Watching What We Say: Is Name-Calling Ever Excusable?

While Kobe Bryant was defending his use of the phrase “fucking fag” as something that should not be taken literally and that came out of the heat of the moment (the referee had just called a foul on him), volleyball fans in Brazil were dealing with a similar situation. During a semifinal match a couple of weeks ago, some of the fans started shouting, “Bicha! Bicha! Bicha!” at Michael, an allegedly gay player on the other team. (“Bicha” means “faggot.”)

Shocked by the blatant homophobia and in a show of support, Michael’s team and fans came up with a gigantic banner proclaiming that they are against prejudice, the teammates wore pink warm-up shirts and the crowd shook pink thundersticks with Michael’s name on them.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., more than half of those polled thought that Kobe Bryant’s $100,000 fine was unnecessary. His apology (such as it was) should be enough.

In my opinion, people who think that should apologize—for not being sensitive enough about the issue themselves.

There is no excuse for using a derogatory term as a swear word, whether it’s “faggot” or “pussy” or “nigger.” When you do that, what you’re really saying is that it’s a bad thing to be gay, female or black. It doesn’t even have to be directed at an actual homosexual, woman or black person. In fact, the intent is even more insulting when it isn’t, as in “He’s so queer” or “He throws like a girl.”

As far as I know, the referee Bryant got upset with isn’t gay, and yet Bryant apparently felt it a need to insult him by calling him a “fag.” What else could he have meant except that being homosexual is the lowest of the low?

[Or is it? The worst word I can think of, and I think most people would agree with me, is the “C” word. I won’t even write it, let alone say it. I think it’s significant that the worst epithet a person can sling at another person is a derogatory word for part of the female anatomy.]

There’s too much acceptance of name calling in this country. People make excuses for it by saying that they didn’t mean it to be derogatory, that it’s just a “figure of speech.” I don’t buy it. It’s not a figure of speech; on the contrary, words like “faggot” and “pussy” are loaded with meaning. It’s just that what they mean is hurtful. Words can hurt. They can even cause people to have breakdowns and commit suicide.

Not only that, but do we really want to teach our children that it’s okay to use such language? These were grown-ups who were calling out “Faggot! Faggot!” Because he’s an athlete, kids look up to Kobe Bryant as a role model.  Do we really think that there’s no correlation bullying among schoolchildren and the damaging words they hear adults using freely and in public?

[In a side note, actress Ashley Judd was criticized this past week for her opinion (which was stated in her recent memoir) that hip-hop music contributes to a “rape culture.”

“As far as I’m concerned, most rap and hip-hop music — with it’s rape culture and insanely abusive lyrics and depictions of girls and women as ‘ho’s’ — is the contemporary soundtrack of misogyny.”

Most of the criticism was about her singling out one kind of music for being misogynist when there are plenty of examples of “trash-talking” in other musical genres. But because of the controversy over her remarks, her basic message was lost, which is that the words we use do matter and they can have negative consequences.]

Personally, I think Kobe Bryant got off easy. And I’m disappointed that more Americans don’t agree with me. But then what do I expect in this country? Pink warm-up shirts and thundersticks?





Arizona’s Sheriff Apaio Likes His Inmates ‘Pretty in Pink’

“I’m looking toward being the first person in the world to put juveniles on a chain gang.”

These are the words of Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, which is where Phoenix, Arizona is located. Arpaio is the controversial subject of a U.S. Justice Department investigation for civil rights abuses. He is unapologetically tough on crime and is one of the law enforcement officials who not only agrees with Arizona’s new immigration law, he is delighted to have the opportunity to implement it. He reportedly said that he was not going to wait until the day after the bill took effect, he was going to start the second after midnight.

Arpaio is not worried about overcrowded jails. He simply puts up tent cities where inmates must live in 100 degree-plus temperatures. He tells those who protest the tent cities as inhumane: “It’s 120 degrees in Iraq and the soldiers are living in tents, have to wear full body armor, and they didn’t commit any crimes, so shut your mouths.” He also refers to his tent cities as his “concentration camps.”

The chain gangs are volunteer in that they are the only way prisoners can earn special privileges. Besides literally chaining them together, dressing them in black and white striped jumpsuits and putting them out on public display, Arpaio is also fond of making the inmates wear touches of pink. The female inmates might not mind, but it is clearly a tactic designed to humiliate the male inmates. He also instituted the use of pink handcuffs, which I assume he had to have specially made.

I realize that there are people who think that almost nothing is too brutal for convicted criminals, but what about the fact that some of the inmates are not convicted, but are awaiting trial?

One of Arpaio’s innovations has been to use civilian posses to search for and detain illegal immigrants. He insists that they don’t do any racial profiling, despite the fact that they conduct sweeps in Hispanic neighborhoods.

What’s With Arizona??

Arizona State Flag

Maybe it’s in the water. Maybe it’s the heat. Whatever it is, it’s bringing out the worst in the people of Arizona. I didn’t even realize that the governor, Jan Brewer, signed a bill into law last September denying benefits to domestic partners of state employees. The new law, which takes effect October 1, redefines “dependent” and excludes  coverage for domestic partners, including heterosexual partners, children of domestic partners, disabled adult dependents, and full time students over 22 who are claimed as dependents.

Interestingly enough, the University of Arizona has decided to reinstate benefits to domestic partners, using funds separate from state money, in order to remain competitive in attracting talent. According to the Arizona Daily Star, about 20 employees of the University left because of the repeal of domestic partner benefits and some job offers were rejected for the same reason.

