In this five minutes, Jay Smooth attacks the “politics of respectability” and attacks it hard. What exactly will happen, he asks, if Black men pull their pants up? Affordable housing? Well-funded schools? Job opportunities? What is this politics really about? Our shame, internalized racism, and sense of helplessness, he says.
by Sayantani DasGupta MD MPH, Jun 13, 2013, at 12:00 pm
Teen pregnancy, like obesity, is often framed as an “epidemic.” As such, both the “epidemic” of teen pregnancy and the “epidemic” of obesity can be understood through the lens of what sociologist Stanley Cohen popularized as a “moral panic.” In Cohen’s words, moral panics are “condensed political struggles to control the means of cultural reproduction”; additionally “successful moral panics owe their appeal to their ability to find points of resonance with wider anxieties.”
“The Real Cost of Teen Pregnancy” — a public health information campaign launched by the Mayor and Human Resources Administration of New York City in March 2013 — features babies and toddlers, primarily children of color, chastising their teenage mothers. Launched at a time when teen pregnancies have actually declined, primarily due to the availability of safe and affordable reproductive health care, the accusatory “shame and blame” narrative of these images is not only out of proportion to the “problem” it seeks to address, but is weighed down by its obvious cultural narratives about teens of color, poverty, gender and sexuality.
Having a pensive toddler of color next to the slogan “Honestly Mom… chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?” and a weeping boy of color next to the words “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen,” serves to re-stigmatize single teen mothers, encouraging wider social senses of moral outrage, hostility and volatility toward young, predominantly impoverished girls of color. Not unlike cultural narratives about “welfare queens,” the campaign plays into racist and classist fears about sexually active girls of color and teenage mothers who use social services. The message just under the surface here is about the need for social control of “unruly bodies.”
These 4,000 posters, put up in buses and subways, cost a reported $10,000 per year for the city, and have already drawn harsh critique from many. Haydee Morales, vice president for education and training at Planned Parenthood of New York City, for instance, has reportedly suggested the campaign has got it backward. In her words, “It’s not teen pregnancies that cause poverty, but poverty that causes teen pregnancy.”
According to Samantha Levine, a spokesperson for New York’s Mayor Bloomberg, “it’s well past the time when anyone can afford to be value neutral when it comes to teen pregnancy.” Public health campaigns are never value neutral. They communicate social beliefs about normalcy, productivity, desirability, and cultural worth.
An additional cost of the unexamined acceptance of this new teen pregnancy campaign is accepting yet another narrative about individual choice over systemic change. Placing responsibility on the shoulders of the individual, such campaigns silence more complex conversations about accessible and affordable reproductive health care, anti-poverty campaigns, and gender and social justice work. Instead of buying into the “moral panic” of teen pregnancy, perhaps the mayor’s office might look into more long lasting and less stigmatizing possibilities of structural change to improve the lives of young women in New York City.
“Shame and blame” has rarely gotten public health anywhere. In the words of researcher and speaker Brené Brown, “Shame diminishes our capacity for empathy. Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”
by Lisa Wade & Gwen Sharp, Jun 7, 2013, at 12:00 pm
Originally posted in 2012; re-posted because tomorrow is the 145th Belmont Stakes, the 3rd and final leg of the Triple Crown in thoroughbred horse racing. This is the dark side of the sport.
In humans you never see someone snap their leg off running in the Olympics. But you see it in horse racing.
These words, spoken by the equine medical director for the California Racing Board, summarize the truly terrifying absurdity that is horse racing today. A team of investigative reporters at the New York Times has found that over 1,200 horses die at race tracks every year in the U.S. Many of them die immediately after a race, euthanized after their bodies literally crumble underneath them. Their legs break, unable to withstand the forces that the horses exert upon their bodies. People in the industry call it, euphemistically, a “break down.” It occurs 1 out of every 200 times a horse starts a race.
All of these horses are being ridden by a jockey who is pitched off when the horse falls. Moving at upwards of 50 miles an hour, and in the midst of many other horses running at top speed, jockeys are often seriously injured and sometimes killed. Currently there are over 50 permanently disabled jockeys receiving financial assistance from their professional trade association. Jacky Johnson, for example, was paralyzed from the neck down after his horse, Phire Power, broke its leg during a race. He will need a respirator for the rest of his life; Phire Power was euthanized on the track.
