with cheating. Not Nikkole and Josh’s I’m-Josh-And-I’m-Going-To-Break-Up-With-You-So-I-Can-Do-Other-Girls, but actually infidelity that Skylar hid from Lizzie for about eight months, before his bragging to his friends finally got back to Lizzie.

What struck me the most about the cheating was Lizzie’s honest response — that she felt self-conscious about it. She immediately blamed herself for the cheating and started thinking about what she had done to provoke him to cheat. I don’t know if it’s a woman thing or a person thing, but it’s an unhealthy tendency to blame ourselves for the actions of someone else.

Skylar is a person with free will, and it was his choice to cheat. If Lizzie did anything to make Skylar feel unattracted to her, he either needed to A) talk to her about it or B) break up with her. The fact that he told his friends means he either had a guilty conscience or wanted to brag about it. Either way, it’s an unfortunate human tendency to blame anyone but the perpetrator.

Whether this is because we look for reasons to excuse such behavior so we can stay with those people is beyond me — it reminds me of situations where person A cheats with person X, and person A’s partner focuses all his/her rage at person X instead of the partner who cheated. Two people made a choice together, and they are equally responsible. Of course, there was a baby involved in this situation, which complicates things further.

3. Giving up dreams because of financial necessity. Lizzie was a flutist who had dreams of studying music in college and eventually playing in the Virginia Symphony. With someone with such big dreams, it was surprising how suddenly she dropped her musical ambitions. Of course, with a baby to pay for, it’s easy to see why music dropped on the list of priorities.

I felt bad for Lizzie — although she adores Summer, there is this passion that you have if you are dedicated to something enough to base your life’s ambitions on it. Most people have this kind of love for a certain subject — for me, its writing; for others, it’s art, teaching, dancing, community activism, science, etc. To have to give up your dreams because they won’t financially support a baby must be emotionally taxing.

Lizzie gave up dreams of the symphony to be an ultrasound technician, but quickly dropped that idea in favor of medical billing — it was lucrative and quick to learn, and Lizzie prioritized Summer over spending time in class. She probably figured that ultrasound teching wasn’t her dream in the first place, so why spend so much time and money on school when she could learn an equally not-her-dream job quickly.

I give her props for focusing on her daughter, but it highlights one of the major sacrifices that teen parents have to make because babies are expensive.  

4. Maternal death during childbirth. “I hope you don’t die,” is what Skylar said to Lizzie when she asked why he was so nervous about the childbirth. Although a short quote, it’s a telling one because maternal deaths are on the rise. Death during childbirth isn’t something we associate with Western medicine, especially because so many births are done in hospitals, but it isn’t something that only happens in distant developing countries.

The U.S. is behind more than 40 other countries when it comes to maternal deaths. What’s more concerning is that deaths after childbirth are also on the rise. Although these cases are the exception rather than the rule, Skylar’s comment was very valid and reminded viewers that childbirth is not without complications and risks for the mother.

5. The advantage of having well-off parents. OK! My final point in this long-winded blog post. Lizzie’s parents seemed upper middle-class — her house was gigantic, her mom didn’t appear to work outside the home (as she could watch Summer during the day), and there was enough extra space in the house for parents and baby to have separate rooms.

What’s even better than the benefit of having shelter is having the option of home-schooling. Because Lizzie was home-schooled for her senior year, she graduated five months ahead of her classmates and before the baby was born. She was able to get her high school diploma, which as we saw with Chelsea and also Amber’s episodes of Teen Mom can be a very difficult process if you are trying to accomplish it post-baby.

Home-schooling, however, is not an option if you can’t afford it. It costs more than public school, and you have to pay for supplies such as books or curriculum packages, which could range from $200 to more than $1,000 — and the cost is always higher for teenagers. Plus, if you as a parent aren’t free to teach your child, then you need to hire someone to conduct the lessons.

I don’t fault Lizzie for being home-schooled — I think it’s great, actually. It’s just too bad that all struggling teen moms can’t afford that option because it requires the finances and possibly a nonworking parent to teach the material. She should be grateful to have parents who can afford home-schooling and who are supportive of her pregnancy.

Target’s new recycling centers are free market at its finest

April 12, 2010

It’s pretty great that Target is now going to have recycling centers at all of its stores. And this isn’t just because people can have one place to recycle normal things (paper, plastic, aluminum) and things like ink cartridges, cell phones and mp3 players (instead of driving around to Staples, AT&T, Best Buy, countless other stores or mailing things to separate companies). It’s also great because it’s good old-fashioned free market competition.

People — often conservatives — typically dislike environmental regulations. They are in love with the idea of free market economics and think regulation hinders pure economic competition — if factories can’t spew toxic chemicals into the air and toxic waste into lakes and rivers, how on earth will they thrive?

This latest bit of recycling news from Target is great because it symbolizes how sustainability initiatives can be voluntary, convenient for consumers and the foundation for competition. Target makes eco-friendly strides without being forced by government regulations, and this can easily affect other consumer giants:

And whether they would admit to it or not, the Target recycling move puts a bit of pressure back on Walmart to up the ante, thereby contributing to a kind of ’race to the top’ […]

It’s the ideal environmental situation. A popular store offers convenient, free recycling services — especially for products that consumers often don’t know how or where to recycle — and it also does so without being forced by any regulations. Anti-regulation people should be happy because it fosters competition in the marketplace.

Of course, this program is Target’s response to all of Walmart’s sustainability measures, so as they try to one-up each other, let’s just be glad that these strides toward sustainability came without a trip through Congress.