Friday, October 26, 2012

Poetry Friday

This week on NPR I heard a review of the new book about Thomas Jefferson and the evidence the author presents about the pretty much unequivocal hypocrisy of the founding father. And not just the now well-known relationship with his slave, Sally Hemmings, but how he was encouraged by his peers to free his slaves, but wouldn't. So continuing on the social justice and the personal-is-political theme, a poem by Natasha Trethewey from her book, Thrall. The poem can be found here.


In the portrait of Jefferson that hangs
     at Monticello, he is rendered two-toned:
his forehead white with illumination—
a lit bulb—the rest of his face in shadow,
     darkened as if the artist meant to contrast
his bright knowledge, its dark subtext.
By 1805, when Jefferson sat for the portrait,
     he was already linked to an affair
with his slave. Against a backdrop, blue
and ethereal, a wash of paint that seems
     to hold him in relief, Jefferson gazes out
across the centuries, his lips fixed as if
he's just uttered some final word.
     The first time I saw the painting, I listened
as my father explained the contradictions:
how Jefferson hated slavery, though—out
     of necessity
, my father said—had to own
slaves; that his moral philosophy meant
he could not have fathered those children:
     would have been impossible, my father said.
For years we debated the distance between
word and deed. I'd follow my father from book
     to book, gathering citations, listen
as he named—like a field guide to Virginia—
each flower and tree and bird as if to prove
     a man's pursuit of knowledge is greater
than his shortcomings, the limits of his vision.
I did not know then the subtext
     of our story, that my father could imagine
Jefferson's words made flesh in my flesh—
the improvement of the blacks in body
     and mind, in the first instance of their mixture
with the whites
—or that my father could believe
he'd made me better. When I think of this now,
     I see how the past holds us captive,
its beautiful ruin etched on the mind's eye:
my young father, a rough outline of the old man
     he's become, needing to show me
the better measure of his heart, an equation
writ large at Monticello. That was years ago.
     Now, we take in how much has changed:
talk of Sally Hemings, someone asking,
How white was she?—parsing the fractions
     as if to name what made her worthy
of Jefferson's attentions: a near-white,
quadroon mistress, not a plain black slave.
     Imagine stepping back into the past,
our guide tells us then—and I can't resist
whispering to my father: This is where
     we split up. I'll head around to the back.

When he laughs, I know he's grateful
I've made a joke of it, this history
     that links us—white father, black daughter—
even as it renders us other to each other.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Summer lovin', had me a blast

Summer lovin', happened too fast.
Christine Brennan has declared the Summer of Women (in sports) over. And, today, she and I are on the same page.
Eternal pessimist that I am, I suspected--as it was happening--that the surge of interest in women's sports that was ignited primarily by the Olympics but also by the concurrent news and (mostly) praise of Title IX during its 40th anniversary year, would dissipate. It's a roller coaster ride. Luckily we only have to go down screeching down that big hill of disappointment once every 4 years (and down a smaller hill of disappointment after the winter Olympics end).
Brennan was brought back to her reality after hearing UConn women's basketball coach, Geno Auriemma, discuss his stance on lowering the rim in women's basketball to make it a more popular sport that people (i.e. men) want to watch. People who don't like women's sports are not going to watch them. And inferiorizing the sport only provides the haters more reason not to care.Why do people continue to laud this man?
Also at issue is the forthcoming hiring of a coach for US national women's soccer team. Will it be a man or a woman?? Brennan explains why it matters--and it does--even as people fall back on the hackneyed "we're just going to hire the best person for the job" because we don't want to think about how gender and race and class inequalities are perpetuated in sport.

Apologies for the Debbie Downer post. I'll put on my hope and cheer outfit later.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Poetry Friday

This poem by Alicia Ostriker is from the current issue of Massachusetts Review. It was posted at Poetry Daily recently. I've been doing a lot of talking in my classes about more complex understandings of race, so this fits in quite well.