Why is this happening?
Because we are making it so.
First, race horses are bred in order to run as fast as possible. Short legs and thick bones slow a horse down, while longer, more delicate legs give them longer strides. Breeders, then, have an incentive to build horses who are both faster and more fragile.
Second, owners may be putting these horses on the track too young. Horses typically start getting raced at 2 to 3 years old, very young for an animal with a lifespan of 30 years. Some argue that the bodies of young horses are not ready to handle the physical demands of racing. This 2-year-old horse, Teller All Gone, broke its leg during a race; it is about to be euthanized:
The owners dumped his body at a junkyard:
Third, there is the drug problem. Many trainers illegally give their horses performance-enhancing drugs. Many of them are experimental and are not yet or cannot be tested for. These include “chemicals that bulk up pigs and cattle before slaughter, cobra venom, Viagra, blood doping agents, stimulants and cancer drugs.”
Built for speed and not safety, on the track too young, and amped up on steroids and other performance-enhancers, these horses are pushed to their limits. Just this week Doug O’Neill, the trainer of I’ll Have Another, the horse set to win this year’s Triple Crown, was fined after his horse tested positive for performance enhancing drugs.
Even more problematic than the doping is the legal practice of giving horses pain-relieving drugs, including cocaine. These mask the pain signals that would otherwise tell a horse to slow down or be careful on the track and also increase that chances that the track veterinarian will miss an injury when clearing the horse to race. The NYT reports that “[a]s many as 90 percent of horses that break down had pre-existing injuries” and they argue pain-masking drugs “pose the greatest risk to horse and rider.” The Louisiana Racing Commission call it “a recipe for disaster.”
The drugs detailed below are what were given to Coronado Heights in the week before he collapsed and was euthanized on the track:
Horse racing is subject to regulation, but these vary by state and are typically very poorly enforced, bringing us to the fourth reason why we see so much tragedy on race tracks. The punishment for violations is insignificant, sometimes only a warning:
Trainers in New Mexico who overmedicate horses with Flunixin get a free pass on their first violation, a $200 fine on the second and a $400 fine on the third, records show… [the state also] wipes away Flunixin violations every 12 months… To varying degrees, the picture is similar nationwide. Trainers often face little punishment for drug violations, and on the rare occasions when they are suspended, they are allowed to turn their stables over to an assistant.
When it comes down to it, many owners and trainers are willing to risk a horse’s life for the chance at the prize money and the less likely a horse is to win, the less they’re worth to the owner, so the harder they’re willing to push it.
The economic incentive to run horses till they die may seem to apply to the highest stakes racing but, in fact, it’s at the lowest end that we see the most disregard for the safety of horses and their jockeys. In the backyards of those casinos where racetracks are now part of the attraction (often referred to as “racinos”), horses and jockeys are a dime a dozen, and the money gives people a reason to break the rules. Meanwhile, the casino tracks are low profile, so they receive even less regulatory attention.
The use of the phrase “break down” to describe a horse who has snapped its own bones in the process of entertaining and enriching human beings is an indication of how nonchalantly industry figures approach this problem. It suggests that these animals, and perhaps their jockeys as well, have been thoroughly objectified: cars break down, air conditioners break down, we break down boxes. The language entirely fails to capture what is happening to these horses. It may very well, however, describe what has happened to the industry and to the basic humanity of its most culpable beneficiaries.
Death at the Track:
Visit the New York Times to watch “The Rise of the Racinos” and “A Jockey’s Story.”
A Brazilian modeling agency, Star Models, recently released a new series of anti-anorexia PSA advertisements. They illustrate one of the ways ultra-thin body ideals characterizing women’s bodies in the fashion industry today are institutionalized, or made part of the way we “do” fashion. Fashion sketches — the way that people communicate designs to one another — idealize these bodies, with their exaggerated proportions, long slender limbs, and expressionless faces. The PSAs place real women alongside the sketches, graphically altered to similar proportions, in order to problematize the ideal.
