No More Olympic Wrestling?: A Gendered Perspective
With the exception of 1900, wrestling has been in every modern Olympic Games since 1896. This past February, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to cut wrestling from the Olympics due to reported low attendance, poor television ratings, and general lack of popularity. Wrestling has two different styles at the Olympic level, Greco-Roman and freestyle. Both will be offered in in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. However come 2020, wrestling – a sport with historic Olympic roots – will likely be slashed from the Olympic platform. In this post David Mayeda explains why the IOC’s decision is a slap in the face to women’s and girls’ sport.
Wrestling is a sport that is dear to my heart. I didn’t go that far with it, stopping after high school to pursue a collegiate track and field journey. Still, I’ll brag a bit about my high school wrestling team. Typically one of the less popular American high school sports, our team had over 100 athletes when I was a freshman. Four years later as a senior, we still had around 80 wrestlers on the team, and we were damn good, winning league championships at every level all four years I was there.
But “wrestling” at my high school actually meant “boys wrestling.” The sport was normalized as a masculine, males-only sport. You didn’t have to qualify naming it as “boys wrestling,” because everyone automatically assumed girls didn’t participate as wrestlers, or that women didn’t lead as coaches. As sociologists, we are trained to question that which is presented as normal – to expose the social forces that construct our everyday lives.
Historically, sport was divided along very gendered lines, even more so than in present time. In early twentieth century United States, sports like boxing, basketball, and track and field were developed as male-only athletic terrain. In contrast, tennis, swimming, and golf, were sports where women could participate with a bit more flexibility. Society’s leaders of that time argued that the physical contact between athletes in sports like boxing and basketball, or the heavy pounding involved in track and field events (e.g., powerful running and jumping) jeopardized women’s reproductive organs. Thus, if women were allowed participation in sport at all, it would have to be in sports that supposedly preserved women’s ability to bear children. Notably, when women did partake in sports like basketball, they were stigmatized for acting in ways that violated “proper” womanhood….
Gendered Degradation Ceremony in J-pop Group AKB48
In every culture there are social norms that govern, or at least guide society. Technically speaking, norms are informal rules that we learn over time as we grow up. Eventually, norms become so commonplace, we stop thinking about them all together. Norms, however, also function as forms of social control – they control our behavior so that we don’t deviate from or challenge the ways society says we are supposed to act. Essentially, there are consequences to breaking social norms, and sometimes, they can be quite harsh. In this post, David Mayeda takes the example of a Japanese pop star that broke the rules and the price she paid publicly.
As the rest of the world finally knows thanks to PSY’s “Gangnam Style,” a quite vibrant popular culture exists across Asia. It has existed for decades in South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and other countries. Like the pop music industries in other countries, popular music in different parts of Asia is shaped by a variety of cultural norms. However, an almost universal norm in any youthful music industry is the tendency for performers to emit sex appeal.
In Japan, women in all female music groups can enhance their sexuality by presenting themselves as especially youthful, sexually innocent (i.e., virgins), and accessible to the male public. This is their expected – even enforced – public face. It is the norm they often follow, reflected heavily in music videos through lyrics, suggestive dance moves, and attire worn….
Preventing Violence Against Women & Girls: New Delhi
Violence against women comes in many forms, existing in varying degrees across all cultures and countries. Among other ways, violence against women happens through intimate partner violence, rape and sexual coercion, human trafficking, and infanticide (for a broad review, see Watts and Zimmerman, 2002). In this post, David Mayeda begins a 3-part series examining cases of violence against women from 2012 that happened in India, Pakistan, and the United States. First off, the tragic case of the 23-year-old female physiotherapy student who was recently sexually assaulted and killed by six male suspects in India’s Capital City, New Delhi.
