Monday, May 16, 2005

NCAA addresses Indian Nicknames

The NCAA announced today that it is contemplating how to manage the issue of college teams that continue to use nicknames taken from reference to Indian tribes (Redmen, Utes, Savages, Braves, etc.).

Native American coalitions have asked the NCAA repeatedly to ask its member schools to drop these nicknames. They are seen by Native peoples as derogatory and offensive. Schools, of course, claim that adopting these nicknames is a tribute to the spirit of Native Americans.

Ah, nothing like a little cultural appropriation after you've practiced genocide to try to make up for your actions. I'm sure there are colleges all over Germany with nicknames like "Jews," "Hebrews," "Gypsies," and "Slavs." Those nicknames would certainly honour the spirit of the murdered souls, don't you think?
I'm not sure why this is so difficult for school administrators to get. After all, Stanford made the change years ago, and there doesn't seem to have been a complete collapse of fan loyalty now that it's the Cardinal.

When the NCAA dealt with schools that continue to use the Confederate flag in their school flags, its decision was that schools could continue to participate in their conferences, but various levels of NCAA championships could not take place at those schools. That's quite a financial hit if you are not able to host a regional tournament in a revenue sport.

Now, faced with what is sure to be a hot-button issue, the NCAA is getting ready (after four years of study) to issue recommendations about how to change school mascots and names.

I know that one of the arguments is that no one is asking schools to change their names if they are called the "Spartans" or "Trojans." But those universities do not sit in the middle of conquered or stolen or swindled land, do not sit next to reservations where those native peoples live in some of the worst states of poverty in the country, are not seen as affronts to the people they are meant to honour.

It is time for the NCAA to deal with this matter firmly. There should be penalties attached to Indian nicknames. If you know, for example, that the name of your team hurts the people who are supposedly meant to be honoured by it, why would you resist changing the name?

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Culture of Rape: Spiritual and Physical

When you force religion down someone's throat, something else is sure to follow. I want to talk about the connections between spiritual and physical rape; this morning's report in the New York Times that proseltyzing for Christianity was taking place in a systematic, insensitive way while academy leadership turned its head bears striking similarities to what happened when hundreds of women at the Air Force Academy reported being raped.

A chaplain at the Air Force Academy has described a "systemic and pervasive" problem of religious proselytizing at the academy and says a religious tolerance program she helped create to deal with the problem was watered down after it was shown to officers, including the major general who is the Air Force's chief chaplain.

The academy chaplain, Capt. MeLinda Morton, 48, spoke publicly for the first time as an Air Force task force arrived at the academy in Colorado Springs on Tuesday to investigate accusations that officers, staff members and senior cadets inappropriately used their positions to push their evangelical Christian beliefs on Air Force cadets.

This is not the first time that "insensitivity" has reared its ugly head at the service academies, especially the Air Force:

One female student in seven attending the nation's military academies last spring said she had been sexually assaulted since becoming a cadet or midshipman, according to a report on the first survey of sexual misconduct on the three campuses released yesterday by the Defense Department.

More than half the women studying at the Naval, Air Force and Army academies reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment on campus, according to survey responses. But few of those incidents, and only a third of the assaults, were reported to authorities. A new confidentiality policy for assault victims, also released yesterday, attempts to improve reporting of sex crimes on military campuses.

The survey, conducted largely in response to allegations of widespread sexual harassment and assault at the Air Force Academy in 2003, suggests a prevailing climate at the academies that worries military leaders. Too many students condone off-color jokes and unwanted sexual advances. Too few dare to confront classmates with their transgressions or to report them to anyone else, the survey shows.

Not surprisingly, cadets do not report the sexual assault or harassmen to their commanding officers for fear of retribution. It seems that the commanding officers do not "get" it when it comes to matters of insensitivity.

More on the attempts to promote sensitivity to religious difference:

She said the R.S.V.P. program was significantly altered after it was screened last fall for 300 academy staff members and officers. Military officials confirmed that the program had been altered but said changes were routine in the development of such training programs.

Maj. Gen. Charles C. Baldwin, the chief of chaplains for the entire Air Force, screened the R.S.V.P. program in October, Captain Morton said, and afterward asked her, "Why is it that the Christians never win?" in response to some of the program's dramatizations of interactions between cadets of different religions.

So, being a Christian is about winning?

