“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK day, commemorating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., is one which inspires an ethic of service across the United States. In the wake of the horrific earthquake in Haiti, we along with many others in the U.S. and across the globe are compelled to turn our attention, concern, and service toward the people of Haiti.

Haiti is approximately 90 miles from Cuba, 680 miles from Miami, Florida, and 660 miles from Caracas, Venezuala.


United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the aftermath of the Jan. 12, 2010 Haiti earthquake as “one of the most serious humanitarian crises in decades” … “The damage, destruction and loss of life are just overwhelming,” Ban said after witnessing it first hand (Huffington Post Jan. 17, 2010).

The scramble to salvage lives is still on, with untold numbers still trapped under slabs of concrete. Tens of thousands are in need of immediate medical care, as well as food, water, and shelter. Meanwhile many are also deeply worried about the days, weeks, years, and decades to come. Where does one even begin in helping Haiti, with such a shattered infrastructure and pervasive poverty? How did Haiti get to be so poor and shattered to begin with?

Paul Farmer, Ph.D. M.D., an internationally recognized health scholar, activist, and practitioner (working in Haiti for 15 yrs, author of several books and articles including Pathologies of Power, and founder of the non-profit organization Partners in Health), has coined the term “structural violence” to explain how patterns of poverty and human misery are linked to particular global social-economic contexts:


The term “structural violence” is one way of describing social arrangements that put individuals and populations in harm’s way … The arrangements are structural because they are embedded in the political and economic organization of our social world; they are violent because they cause injury to people (typically, not those responsible for perpetuating such inequalities). With few exceptions, clinicians are not trained to understand such social forces, nor are we trained to alter them. Yet it has long been clear that many medical and public health interventions will fail if we are unable to understand the social determinants of disease. (Farmer et al, 2006).


While structural violence is not the cause of Haiti’s earthquake, it has everything to do with the context of Haiti before, and now potentially also after, the earthquake. The concept of structural violence can be seen as intimately connected to all health and life outcomes including issues related to sexuality to sexual health. In their book, Sexuality, Health, and Human Rights, Correa, Petchesky, and Parker apply this sort of holistic thinking to encourage sexuality scholars to reject false divisions between “erotic justice and social justice (and consequently between movements for sexual rights, and those aimed at economic development and ending poverty and war)”… “Such a division makes no sense in the context of real people’s lives,” they state. They continue by arguing that:

“Treating sexuality as something separate from political economy ignores the fact that health care access, affordable housing, adequate nutrition, safe environments, and secure livelihoods are indispensable for safe and pleasureable erotic experience to be real.” (Correa et al., p. 220, 2008).

The need for help in rebuilding Haiti is comprehensive, across all occupational and institutional sectors. It is important to support groups such as Partners in Health which address both the immediate health and human needs and also work toward alleviating the structural causes of inequality.

“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.-MLK


Recommended reading:

This post by Edwin Okong’o comes via Rh Reality Check. Okong’o is a contributing blogger at RhReality check and an editor at New American Media (where the story was originally posted). Okong’o explains the cultural context under which the Ugandan “kill the gays” legislation could occur (Why Uganda? Why not Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, or Wyoming — where plenty of people hate gays?). Okong’o’s answer points in part to deep seated white supremacist beliefs — both by the religious proselytizers/colonizers and the religious proselytized/colonized:

“Having gone through schools reading mostly textbooks written by white men, Africans are programmed to accept any Western literature. Add the word of God to that and the white man’s message becomes gospel truth. That’s why when a white religious fanatic like Scott Lively writes in his book, “The Pink Swastika,” that Nazis committed the Holocaust because they were gay, without hesitation Africans promise ‘to stand firm to fight homosexuality.'”

Please read on below:

By Edwin Okong’o, New America Media

picture-3161January 13, 2010 – 7:00am

There is a joke among Africans about how colonialism began. A Christian missionary came with a Bible in hand, told our ancestors to bow their heads for a prayer, and when they opened their eyes their land was gone. Today, the same can be said about African constitutions.

