May 25, 2016

An Unhealthy Prescription

The Price to Play
Like her or not, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s run for the Oval Office has cast a spotlight on a blatant issue in this country – sexism. The U.S. has a long history of sending clarion calls to other countries to end degrading policies toward women and girls that include everything from denying rights to basic education to performing genital mutilation. Although right and noble to advocate for the rights of women and girls in other nations, the U.S. would do well to look at its own policies and barriers designed to make it hard for women to thrive in positions historically dominated by men. From equal pay for equal work to marginalizing a woman based on her looks, America has work to do when it comes to creating a culture of parity for women.

As for Clinton, it’s safe to say that she’s had to take some things on the chin. Some may say it’s par for the course when you run for a public office like the presidency. Others may contend that sexism, by its very nature, is counterintuitive to the democratic ideas that the U.S. has touted since its foundation. Regardless, what America’s discourse has shown is that she has endured jokes and jeers about her bathroom breaks, her appearance, wardrobe and even her voice. Specifically, she has been labeled as shrill and frumpy and more recently called out by the Republican frontrunner as someone who doesn’t look presidential – and – could not garner voter support if she were a man.

According to the book “Masculinity, Media, and The American President” by Meredith Conroy, most American voters view the presidency as a masculine position held by someone with masculine qualities. Many Americans are divided about whether or not a woman should hold the highest office in the land. According to a study published in The Washington Post, parents of daughters are more likely to support Clinton than parents of sons. 

As Clinton trumps America’s idea of who should wear the pants in the White House, she has directly and in some cases indirectly proven that America’s mindset about gender parity requires a reboot. Consider this fact: In America, it is very common for women to handle the household finances, work outside the home while taking care of the home and raising the children. Yet, even with this degree of fortitude, too often women are deemed incapable of succeeding in leadership roles culturally reserved for men.

Clinton’s audacity to run for president and push the envelope further than any other female candidate, ever, has been met with demeaning insults perhaps proportionate to her success on the trail. If being referred to as a “corporate Democratic wh*re” isn’t enough, her voice has been characterized in the media as “loud, flat and harassing to the ear,” and that she has a “decidedly grating pitch and punishing tone.” Bob Woodward, a veteran editor at The Washington Post, said, “She shouts…something unrelaxed about the way she is communicating.” 

Televised Sexism
“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” chronicled not just the trial, but the pronounced sexism that prosecuting attorney Marcia Clark endured. Her hair, childcare issues, parenting abilities, custody battle and leaked nude photos made for insatiable media fodder in 1995.

“As for my hair, here’s the true ‘saga,’” Clark told Salon News. “I had it permed long before the trial. I had two babies at home and no time for hair drama. When the trial started, I got my hair trimmed, which made the perm kink up a bit (less weight on the hair makes it curl up more). Then, when the perm started to grow out and look scraggly, I had no time to get it permed again, so I just blew it out, because my hair is naturally straight. And when I did that, the press had a field day.” Every time Clark walked in the courtroom with a new haircut, the media went nuts. Instead of enjoying the luxury of single mindedly focusing on the job at hand (like most men do), Clark, a tough, skillful and talented leading prosecuting attorney, worried about her appearance. The media reduced her to someone to be looked at and commented on, rather than a person who was leading the prosecution in one of the most publicized trials in American history. The fact that she felt compelled to give a detailed summation of her “hair drama” speaks for itself.

Foul Play
Elena Delle Donne’s WNBA stats are pure gold. In 2015, she was the WNBA’s MVP. Her free throw record is 95 percent accurate, one of the best in basketball history. Last summer, WNBA commented that “her accuracy is virtually unmatched in basketball, period, let alone women’s basketball. Steve Nash (90.43%), Mark Price (90.39%) and Stephen Curry (90%) rank as the top three in free throw percentage in NBA history – albeit with many, many more attempts than Delle Donne.”

The six-foot-five powerhouse expressed frustration with the rampant sexism she and other WNBA players face as athletes in a male-dominated sport. Instead a highlighting her skills on the court, the majority of the headlines pertain to her looks. “I just can’t wait for the day when people want to talk about your skills on the court and not your looks,” she said. One reporter wrote that if you search for Elena Delle Donne on social media, it is evident just how much sexism she faces with “her gender and appearance serving as fodder for discussion instead of her raw and unstoppable skills.”

Women in sports, whether working on the court or off, are especially susceptible to scorn and ridicule laden with sexist overtones. The next story is a bit tough to read, but one that needs to be told.