What's more important is the climate that is perpetuated at the Academy, where being a Christian is the price of serving one's country:

Captain Morton said, "People at the academy were making cadets feel an obligation that they are serving the will of God if they are engaging in evangelical activities, and telling them that this is harmonious and co-extensive with military service."

One staff member who spoke on condition of anonymity said on Wednesday: "There's certainly an impression that evangelicals here have that the leadership is kind of on their side. And there's a feeling among people who are atheists or people who are other varieties of Christian that the leadership does not really accept them."

Now imagine an environment of evangelical Christianity, where women are subordinate to men, and picture how the following are taking place simultaneously:

From the

rape scandal:

"Our goal is to produce military leaders of character," Schmitz said at a news conference. "And obviously, sexual assaults are not a good indication of character. In fact, they're a very bad indication."

Two-thirds of the sexual assaults against men and women -- 248 incidents -- were not reported to authorities, the survey shows. Officials said this is a result of privacy concerns and myriad other factors that deter assault victims from reporting the crime in the general population.

But students reported other factors germane to their campus culture. One is fear among victims that they, too, could be punished for conduct related to the assault, such as underage drinking. Another is a sense of loyalty to classmates. A third is fear of reprisals by classmates or senior officers, according to the survey. Of the 96 cases that women reported to academy authorities, 29 led to criminal investigations, according to the survey. It was unclear how many led to actual charges against the alleged offender.

I think it could be argued that an environment in which loyalty is emphasized, the desire to belong is cemented through the idea that spiritual cohesion is necessary--therefore drop your individual religious identity in deference to the group's--and a belief that there is some kind of "winning" involved when you are successful in defending your faith, are all a fertile breeding ground for attitudes of insensitivity, entitlement, and brutality and power/control that leads to rape.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Rape Your Wife For Jesus

Fuck. Here we go again. W. David Hager--beloved OB-GYN from Kentucky, the man who President Bush wanted to appoint to an essential role in the FDA, the man who refuses to dispense various forms of birth control to his patients because it offends his moral values--that Dr. Moral Values, that one--raped his ex-wife repeatedly from 1995 to 2002, when she finally left him. Oh, and he didn't just rape her vaginally. He raped her anally, while she was taking medication being used to treat her narcolepsy. The man buggered his wife while she slept.

The details can be found in this week's The Nation. The story is sordid, and I don't want to quote any of it here. You can read it for yourself. Quite frankly, the man clearly has serious hang-ups about sex. But duh. Most of us could have told you that given the things he has said and done in the past. He's obsessed with sex; he's obsessed with the idea that women can't be trusted with their bodies, that they need a paternalistic doctor to tell them how their reproductive systems really work, and how if they gave themselves to Jesus, their ills would be cured. (Of course, I gave myself to Jesus, and now he never calls.)

Some of you may remember Hager as the asswipe that the current president (sic)
appointed to the FDA's Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs. He was one of the few members of this committee who voted against making Plan B available over the counter. His reasoning? It would encourage adolescents to engage in unsafe sex. (The fact that he considers Plan B to be an abortifacient was not a factor. Yeah right.)

So, Hager is not exactly the man I want with his hands in my vagina while I'm getting my annual pelvic exam. He and I do not see eye-to-eye on women's health care issues. (Oh god. I just thought about that man's gloved fingers inside my vagina and I think I have to hurl.) My question is, why do misognynistic fucknuts like this go into obstetrics and gynecology? Sheesh. I wonder if it's because he's a little insecure in his manhood? Wants to have power over women? Wants women to come to his office and tell them all about their sexual histories while he hides his woody under his desk while he lectures them on their immoral abuses of their god-given womanly parts? (By the way, this man actually told his wife while he was fucking her that he couldn't tell the difference between her anus and her vagina. Um. That's just a little too frightening for me to even think about.)

So, tell me again. W stands for women? Not quite. W stands behind men who anally rape their wives--better to see the view.

Thursday, May 05, 2005


Last night, I was hanging out with a group of drunks and addicts who are trying to stay sober. The topic was anger. Anger. Shit. An emotion that I'm intimately familiar with, but am only now learning to deal with. Anger, which for me, is perhaps the most complicated emotion I deal with. Anger and I have a history; I bear its scars, most of them internal, unseen by the outside world, but the contours of which I can trace like a map. Anger and grief, anger and self-hurting, anger and addiction.