On 16 December 2012, a 23-year-old female physiotherapy student from New Delhi, India was riding home with her fiance after seeing The Life of Pi when she was sexually assaulted on a bus by six male suspects. The assailants beat her and her fiancée, leaving them for dead. Reports vary, but some suggest the police wasted valuable time arguing over jurisdictional responsibility before helping the young woman. Roughly a week after the assault occurred, the young woman was flown to Singapore to receive further medical care. Unfortunately, the assault was so brutal and her organs so damaged, she passed away in late December. The suspects now face murder charges and the streets of India are alive with fervent protests:
College Sports & Female Objectification
Within numerous American universities, and likely the world, athletic departments and teams are a major force. In many cases, athletic teams bring universities millions of dollars. Stellar teams and individual athletes also bring universities high social status, serving as recruitment tools for future students – athletes and non-athletes alike. In addition to being an economic force and even behind four decades of institutionalized gender equity efforts, university athletic departments still emit heavy patriarchal values. In this post, David Mayeda examines the role objectification played in the recent recruiting of Andrew Wiggins – North America’s top high school male basketball player.
Florida State University’s (FSU) basketball team probably doesn’t stand much of a chance to contend for a national title this year, as indicated by their recent, lopsided loss to intra-state rival, Florida. Still, FSU appears to be in the running to sign North America’s top high school basketball prospect, Andrew Wiggins, largely because Wiggins’s father attended FSU. So if FSU doesn’t have an elite basketball team this year, how might groups within the university try to entice Wiggins?
As shown over at Yahoo!, female cheerleaders were holding signs for Wiggins that read, “FSU Has Hotter Girls” (presumably “hotter” than “girls” at Kentucky, the other university Wiggins is considering attending). Another group of FSU female students wore shirts that spelled out “We Want Wiggins!” Okay, so what? Isn’t this simply part of normal, fun university life? Well, yes, and that is precisely the problem. Here at SIF, we’ve discussed how sexual objectification infiltrates sports media in the past. In this case, we see a major American university perpetuating and trivializing the practice.
Recall, sexual objectification happens when people (most often women or girls) are rendered inanimate objects, void of emotion, feelings, intelligence, and valued only for their sexual accessibility to men. There are a number of strategies taken that can contribute to sexual objectification, including cases where “image[s] suggest that sexual availability is the defining characteristic of the person” (see here for an excellent overview). In the case with FSU and its attempts to lure Wiggins, the female students holding signs represent an alleged widely available range of attractive FSU female students, their supposed primary characteristic being a willingness for Wiggins’s sexual indulgence….
Contemporary Slavery: Thailand’s Matrix of Domination
As has been covered numerous times here in SIF, gender is a social construct ascribed to both males and females. Patricia Hill Collins (1990) argues further that gender operates along side multiple social constructs (race, class, nationality, sexuality) that are enmeshed in a “matrix of domination.” Within this matrix, uneven opportunity structures emerge for individuals who fall into these socially constructed groups. In this post, David Mayeda closes out his series on contemporary slavery by applying Collins’s matrix of domination to a type of work in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where adolescent males and young men are manipulated into commercial sexual exploitation.
On the third night of our anti-slavery tour in Thailand, our group was being led through one of Bangkok’s red light districts. In this environment, sex was not the only thing being sold on the cheap. Tourists could cheaply purchase all kind of things – clothes, weapons, luggage, electronics. Though this was a work trip, the one leisure item I wanted to purchase was a pair of focus mitts for kickboxing. Some popped into my vision and I checked them out. Within a minute, the salesperson dropped his price from 2500 to 1000 baht (about $32 USD).
At that moment, the situation’s realness hit me, and I had a rather uninsightful but powerful reminder of why I was on this trip – to problematize the commodification of human life. We are all commodified to some degree. If you’ve held a job, you and your work skills were commodified as labor. But what if you were the object being commodified, if your body was being sold and your choice to be sold for someone else’s pleasure was minimized, even erased? This is the reality that characterizes sex workers’ lives across the world.
Similar to other countries, Thailand’s commercial sex industry preys on the young and vulnerable. Most of those exploited are young women who might exert elements of choice when working in this environment, though “choice” is minimized by poverty, familial and cultural expectations tied to gender and birth order, and limited employment options. Within this matrix of domination, other women are fully controlled as sex slaves, given literally no choice. This industry also victimizes young men and adolescent boys whose choices are manipulated.