American religious right-wingers are flocking to Africa and are having more success in passing new legislation criminalizing homosexuality there than they are having in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia.

The most vicious of those laws is in Uganda, where Parliament is now considering a bill that would make some homosexual acts punishable by death. Although they have denied it, evidence suggests that American right-wingers are in the forefront of this war on homosexuality.

Among them is the Fellowship Foundation, better known as the Family, a secretive but powerful evangelical club that includes U.S. senators and congressmen. Republican senators Jim Inhofe, Tom Coburn, John Ensign, Jim DeMint and Sam Brownback belong to the group. The group includes members like Mike McIntyre, a conservative Democratic congressman, who believes that the Ten Commandments are “the fundamental legal code for the laws of the United States.”

Publicly, the Family’s most prominent event is a National Prayer Breakfast held in Washington, D.C., which has been attended by congressmen, senators, and even presidents. In his book, “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,” New York University scholar Jeff Sharlet writes that of the Family’s $14 million budget, “the bulk of it, $12 million, goes to ‘mentoring, counseling, and partnering with friends around the world.'”

In other words, having failed to turn the United States into a true “Nation under God,” American evangelicals are going to Africa to satisfy that calling. Is there a better place to create Christian nations than in a continent with nearly 500 million impoverished believers, and easily corruptible governments? Similar laws have been proposed, or exist, in Nigeria, Burundi, Rwanda and Malawi.

“You develop a relationship with the [African] presidents in the spirit of Jesus,” Sen. Inhofe said in a February 2009 interview posted on the website of Faith and Action, an evangelical Christian group, whose “mission is to awaken the conscience of our nation by proclaiming Truth to those in positions of power.”

In his book, Sharlet writes that Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni is the organization’s “key man” in Africa. Museveni’s relationship with the Family goes as far back as 1986, when he came to power following a bloody civil war. David Bahati, the Ugandan lawmaker who introduced the anti-gay bill, is also a member of the Family.

U.S. evangelical groups have gotten so close to African religious and political leaders that they openly conduct their hateful crusades. In early March 2009, for example, U.S. religious extremists played a central role in the “Seminar on Exposing the Homosexuals’ Agenda” held in Kampala, Uganda. Among speakers was Scott Lively, a California evangelical pastor who heads Abiding Truth Ministry.

Rev. Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian priest who went undercover to the “viciously homophobic” conference, quoted one Ugandan attendee as saying, “The man of God (Scott Lively) told us about…a movement behind the promotion of homosexuality. … I got to know that there is a force behind homosexuality, which we need to tackle with force. He also told us that these people who are behind this…evil, they have all resources that they need…to spread this evil. We need to stand firm to fight homosexuality.”

Evangelicals have managed to succeed in promoting homophobia by taking advantage of Africans’ lack of adequate information. They have presented homosexuality as a new “culture,” rather than something that has existed all along.

Kaoma quotes yet another Ugandan from the anti-gay conference: “Dr. Scott told us about Brazil where, 10 years ago, homosexuality was unheard of. Today, it is the capital. There are people that have been against homosexuality that are having to leave because of the pressure and the threats that they are putting on them. That is how serious it is.”

Africans take such filth without questions because they suffer from a severe case of inferiority complex. Even worse, they staunchly believe in the supremacy of the white man. Ill-informed Christians like the ones Rev. Kaoma quotes above, place the white man immediately below the Holy Trinity, a belief with its roots in the colonial era.

Growing up in Kenya, I heard stories about how supernatural the white man was. When we did well in school, our parents and teachers said we were as intelligent as white men. When you went to take a bath, Ma told you to come out as clean as a white man. If the white doctor at the hospital failed to diagnose your disease, death was imminent.

Even among the “educated,” this plague runs deep. In 2006, I mentioned to my younger brother — a graduate of a Kenyan university — that I had co-taught a writing class at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was studying journalism.

“Come on! Stop playing,” he brushed me off and laughed.

When he was finally convinced that I was telling the truth, he asked, “Were there white students in the class?”