I’ve always seen the offering of benefits to domestic partners and other dependents as a way to get more people insured in America. Without those benefits, many people will not have health insurance at all. Why shouldn’t a person be able to cover more than herself on her policy if she is willing to pay the family premium? In fact, I think insurance policies ought to cover adult children indefinitely. There’s a terrible gap in insurance coverage between 22-year-olds and those who have finally established their careers to the point where they get employee benefits.

Nor do I think people should be forced to marry just so they can share a family insurance plan. It’s not the place of the state to pry into what kind of relationship domestic partners have.

Continue reading “What’s With Arizona??”

Phyllis Chesler, Feminist and Islamophobe?

Phyllis Chesler

I hate sentences that start with “most” and end with some ridiculous pronouncement about what “most” are doing.  Phyllis Chesler appears to be a prime offender, judging by her article on Muslim women and the veil. She writes: “Most Muslim girls and women are not given a choice about wearing the chador, burqa, abaya, niqab, jilbab, or hijab (headscarf), and those who resist are beaten, threatened with death, arrested, caned or lashed, jailed, or honor murdered by their own families.” She also writes that “Most Muslim girls and women are impoverished and wear rags.”

These statements are typical of a person who cares more about justifying her own prejudice than in adding something constructive to the debate. Not only that, but they’re just plain ignorant. Chesler cites examples coming out of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan as being typical of the entire Muslim world. She also equates Muslims with Arabs, when in fact this only applies to 20% of all Muslims.

I especially love this statement of Chesler’s: “It is well known that the Arabs and Muslims kept and still keep sex slaves–they are very involved in the global trafficking in girls and women and frequent prostitutes on every continent.” Where does she get her ideas??

But of course Chesler doesn’t care about being objective—or even factual; she has a career to think of. Dr. Chesler (she has a Ph.D in psychology) is primarily a writer and is the author of thirteen books and numerous articles. (Check out her web site for examples of her writing.) She is also a psychotherapist and an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at the City University of New York (CUNY). By her own account, she was “held captive” in Afghanistan when she went to visit her then-husband’s family, an experience that she says made her an ardent feminist. It also appears to have made her into a rabid Islamophobe.

In a 2003 review of one of her books, Publishers Weekly concluded that “Chesler’s tone and lack of intellectual rigor will not help her ideas to be heard by those who do not already agree with her.” (Source: Wikipedia.) From the samples of her writings, particularly those about Islam and anti-Semitism, I concur.

But what about Chesler’s feminism? Is she really a feminist or a neo-con masquerading as one?

From what I can gather, Chesler is the kind of feminist who blames the victim. One of her books, Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman, more or less says that women are just naturally competitive with other women, resulting in back-stabbing and general meanness. There is no recognition that women are socialized to be competitive by a patriarchal society that encourages them to stake their identities on the men they can “catch.”  (Full disclosure: I haven’t read the book, just this USA Today interview with Chesler about it, so I realize I may be misrepresenting her views.)

Yes, I know I’m dangerously close to saying that there is only one way to be a feminist or that there is a set platform all feminists have to espouse (pro-abortion, anti-pornography, pro-gay rights, etc.). Although, like all people, I am more comfortable with people who have the same views I do, I recognize that we all have our own versions of feminism, just as we all have our own versions of religion. For instance, Sarah Palin calls herself a pro-life feminist. Some feminists are supportive of pornography and sex work. Many women who hold feminist views don’t identify with the feminist movement because they feel that it is too upper-class and white.

Me? I’m just a feminist who believes that feminism is—or should be—incompatible with any kind of racism, prejudice or hatred. For this reason alone, I find it hard to believe that Chesler is a true feminist.

What’s Up With This? Wednesday: Women in Music

Where are the female Beatles? The female Elvis Presley? Or the female Bob Dylan? Why have so few women made an impact on our popular music culture? There have been many biopics made of male singers and musicians, but hardly any of women. Is it because women aren’t as talented? Or as determined to get ahead in the business? Or because they haven’t been given the chances and the promotion that men have been given? Or are we just more interested in men than in women?

It’s not that women are totally ignored. They have always sold plenty of records. It’s just that they seem to fade from the public’s consciousness as soon as their heydays are over. In my day there was Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Janis Ian, Carol King—who even knows those names today? Even the better-known names like Janis Joplin and Joan Jett have never been given the accolades that their male counterparts were given.

Women have always fared better in country music for some reason. There have been movies made about Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline, for instance. I have a theory about that. The bulk of country music is about topics that are popular with women: love won and lost, getting over (and getting rid of) a love gone wrong, family values, etc. So female country singers are competing on the same playing field as the males are.

The same is somewhat true in blues and R&B—at least when you’re just thinking about singers. There’s Billy Holliday, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Etta James, for instance. But as soon as you start naming famous blues musicians (specifically guitarists), women seem to drop off the radar. Who is there to compare with Stevie Ray Vaughn or Buddy Guy? Is that just because women aren’t as capable of or as drawn to playing the guitar? Or because they can’t get the support—and record deals—that men can?

The situation is even worse for female composers (dead and alive). Can you think of any?

Music isn’t the only field where women are under-represented. But when you think about how music permeates and shapes our culture, it is a little unsettling that women have (seemingly) contributed so little to this process. The strange thing is, topics that women relate to are very popular (even the Beatles started out with “She Loves Me, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah”), but they are co-opted by male singers and musicians. Just like white singers used to co-opt the music of black singers.

Let’s face it: sexism and racism are a lot alike. Both are fueled by the white male’s feeling of superiority. Music producers (who are usually white males, at least until recently) control who gets recorded, and they seem to believe that men will sell better than women. If you doubt that men and women are treated differently, look at the music scene.