Why am I telling you this? Because so much of my politics is my attempt to channel the anger, to calm the rage, to make a difference so that the anger I feel does not win. And I struggle with my anger, especially now, when I see what we're up against. I have spent my life wanting to react with the grace of Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. But I'm a mother, and more and more, I find myself reacting to the bullshit with the rage of Medusa. If I could, I'd turn them to stone. Not because I want to hurt them. But because I don't want them to hurt anyone I love ever again.

I started to write out a list of things that make me angry. And I realized that that list would comprise thousands of words. I suspect that many of us are angry about similar things. That there is injustice, and that our government, hell-bent on pursuing the worst of agendae, ignores those of us who want a truly kinder and gentler culture.

I'm a woman. Perhaps it's my gender, perhaps it's the family I grew up in, but anger is the scariest of emotions. I grew up in a situation where expressing anger was the fastest way to provoke someone else's anger; in that environment, those who were bigger hurt those who were smaller. After a while, I learned that anger was a dangerous thing. I turned that anger inward. Rendered powerless, I used my anger to beat the shit out of myself. Eating disorder. Ulcer. Substance abuse.

Only recently have I learned that anger is not my enemy. Anger takes two faces with me, and in learning to intepret which anger I'm dealing with is helping me to become a better political activist.

Anger sometimes makes me flail. I hate flailing. It's like being caught in a current; sometimes, the answer is not to fight, it is to let the water carry you where you need to go. My anger is like that sometimes. If I flail against it, I drown. If I let it carry me, sometimes I come to shore in a new place with a new perspective.

I've learned to ask my anger a question. Is this anger I'm feeling because I feel powerless, because I can't get my own fucking way, because I can't get someone to do the thing I want them to do? Or is my anger pushing me to change something? Is my anger an expression of power or powerlessness?

Addicts know a lot about powerlessness. Powerlessness is the recognition that we don't get to be in charge of the world, as Annie Lamott once said, "It's realizing that you're not secretly God's West Coast representative." Powerlessness is about realizing that each of as individuals make our own decisions, and I don't have control over anyone else's life. So wanting to change someone's behaviour, that's an anger of powerlessness.

The other anger? Well, I consider that to be an anger of empowerment. This government pisses me off. I can write letters to George Bush until my fingers wither and fall off; he's unreachable. There's no point in trying to reason with him. But, there are things I can do with my anger against this man who dares to think of himself as leader of the free world even as he seeks to strip liberties from everyone who does not agree with him.

What can I do? Well, first of all, I can do this. I can write. And then I can choose to write to people who might have access to power that I don't have: my representatives. My senators. Newspapers. I can also make a difference in the lives of my daughters. I can model behaviour for them that will serve them well later in life: if I show them that one can live a life of integrity and passion in the midst of madness, perhaps they can draw on that later in life. I can contribute to organizations that are making a difference in the lives of those we have harmed. I can feed a hungry child. I can read to a child who has no one to read to them. I can realize my true size in this gigantic world while resolving to take up the space that I'm supposed to. (As a woman, taking up space is a revolutionary act.)There are other things I can do: sometimes, I don't know what those are until the anger has battered against me. Anger is my nemesis, but it's also my mirror. It reflects back to me what's important.

For those of you familiar with the Steps, you know I'm attempting to practice the first three steps here.

I'm a control freak. It's part of my addiction. If everyone would just let me be queen of the universe, we'd all live in peace and harmony and justice and love. Really. But the universe seems to have other plans. And so I light my affirming flame, want to burn bright enough so that those in darkness can feel the heat and the light.

And finally, I came across this poem today. I don't know if McKay was talking about The White House in DC, but this is my affirmation today.

The White House
Claude McKay

Your door is shut against my tightened face,
And I am sharp as steel with discontent;
But I possess the courage and the grace
To bear my anger proudly and unbent.
The pavement slabs burn loose beneath my feet,
A chafing savage, down the decent street;
And passion rends my vitals as I pass,
Where boldly shines your shuttered door of glass.
Oh, I must search for wisdom every hour,
Deep in my wrathful bosom sore and raw,
And find in it the superhuman power
To hold me to the letter of your law!
Oh, I must keep my heart inviolate
Against the potent poison of your hate.