Having gone through schools reading mostly textbooks written by white men, Africans are programmed to accept any Western literature. Add the word of God to that and the white man’s message becomes gospel truth. That’s why when a white religious fanatic like Scott Lively writes in his book, “The Pink Swastika,” that Nazis committed the Holocaust because they were gay, without hesitation Africans promise “to stand firm to fight homosexuality.”

As I ponder over this issue I’m reminded of the 1980s, when Reinhard Bonnke, a German evangelist who claimed to have healing powers, visited Kenya. Business came to a halt, as people with all kinds of ailments traveled to Nairobi to seek his miracles. Kenyans flocked Bonnke’s sermons because they believed that as a white man, he was closer to Jesus Christ than were black evangelists.

If Archbishop Manassas Kuria, who at the time was the Anglican primate of the Church of Kenya, had called a press conference to announce that he had healing powers, they would have laughed at him, and perhaps accuse him of blasphemy. Black clergymen do not perform miracles.

The belief that black people can only speak to God through white men is illustrated in the same interview Sen. Inhofe gave to Faith and Action. Inhofe describes the Family’s work in a “miserable” village in Benin. The hamlet’s name translates to “Village of Darkness,” he says, and children “drink mud and die of dysentery.” The evangelicals rescue the village by providing sanitary water.

When residents ask why the evangelicals have decided to shine light on the village, the Americans say, “Because we love you.” And when they ask, “Why do you love us?” they answer, “Because Jesus loves us.”

No one asks why Jesus didn’t send love directly to Africa without going through middlemen. Inhofe says today the village has changed its name to “The Village of Jesus”, thanks to the Savior’s “miracles.”

Now imagine telling such people that the “force behind homosexuality” threatens to corrupt their children and anger Jesus. They will “stand firm to fight” this “evil.” Enacting laws allows them to hide the blood in their hands.




We welcome this guest post from Associate Professor Ruth Gregory on women’s reproductive rights and athletics. The first picture below is a picture of Ruth with competitive downhill skiiers who have been denied entrance into the Olympics!
With the Winter Olympics right around the corner, there is excitement in the air in the Pacific Northwest. Vancouver and Whistler, Canada, the sites of the 2010 Winter Olympics, are just a short drive away. However, the one sport that I hoped to watch at this year’s games is also the one sport that you won’t see women competing in – ski jumping. Ski jumping and its sister sport Nordic Combined (a combination of ski jumping and cross country skiing) are currently the only sports in the Winter or Summer games that do not have a division for female competitors.

In 2002 I met American ski jumpers Lindsey Van and Jessica Jerome.  At the time they were goofy teenagers with an intense desire to jump off of the sides of mountains at upwards of 60 miles per hour. A couple of months prior to our introduction Van and Jerome had warmed up the ski jumps for the men at the 2002 Olympic Games in their hometown of Park City, Utah. Van had been jumping since she was a child and knew the games were coming to Salt Lake City for several years prior.  She was interviewed by several media outlets and even featured in a Warren Miller film (Freeriders) and every time she said the same thing, “I want to compete in the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.” However, her dream of jumping in Jump Like a Girlthe Olympics in her hometown never came to pass.

My filmmaker partner and I made a documentary film about Van and Jerome from 2002 to 2005. At the time they were hoping to be included into the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. However, the International Ski Federation denied them the opportunity to compete in a World Cup, a requisite precursor to the Olympics, and the women were barred from the games again.

Our subsequent documentary, Jump like a Girl, was screened around the globe and represented the first of several documentaries that have been made about the struggles of female ski jumpers. Recently, the news broke that although women had finally competed at the World Cup level (Lindsey Van was the first women’s world champion in 2009) they were still being denied entrance into the 2010 Winter Olympics by the International Olympic Committee. An article from OntheSnow.com highlighted the women’s journey and their continued frustration:

“It’s absolutely absurd, absolutely ridiculous,” top American jumper Lindsey Van said last season. “It’s 2009 and this is almost like a joke. I don’t have words for it anymore, it’s so beyond maddening.”