Illustrating that males and females can both be feminized (or masculinized), “boy bars” exist catering to wealthier men from predominantly western countries. The males who work in these bars are typically heterosexual but play a more effeminate role to improve their chances of attracting foreign men who pay for their sexual services. In this context, the Asian males, like their female counterparts in the commercial sex industry, are a commodified form of erotica for the privileged western male consumers (see hooks, 1992)….
DRC Death Toll Exceeds 5 Million & Almost No News Coverage?
In the past few weeks, conflict between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza has received extensive attention in western media, and understandably so. The death toll among Israelis stands at 6 and Palestinians a staggering 160, not to mention the number of injuries and damage of infrastructure. In a bit of a surprise, left-leaning western media has also given a smidgen of attention to ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – a colossal conflict that has been happening since 1998. In this post, David Mayeda reviews Virgil Hawkins’s concept of “stealth conflicts,” which refers to those conflicts happening across the globe that are massive in scope but receive virtually no attention from mainstream media, academia, government, or the general public.
If someone were to ask you what has been the biggest global conflict of the past decade, what would you say? The war in Iraq, in Afghanistan, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the civil war in Syria? None of those responses would be surprising given the amount of attention those conflicts receive from mainstream media. In fact, those are and have been serious conflicts. But what about any conflicts in parts of Africa? Could you even name one?
The reality is, the biggest conflict that our world has seen since World War II revolves around a country in central Africa called the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The conflict is an offshoot of sorts from the 1994 Rwandan genocide, though the violence raging across and around the DRC has festered into its own world war involving a total of nine African countries. Just how big is the conflict in and around the DRC? Since 1998, over FIVE MILLION people have died, many directly at the hands of soldiers and the use of small arms (i.e., guns, machetes). However, far more have died from being rendered internally displaced persons, meaning they have been forced to flee their homes and thus are heavily susceptible to death via disease and malnutrition….
Contemporary Slavery: Connections to Thailand’s War on Drugs
Slavery and other exploitive systems do not exist in a social vacuum. Rather, they are deeply connected with other institutions in society, materialising in ways that intensify existing social disparities. In this post, David Mayeda continues his series on contemporary slavery, based on an August trip that examined the issue in Thailand. Specifically, this post discusses the Thai government’s 2003 war on drugs and its influences on minority group members.
As noted in this series’ first post, the two social groups most severely impacted by Thailand’s policies surrounding statehood are (1) an ethnically diverse range of rural hill tribe Thai, and (2) Burmese migrants, many of whom are refugees. Given these groups’ exclusion from formal citizenry rights and in turn from mainstreamed education and health care systems, they are all the more vulnerable to being exploited as labor, even ensnared in slave-based settings. However, worker exploitation is not the only way in which these groups are systemically mistreated. Broad-based governmental policies directed towards other social issues often have unintended deleterious consequences. Given the extreme power imbalances existing in Thailand, it is unsurprising that minority groups feel the brunt of these wayward policies.
In the 1970s and 80s, the United States and United Nations funded efforts leading to the widespread eradication of opium in Thailand and other countries. As is the common pattern in society, when governmental forces eliminate the production and distribution of one drug without altering the root causes of demand, another drug simply replaces the old one. Thus, the basic drug trafficking system stays in place, only with a different product permeating the market, which is what happened in Thailand. While opium production, distribution, and use still occurs in and around Thailand, between 1993 and 2001, various forms of methamphetamine replaced opium, becoming the more popular drug across Thailand (Wong & Wongtongson, 2006, p. 131)….
Declining Homophobia among Male Athletes
Historically, sport has been constructed as one of the last institutional bastions of hegemonic masculinity where homophobia stands as cultural norm. Such a perspective definitely pervades in numerous sporting contexts. But times are changing. A recent poll of professional athletes conducted by ESPN found that 61.5% and 92.3% of National Football League and National Hockey League players, respectively, support gay marriage. Some professional athletes are speaking up as individuals and collectively as teams to support marriage equality and admonish homophobia in general. In this article, David Mayeda, examines this critical cultural shift in sport.