Editor’s Note: What follows contains references to offensive language meant to address a sensitive but important subject matter. We have opted to infer to certain words as they are too crass to include outright. 

Sports Reporting While Female
The first time sports writer Julie DiCaro was called a c**t (to be replaced by “bleep” from here on) was on a sports blog back in 2006. She had politely disagreed with something a guy had said about the Cubs’ starting lineup, which incited a reply along the lines of “Why would you bat Todd Walker second, you filthy [bleep]?” This same guy had disagreed with other male bloggers but never with the venom and disdain as he showed DiCaro. She said the message got through loud and clear: “You may not share your sports opinion, while at the same time being a woman.”

Almost a decade later in the midst of the Patrick Kane (professional hockey player for the Chicago Blackhawks) rape investigation, DiCaro was working as an anchor for a prominent Chicago sports radio station. After commenting about the case, several unhappy fans hit back hard on social media. One threat hit too close home, literally, as it contained personal details about her life. “I simply did not feel extremely safe walking to my office,” she said. “It didn’t help matters that I, like far too many women, am a rape victim. I wasn’t taking any chances with my safety.”

The threatening tweet was deleted immediately, but other unsettling remarks remained. For context, here are a few: “Hopefully this skank @JulieDiCaro is Bill Cosby’s next victim. That would be classic.” “One of the Blackhawks players should beat you to death with their hockey stick like the WH*RE you are. [BLEEP].” “You need to be hit in the head with a hockey puck by one of the BLACKHAWKS and killed!”

Twitter and Facebook serve as the new frontlines for sexist comments and innuendo. DiCaro says the negative comments aren’t reserved for controversial topics or charged subject matters. “Make no mistake, the very act of maintaining a career in sports journalism is enough to inflame those who feel their special Y-chromosome club is under siege,” she said. 

DiCaro mentions an email that ESPN’s Jen Lada received from another sports fan. It alleged that the only reason she had her job was because she had other uses for her “big mouth” other than sports commentary. Lada said, “When I responded that such vulgarity towards women set a terrible example for his young child (who was prominently featured on the man’s Twitter and Facebook profiles), he replied that his son and his middle school-aged friends agreed with him.” 

DiCaro goes on to say that even when women comment on things that disproportionately affect women – including rape and domestic violence – subjects that demand a female perspective, those “hell-bent on making women feel unwelcome and unsafe respond in the most vile ways imaginable.

“Sadly, the vitriol I’ve experienced on Twitter hasn’t just been in connection with sports. It has also been in speaking out about my own rape—as personal and sensitive a topic as can be imagined.” DiCaro shares some of the backlash she received for discussing her rape: 

“Is it really being a troll to point out the Julie (DiCaro) acts like a total [bleep] on Twitter? I call that keeping it real.” “Innocent until proven guilty??? Protect both parties until the verdict.  ‘****-ing’ [bleep].’” “Who the ‘****’ would rape u? LMAO.” (LMAO is short for “laughing my a** off.)

Sexism and the Rape Culture
Sexism is a close relative to domestic violence and sexual assault. Sexism is defined as prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex. Rape culture is a term that was coined by feminists in the United States in the 1970’s. It was designed to show the ways in which society blamed victims of sexual assault and normalized male sexual violence. 

So, where do we go from here? The angry, sexist commentary outlined in this article depict forms of aggression. If left uncheck, we will breed a younger culture that is even more apathetic to gender equality. 

What hangs in the balance are the little people who are watching and learning cues from the adults closest to them. If they grow up with ambivalence toward women and girls, it is likely they too will parrot the behaviors seen too frequently today.

Sexism against women is rationalized by a spirit of male dominance and superiority. Rape against women, in many cases, is fueled by a need to dominate and control – in an effort to demonstrate superiority. 
This doesn’t suggest that everyone who slings a sexist comment is also a rapist. What it does suggest is this: If sexist behaviors are left unchecked, we will further inoculate future generations against reaching a plateau in American democracy that prescribes gender parity. This includes equal access, equal pay for equal work, a level playing field and a perspective that isn’t confined to rigid, misogynistic gender roles and ideas.  

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author of this article and do not in any way represent the views of any advertiser, organization or any other staff member represented in this issue. Additionally, this article is in no way a political endorsement of one candidate over another. The individuals referred to in this article were selected in an effort to underscore the issue at hand.

About the Writer

Tonia Wright

Publisher, Editor-in-Chief

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