Sociology professors are constantly asking students to analyze what they might be taking for granted. One issue we take for granted is that the images on the left are what “fashion” looks like and ought to look like. That they are culturally recognizable as fashion sketches speaks to the ways in which hyper-thin feminine bodies are institutionalized at a fundamental level in the fashion industry today.
The Dove Evolution video – as a part of their “Campaign for Real Beauty” — vividly illustrates the work that goes into the production of advertisements. Using a time-lapse video depicting the diverse labor that goes into the production of an ad was a simple illustration of the impossibility of contemporary beauty ideals. Viewers are left thinking, “Of course we can’t look like that. She doesn’t even look like that.”
Star Models’ anti-anorexia ads promote a similar message, but also call our attention to the more dangerous aspects of adherence to industry ideals. Similar to depictions of what Barbie might look like as a real woman, altered images of dangerously thin models aside these sketches have a very different feel from the sketches they imitate.
What is being done about it?
In 2007, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) passed a Health Initiative in recognition of an increasingly global concern with the unhealthily thin bodies of models and whether/how to promote change in the industry. The CFDA is working to better educate those inside the industry to identify individuals at risk, to require models with eating disorders to seek help and acquire professional approval to continue working, to develop workshops promoting dialog on these issues, and more.
The CFDA’s Health Initiative, however, treats eating disorders as an individual rather than social problem. This allows the CFDA to obscure the role it might play in perpetuating cultural desires for the very bodies it purports to “help” with the Health Initiative.
Susan Bordo famously wrote about anorexia as what she termed “the crystallization of culture.” We like to draw firm boundaries between normality and pathology. But Bordo suggests that anorexia is more profitably analyzed as culturally normative than as abnormal. Similarly, Star Models’ PSAs play a role in framing the fashion industry as (at least partially) responsible for ultra-thin feminine body ideals. Yet, they arguably fall short of providing institutional-level solutions as the tagline — ”You are not a sketch. Say no to anorexia.” — concentrates on individuals.
The CFDA’s focus on health initiatives and support for individuals suffering from anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders are critical aspects of recognizing issues that seem to plague the fashion industry. While this surely helps some individual women, the initiatives simultaneously avoid the cultural pressures (in which the fashion industry arguably plays a critical role) that work to systematically conflate feminine beauty with ultra-thin ideals. Similar to problems associated with focusing attention only on the survivors of sexual assaults (failing to recognize the ways that sexual violence is both institutionalized and embedded in our culture), these images simply illustrate that individual-level solutions are unlikely to produce change precisely because they fail to locate “the problem” and ignore the diverse social institutions and ideals that assist in its reproduction.
Thanks to a student in my Sociology of Gender course, Sandra Little, for bringing this campaign to my attention.
American companies that once looked to places like Mexico and China for cheap labor are bringing those jobs back to the U.S. Why? Because prison labor is much, much cheaper. Paid between 93¢ and $4.73 per day, and collecting no benefits, prisoners are a cheap labor source for about 100 companies (source).
What does this have to do with you?
If you have insurance, invest, use utilities, have a bank, drive a car, send a child to school, go to a dentist, call service centers, fly on planes, take prescription drugs, or use paper, you might be benefiting from prison labor.
If you’ve bought products by or from Starbucks, Nintendo, Victoria’s Secret, JC Penney, Sears, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Eddie Bauer, Wendy’s, Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Fruit of the Loom, Motorola, Caterpiller, Sara Lee, Quaker Oats, Mary Kay, or Microsoft, you are part of this system.
For an extensive list of the companies contracting prison labor, click here. You might also find interesting the video clips, embedded in this news story, of promotional videos by prison corporations that attempt to sell the idea of prison labor to companies:
Last week I posted about our college President’s suggestion that he is disinclined to believe students who report sexual assault. In response to this, and a series of other problems with our sexual assault policy, the Occidental Sexual Assault Coalition is filing a federal complaint with the Office for Civil Rights and a Clery Act complaint. No longer confident that our President and his administration will agree to implement the best practices for reporting and adjudicating sexual assault, faculty and students are turning to external mechanisms.