If you have not read the phenomenal letter Minnesota Vikings punter, Chris Kluwe, wrote to Maryland state delegate, Emmett C. Burns Jr. this past September, well, it is a must read. In the letter to delegate Burns, Kluwe supports Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo in the movement to legalize gay marriage (i.e., marriage equality). Previously, delegate Burns had admonished Ayanbadejo for speaking out in support of gay marriage. Among numerous other gems, Kluwe writes to Burns:
“I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won’t come into your house and steal your children. They won’t magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster…. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?”
Again, the entire piece is a must read.
Kluwe’s and Ayanbadejo’s support for gay marriage reflects a broader and quite radical shift among male athletes – a declining trend in homophobia and being outspoken about it. Another very informative article by NPR notes that although no player in one of America’s four major professional sports (football, basketball, baseball, and hockey) has come out while still a competitive athlete, support for gay rights in these sports is growing. Unfortunately, the fact that gay athletes who are male typically come out after their athletic careers have ended demonstrates the violent forms of social control they fear from athletic teammates, coaches, management, and the broader fan base. However earlier this month, professional boxer Orlando Cruz came out, an especially significant act given that Cruz is still boxing….
Contemporary Slavery: How’s That Shrimp You’re Eating?
One of the frustrating things about studying contemporary slavery is that our consumption is so deeply connected to it. Even if one has an awareness of this connection, it is difficult to escape purchasing items that may have been made in part by slave labour. In this post, David Mayeda continues his series on contemporary slavery, recounting some of the stories he heard from abolitionists regarding the deplorable conditions enslaved workers experienced in Thailand.
Ever wondered how much you unintentionally support modern day slavery? You can test your estimated “slavery footprint” by clicking on the link, below:
I don’t purchase too many electronic gadgets anymore, but I did in the past. I suppose I have a fair number of clothes, virtually no bling, and little in the way of cosmetics. The thing is, I eat a lot, which probably drives my slavery footprint. Unfortunately, my consumption contributes to the enslavement of about 42 people per year, not something I am proud of.
The thing is, my personal connection to slavery is hardly unique. The type of slavery that receives the most media attention is commercial sexual exploitation, but actually, the largest number of people enslaved globally are forced to work in agriculture; this makes sense considering the global market existing for different food types. In Thailand, however, the largest number of enslaved workers are entrapped in the fishing and shrimping industries….
Contemporary Slavery: Developing and Preying on Vulnerability
It is becoming increasingly known among those interested in social inequality and human rights that slavery is a significant part of our global economy. Existing in a variety of forms, slavery has been defined as “the complete control of a person for economic exploitation by violence or threat of violence” (Bales, 2000, p. 462). Differing from slavery in the 19th century, today’s slavery operates in clandestine fashion, hidden from the common consumer’s consciousness behind corrupted bureaucracy, law enforcement, and massive social distance. In this post, David Mayeda begins a 4-part series on modern day slavery, based on a recent trip he took to Thailand through Global Exchange and Not For Sale.
This past August, I took part in a 7-day reality tour through Global Exchange and Not For Sale, examining modern day slavery in Thailand. Our group was comprised of 16 individuals, primarily from the United States, with additional representation from Australia, Japan, and myself coming from Aotearoa New Zealand. We worked in a variety of industries (government, social work, retail, academia), but bottom line, we were all concerned citizens hoping to learn more about this social ill that continues to plague our society.
During our 3 days in Bangkok and 4 days in Chaing Rai and Chaing Mai, we met with activists, teachers, and social workers who were doing what they could with the limited resources they had to combat overwhelming, broad structural forces that maintain today’s slavery systems. In terms of broad sociological causes, contemporary slavery stems from extensive overpopulation, poverty, and corruption between business and law enforcement agencies. As explained in Kevin Bales’s book, Disposable People, those countries that have seen the fastest population growth since World War II (e.g., India, Bangladesh, Nepal) tend to have the most poverty-stricken vulnerable people, who are the most susceptible targets for exploitation.
Before delving into examples of slavery itself, it is critical to understand how the state can be complicit in creating mass vulnerability. In Thailand, those most vulnerable to becoming victims of slavery or worker exploitation in general come from two groups: (1) individuals from rural hill tribes in the northern part of the country, and (2) Burmese refugees seeking work in Thailand and/or fleeing from political instability in neighboring Myanmar….