I’ll admit it: I’m shocked. As a general rule — and the blowup doll incident that this column is about is Exhibit A — I don’t think particularly highly of sports culture. Fact is, there seems to be a higher instance of misogyny and violence against women in male sports culture, not to mention a higher rate of rape/domestic violence apologism, which is astonishing seeing how much apologism goes on in the rest of the world.
The last person who I expected to call out male athletes for acting like misogynist assholes and to take the feminist side on an issue — particularly one that has “look at the hysterical feminists who can’t take a joke” all over it — is a sports columnist. Just check out these sarcastic and dismissive responses.
But yesterday, Mike Wise from the Washington Post did take the feminist side. And I believe in giving credit where credit is due. After the jump, see his use of the feminist talking point that “boys will be boys” culture not only encourages violence against women, but ascribes men with very little basic humanity or capacity for ethical behavior.
After the blow-up doll controversy in the Chicago White Sox’ clubhouse last week, a number of women’s groups and social engineers predictably weighed in on the issue. In defense, it doesn’t take just an activist to summon emotion when an unidentified player props up two nude, inflatable dolls in an American workplace — dolls with bats strategically positioned around them and one holding a sign that read: “You’ve Got to Push,” a juvenile reference to the White Sox hitting slump.
Anyone with a wife, daughter or sister, or, heaven forbid, a relative who has been sexually abused, has a right to feel offended.
But it’s the backlash over the backlash — men outraged by the outrage — that should make our gender quiver.
After Newsday’s Barbara Barker took aim at baseball and the White Sox in a column, Jack from Chicago responded via e-mail: “Get back in that kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, like you should be.”
After printing this tamer response, I have to ask: As a species, are we subhuman?
Because that is the defense of purported real men everywhere, that: a) we’re male, therefore we are cretins; and b) they’re male baseball players , tobacco-dippin’ Neanderthals. What did you expect, decency? Respect in the clubhouse, a workplace subject to the same laws of discrimination and sexual harassment as IBM or Chipotle? Hah.
Men absolutely have a right to be pissed off about being portrayed in this way as a method of condoning the bad behavior of others. They should be pissed off about rape jokes, too — and yes, I have trouble believing that blow up dolls in a locker room, surrounded by baseball bats while other bats are shoved into their orifices, is a mere “sex” joke. Wise genuinely seems to be exasperated and concerned by the excuses made for less-evolved members of his gender.
People really believe this is merely about a couple of sex toys and a gag gone bad, that it has nothing to do with the males-gone-wild sporting culture we live in.
In HBO’s disturbing documentary, “The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo,” a few rebels actually rationalize their behavior by telling of a mystical belief based in folklore: that raping a woman gives the perpetrator magical powers.
It’s hard to go that far given the circumstances in the White Sox clubhouse, where there are no doubt some intelligent, free-thinking souls who probably felt bullied by the display but felt pressured not to say anything.
But to completely disregard the connection — to not understand the implicit truths and alarming statistics about athletes and sexual assault in this country — is just flat-out negligent.
Here’s the really troubling issue: that some major league baseball players believe the image of a violated woman, in doll form, might be enough to empower men to break free from their anemic hitting slump, that their power and average will return if they just push through.
I’m not the kind of feminist who likes to go around handing out cookies to men for acting like decent human beings — what with it being another way to imply that we can’t and shouldn’t expect very much from them. But I think there’s a big difference between the basic act of not raping or condoning rape in your personal life, and condemning rape and rape jokes by using your large bullhorn at a national paper and credibility within the stereotypically masculine and misogynist culture that needs to hear the message most.
I’ve seemingly developed a talent (perhaps not a very impressive one) of telling which articles/columns are going to generate a bunch of really stupid, self-righteous and angry letters by those who are very indignant that someone attempted to spoil their ignorant world view. Wise is going to get letters. Lots of them. Probably already has. He’ll be called all kinds of misogynistic and homophobic names, have his masculinity called into question, be treated like us feminists who just can’t take a joke and maybe even called a traitor to his gender. (Check out the comments already . . . but be warned that you might not want to.)
So you know what? Dude gets a cookie.
I don’t follow sports at all. And I don’t know Mike Wise from Adam. I don’t know what his other opinions are, what else he writes about or does with his free time. But he did a good and right thing here. . . and while I don’t see it as an obligation on our part by any means to actively support and thank allies, I do think that it’s a good idea. Particularly when we’re dealing with a person who may gain the opportunity again to tell men to stop acting like their Y chromosomes make them assholes and to own up to their own shit.
I also think that while those of us with two brain cells to rub together know intellectually that not all men are misogynistic rapist assholes, it’s occasionally nice to see a concrete example in a public forum. Sometimes we just need a little reminder to combat the bitterness and inspire hope. So I like to share when I can.
EDIT: While going through back emails, I just noticed that reader Niki had sent me the story about the blow up doll incident last week, and it completely slipped my mind. My bad, and thanks Niki!