Lindsey Van answers questions for the press after a recent Canada court ruling regarding the fate of female ski jumpers in the Olympics.  Photo: The Canadian Associated Press.
Lindsey Van answers questions for the press after a recent Canada court ruling regarding the fate of female ski jumpers in the Olympics. Photo: The Canadian Associated Press.

After beating their heads against the stone wall of the IOC – their view – Van and 14 other women jumpers filed a lawsuit against VANOC, the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Their basis? Canada has laws against gender discrimination, VANOC is a quasi-governmental organization, and $120 million in public funds have been spent on athletic facilities at the Vancouver Games. They lost, and then appealed to the Canadian Supreme Court, which has decided not to hear the case. Attorney Ross Clark, lead counsel for the women, said,

“We are very disappointed the Supreme Court of Canada does not view this as matter of national importance and will not have the opportunity to hear our arguments. This case was not just about women ski jumpers. The textbook gender discrimination found by the lower court judge should have been examined by the highest court in the land in light of its significance to our Charter case.”

Lindsey Van at the Ski Jumping World Championships in 2009.
Lindsey Van at the Ski Jumping World Championships in 2009.

The reasons for not allowing women to ski jump at the Olympic level are varied. First, there is the argument that these female athletes are not good enough (as if this is ever asked of male athletes). There is the contention that the field is too small (at the Olympic level there is a concern that every sport must have high level competitors from multiple countries). But the reason that always confounded me was that there was a rumor that ski jumping damaged women’s ovaries and could lead to infertility.

While no one could substantiate this claim and it never applied to male competitors’ reproductive abilities, the rumor floated in the background of the many conversations that I had with coaches, ski jumpers, and parents over the three years I was a part of the ski jumping world. It also resurfaced in a recent article about the reasons why women were not going to be allowed into the 2010 games: Canadian Walter Sieber, an IOC member who recommended not including the women’s ski jump in the 2010 games, maintains that the decision was not gender-based. Sieber recalled the decision by the IOC to add women’s boxing to the Olympics as proof of the organization’s “true colors.”

But statements made in 2005 by Gian Franco Kasper, president of the International Ski Federation, tell a different story. According to Bryant, Kasper said ski jumping “seems to not be appropriate for the ladies from a medical point of view.” (emphasis mine) Arguing that the women should be included is a moot point; it is something that should have happened long ago. Even the general Canadian population agrees: in a recent poll in Canada 73% of those queried said that women should be allowed to jump in the 2010 games. Canada boosts a strong field of female ski jumpers and so their exclusion makes no logistical or logical sense; the possibility of Canada earning medals in women’s ski jumping is high.

Therefore, the true reason why women will not be allowed to jump remains a partial mystery. Interestingly, the argument that ski jumping leads to infertility in women has a long history in the oppositional rhetoric regarding female entrance into the masculine realm of athletics. Susan Cahn writes extensively about this tension in her book Coming on Strong: Gender and Sexuality in 20th Century Sport.  She states:

“Athletics has long been the province of men…  For many men sport has provided an arena in which to cultivate masculinity and achieve manhood” (3). Many of the opposers to the feminine entrance into sports “…worried that women could ‘feminize’ sport, diluting its masculine content and wording the boundary between male and female spheres of activity” (4).

While women’s inclusion in the world of ski jumping is a contemporary example of the fears of feminization at play in sport, historically the exact same argument (that participating in sport could lead to infertility and that it would damage their health) was used to keep women out of competing in marathons. The first women on record to complete the marathon was Roberta “Bobbi” Gibbs. She stated that she, initially, did not even realize that women were not allowed to run in marathon races.  She just loved to run and so in 1966 she wrote to the Boston Athletic Association that she wanted to compete the Boston Marathon. As Gibbs records in her book, A Run of One’s Own,

“Will Cloney, the race director, wrote back a letter that said that women were not physiologically capable of running 26 miles and furthermore, under the rules that governed international sports, they were not allowed to run.”

“I was stunned. ‘All the more reason to run,’ I thought.”