These seem like extraordinary measures, but I want to be clear that there is nothing extraordinary about the number of sexual assaults or the mishandling of reports by the Occidental administration. Occidental is no more or less unsafe than the vast majority of residential colleges and universities around the country. College attendance is a risk factor for sexual assault — it raises the likelihood that a person will be a victim of an attempted or completed assault — and Occidental is no different in that regard.
Instead of a sign that Occidental has a uniquely broken system, the activities on campus reflect a commitment to making the college a nationwide model. You see, we do believe that Occidental is different than other colleges. It’s extraordinary. And we’re committed to holding it to a higher standard. We want Occidental to usher in a new era of sexual assault policy and improved campus sexual culture. There will be a day when honest, transparent, and fair reporting and adjudication of sexual assaults will be the norm. When that happens, the approach we find on essentially all college campuses today — a high rate of non-report, pressure on victims to stay quiet, sloppy and biased adjudication, and suppression of sexual assault data — will be considered backward, inhumane, and unjust. That day is coming, and we want Oxy to get there first.
My best friend’s car has four cup holders in the front seat. FOUR. I would ask what a person does with four cup holders, except I’m too busy feeling jealous. I drive with a measly two.
Cup holders, or what the US News and World Report quaintly called ”crannies for drinking cups” as late as 1989, weren’t considered an automotive necessity until the ’50s. That was when, reports Bon Appetit, “drive-ins and drive-thru windows became mainstays of American eating.” Before then, people were expected to stop for food and drink and then be sated. Can you imagine?
It took a long time, though, for the automobile industry to figure out exactly how to deliver us our cup holders. First there was a “snack tray for car,” as pictured in a 1950 newspaper ad:
Companies also sold between the seat inserts that held cups and Cadillac sold a limousine with magnetic cup holders:
The cup holder as we know it today came to us in 1983 alongside another innovation: the mini van. The first cup holders ”sunk into the plastic of the dashboard” were installed in the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager. It would be a decade, though, before cup holders came standard in essentially every car.
Earlier this year a coalition of students and faculty at my institution, Occidental College, convinced the administration to make several changes to its sexual assault policy. One of these changes involved the addition of reports of sexual assault to our OxyAlert system. This meant that any time there was a report of a sexual assault, the college community would receive an email saying so, just as we now get alerts of all other crimes that are reported to have occurred in the vicinity. The administration agreed to do this.
Last week the students learned of a report of a sexual assault second-hand (from the media), simultaneously discovering that the administration had declined to send out an OxyAlert in response. Considering this a betrayal of their agreement, the students organized a march, petition, and tumblr.
Photo credit: Elke Teichmann
In response, the president of Occidental College, Jonathan Veitch, wrote a letter to the campus community. In it, he confirms what the students of Occidental fear: he is inclined to disbelieve students that report sexual assault. He writes that OxyAlerts in cases of reports of sexual assault are not “possible or desirable” because:
In the first few hours, days or even weeks, it is not always clear what has happened in incidents like these. Investigators need time to sort through conflicting accounts in order to provide a clear narrative of what took place.
By suggesting that “incidents like these” need vetting, Veitch is reproducing a bias against sexual assault victims that feminists have been trying to eradicate for decades. He is saying that sexual assault reports must be “sort[ed] through,” but reports of all other crimes can be taken at face value. In other words, there is nothing wrong with the OxyAlert system per se, he just doesn’t think that women who report sexual assaults should necessarily have access to it. This is unacceptable.
In fact, all crimes can be falsely reported and there is no evidence that reports of sexual assaults are more likely to be false than other reports of other crimes. The sparse research is inconclusive: some find that sexual crimes are more often reported falsely, some find less. So Veitch is on shaky ground suggesting that the college has a right to treat reports of sexual assault as hypothetical. Moreover, the OxyAlert system is not judge and jury. In all cases — whether it informs the community about a mugging, a stolen car, or a sexual assault — it simply states that there has been a report.
While I will admit that sexual assault is often complicated, this is a very black-and-white issue. Sexual assault is a crime, Occidental has a system for alerting people to reports of crime, when a person reports the crime of sexual assault, that report should be included in this system. To do otherwise is to allow college policy to be driven by the belief that women are uniquely untrustworthy and prone to malicious lies. That is bias against women, plain and simple.