They Speak of Race

Honey I am one gorgeous permanent wave
of dunebeige yellowgold coalblack European Asian
African force funneled through centuries
of ejaculating ancestors right here to me
said the impure old woman
Absolutely true science informs us
we hybrids are the ones that survive
the endless brutalities of storm and drought
and the rivalry of our peers
said the naturally selected magnificent red tulip
Any tribe keep doing the same
thing with the same folks
they gonna die out soon so procreate like me
with strangers go mix it up
mongrel is powerful said the dog

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lesbian discrimination in sport? or It's all about intersectionality

A few weeks ago, I neglected, among other things, to post about this amazing column by wrestling coach Hudson Taylor that was posted at HuffPo. Hudson, since he was a student-athlete, has been an ally of LGBT athletes and works to end homophobia in sport. Taylor demonstrates a very keen awareness of the way in which homophobia and sexism are intertwined. It is not a coincidence the sport has a history of sexism and homophobia. They reinforce each other. How different is it really when a male athlete is referred to as a "girl" or as a "fag"? Both are meant to question his masculinity and inspire a man-up moment.
What about the ways that the lesbian stigma in women's sports is connected to its inferior status?

So, good job Hudson Taylor.

And much awe and respect to Pat Griffin for her column this week posted at Opposing Views. The day I read it I was teaching in my class two articles: a piece called "Patriarchy" by sociologist Allan Johnson and Peggy McIntosh's "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" about white privilege. It would have been perfect to hand my students a copy of Dr. Griffin's article and ask them how it relates. (I might still.)
Griffin talks about how the discourse has shifted in homophobia in sport to discussions of male professional athletes. It is a somewhat one-dimensional conversation, in my opinion, centered around "when will be a male professional athlete in a team sport come out?" First of all the question is obviously American-centric. There are out footballers, rugby players, and other athletes in sports that American don't quite laud. Is it a legitimate question? Yes.
But, as Griffin points out, it seems to be the only question. This is exemplified in the media (I too heard the NPR piece on gays in sports and wondered when I was going to hear about Megan Rapinoe) and in the conferences that address these issues.
The invisibility of lesbians has long been a problem, a result of the intersection of sexism and homophobia. Advocates like Pat Griffin have long worked to make these issues visible. Inside the academy numerous feminist scholars have talked about the issues specific to gay women in the sport world. And now, both inside and outside the academy, the lesbian is disappearing again. Why? Is it just another manifestation of sexism? Perhaps. Maybe it's just the type of male privilege we talked about in my class. Men want to be allies but sometimes they just don't see or want to see their privilege and that it provides them a forum--literal and figurative--for bringing their issues to the forefront, often at the expense of women.
I want to throw another issue into this discussion of intersectional discrimination. Class or more money making potential might be a better descriptor in this situation. The discussion of male athletes coming out--male professional athletes who are in the major team sports in the US may have financial repercussions. One of the issues raised when the question of "who will come out first? and which league is most open and accepting?" is "how much will he lose?" Lost endorsements? Lack of new endorsers? The discussion becomes more heightened because there is so much more for a professional male athlete to lose financially. Both Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King discussed the financial hits they took when they came out/were outed. But this is written as somehow less serious. Money/class. Sexism. Homophobia. Lots of intersecting issues here.
I'm headed to a sport sociology conference next month. I will be interested in observing the discussions in that forum around gay athletes.

Monday, October 15, 2012

New women's sport?

I foresee a future dissertation on the topic of women's arm wrestling. I mean if it's good enough for NPR to cover, some grad student should be snapping it up.
I have to admit, the topic seems a bit unusual. The story, which aired on All Things Considered, notes the similarity to roller derby and wrestling (the theatrical aspects of it). But, based on the story's main source, it seems to tip more towards that than athletics.
I suspect the same issues will arise regarding self-sexification as a seeming requirement for participation; the empowerment potential of the performance; subcultural aspects; and how the sport will be presented to the general public. Already participants are referred to, at least by NPR (tsk tsk), as "lady arm wrestlers."

Monday, October 08, 2012

Vonn seeks a Sorenstam moment

I'm not the only one trying to get back on course (sorry for the lack of blogging). Professional skiers start their competitive season soon. And American skier Lindsey Vonn, the it girl (much to Julia Mancuso's dismay) of the last winter Olympics, is looking to compete against the men in the first race of the season.
It does not seem that people are opposed to the coed competition. Skiers--both male and female--are encouraging Vonn's attempt to test herself. The issue is that the men's competition is on the same course the women's race will be held at the following week; a race that Vonn wants to compete in as well. But she--or any other racer--is not allowed to race the course beforehand.
Various committees and powers-that-be are looking into the whole thing. I think if Vonn gets permission we will see a lot more men versus women talk.
Interesting and irksome is how the FIS World Cup is divided. Under the gender pull-down menu on the calendar page is "men" and "ladies."
More to come I would assume...