“At that moment, I knew that I was running for much more than my own personal challenge. I was running to change the way people think. There existed a false belief that was keeping half the world’s population from experiencing all of life. And I believed that if everyone, man and woman, could find the peace and wholeness I found in running, the world would be a better, happier, healthier place.”

Bobbi Gibbs ran the race with hood over her head and without an official start number. She finished in the top third of the marathon in 1966 and completely shattered all beliefs about women being physically capable of running in the marathon.     Katherine SwitzerHowever, the following year another women, Katherine Switzer, entered the race as a man and was discovered on the track by an official who, literally, tried to push her off the road due to her gendered transgression.

Despite the amazing accomplishments of female marathon pioneers who proved that women could run a marathon and do well, even in a field of men, the International Olympic Committee did not allow women to run the marathon in the Olympics until 1984, almost twenty years after the first women publically competed in the marathon.

The argument that running the marathon or ski jumping could damage women’s ovaries and lead to infertility is also deeply rooted in the historical oppression of women. The need to protect women’s health from harm was one of the reasons that women where initially barred from higher education in the 1800s. An article called “Early College Women: Determined to be Educated” cited one influential medical professional in particular: Some of the harshest were medical personal who felt that

“…a girl could study and learn, but she could not do all this and retain uninjured health, and a future secure from neuralgia, uterine disease, hysteria, and other derangements of the nervous system,” according to Dr. Edward Clark in his widely respected Sex and Education published in 1873. (emphasis mine)

In 1986 Micheal L. Berger delivered an essay entitled “Women Drivers! The Origins of a 20th Century Stereotype

“that detailed how a women’s delicate physique was one of the reasons that women were not allowed or encouraged to drive when automotives first became popular. However, the denotative reason to keep women from behind the wheel was actually more about “keep[ing] women in their place and to protect them against corrupting influences in society, and within themselves” (257).

Interestingly, the contemporary discussion of whether or not any activity could lead to female infertility indicates that there is still a prevailing belief that the ultimate goal for all women is to reproduce; that our lives outside of motherhood are not nearly as important. This type of rhetoric almost never burdens men (the only example that I know of is discussion of high performance male bicyclists and the potential damage that sitting for extended amounts of time could do to male reproduction). This is despite the fact that several performance enhancement drugs that are widely used by professional and amateur male athletes are known to lead to lower sperm counts and, even, erectile dysfunction. Undoubtedly, someone is trying to keep female ski jumpers in “their place” by barring them, once again, from competing in the Winter Olympics.

When I set out to make Jump like a Girl in 2002 I picked the story of women ski jumpers because their trials were akin to my own struggles as a female athlete growing up.  As someone who enjoyed more “masculine” sports (soccer, track and field, basketball) there was always a feeling of transgression whenever I played that I could never really pinpoint the source of.  I never realized that underneath Lindsey Van’s and Jessica Jerome’s public struggle to ski jump in the Olympics there were also broader issues of female sexuality that have plagued women for centuries.  The plight of female ski jumpers still indicates that we have a long way to go for gender and sexual equity and freedom.  What I hope to see in the future is akin to what Bobbi Gibbs wrote:

“I have always had a vision of a world where men and women can share all of life together in mutual respect, love and admiration; a world where we find health through exercise and through the appreciation of the spirit and beauty of the world and of each other; a world based on love and individual integrity, where we all have a chance to do what we most passionately love, to help others, and to become all we can become.”

Let’s continue to make that vision a reality. Let the women jump.


Ruth Gregory is an Associate Professor of Digital Filmmaking at Shoreline Community College as well as a student in the Masters of Arts in Cultural Studies program at the University of Washington Bothell.  She is new to the blogging sphere, but her other experiments with writing for the ‘net can be read here: http://ruthconsumessomemedia.blogspot.com/


Female Ski Jumping References and Resources:

Other Cited Resources:

Other Resources Regarding Women in Sport:

  • www.womenssportsfoundation.org
  • Lenskyj, Helen. Out of Bounds: Women, Sport, and Sexuality. Toronto: Women’s Press, 1986.
  • Smith‑Rosenberg, Carroll.  Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.
  • Burstyn, Varda.  The Rites of Men:  Manhood, Politics, and the Culture of Sport. Toronto:  University of Toronto Press, 1999.

Asking if the “G-spot” exists can be a bit like asking if God (the other G-spot) exists: It depends on who you ask. And in both cases, science is (thus far) ill equipped to adequately measure either G-spot.

For the women’s G-spot, lack of scientific data is due mostly to a lack of guts or interest in measuring a woman’s vagina while being penetrated (no one has done anything close to this since Kinsey). As a result, tales of the G-spot is to this day are seen by scientists as anecdotal at best.

In an attempt to study to G-spot empirically yet “safely” (given the testy political climate for sex researchers), a group of British researchers decided to investigate the question by …

  • Observing women having penetrative sex?
  • Asking women to keep detailed sex journals?
  • Giving women physical exams looking for variations in vaginal interiors?
  • Asking women to test for themselves the area known as a G-spot, and report back to researchers?
  • Investigating a possible relationship between women’s level of curiosity and openness to sexual pleasure, and their understanding of their “G-spot”?

No. The researchers simply created a survey and asked a bunch of female twins if they “believed” they had a “so called G-spot.” Guess what they found?

They found that 56 percent of respondents answered “yes” and that there was no genetic correlation (CNN).

To translate: by “genetic correlation” researchers simply mean that identical twins didn’t give the same answer to the question of whether or not they believed in a “so called G-spot.” (Even though this could simply mean that these twins haven’t had exactly the same sexual partners, exactly the same sexual experiences, and exactly the same sexual education).

Let’s put this into context. What if researchers asked instead if subjects “believed” there is a “so called God”? And what if there was not a statistically significant correlation for twins who both believed in God? Would this mean that scientific researchers could conclude that  a) God is not real, and b) that God (not a belief in God, but that God) is NOT is genetic?  Of course not. The question itself is absurd, as belief systems are not genetically ingrained. They are learned within particular social contexts.

Here’s the point: data about “beliefs” can only be generalized to beliefs and not extended to make absolute truths claims. Despite news headlines now claiming that the “G-spot doesn’t exist,” all this survey tells us is that some women believe in the G-spot, and some don’t. While a sample of identical twins offer researchers the joy of being able to control for biological variation, in my opinion that this study was a waste of the twins’ time.

These are the kind of sexual research methods that drive critical sexuality researchers CRAZY.

Thank “god” there are other sexual researchers who can help us interpret these results. These critical researchers include Debby Herbenick (quoted below in an article from CNN):

The definition of G-spot in the study is too specific and doesn’t take into account that some women perceive their G-spots as bigger or smaller, or higher or lower, said Debby Herbenick, research scientist at Indiana University and author of the book “Because It Feels Good.”

“It’s not so much that it’s a thing that we can see, but it has been pretty widely accepted that many women find it pleasurable, if not orgasmic, to be stimulated on the front wall of the vagina,” said Herbenick, who was not involved in the study.

Thank “god” we also have sex-positive sexual health educators to also help interpret these data, such as the folks at Babeland, a women-owned sex toy store. Babeland bloggers immediately hit upon this story yesterday (they were also interviewed for a local TV news show in their Manhattan location). Babeland blogger Dallas had this to say about the British study:

I have to take serious issue with this research. First, the researchers (or the author of the article) apparently don’t know what the G-spot is. It’s not nerve endings only, but a collection of glands and ducts that surrounds the urethra. Anatomical dissection has already proven that this exists. Defining the G-spot as nerve endings leads me to believe what the research really wanted to know is “do all women experience pleasure from G-spot stimulation?” which is a very different question. Every day when I talk to customers, I have to remind people that everyone is different. What may work for one person won’t work for the next. Thus, I would not be surprised to find that many women didn’t really feel much pleasure when stimulating the G-spot. That’s not the same thing as saying it doesn’t exist.

That said, the researchers relied on women’s self report of whether or not they felt anything. Although I’m all for listening to what women have to say about their bodies, I’ve also talked to hundreds of women about their G-spots and many of them had misunderstood where their G-spot was or how to stimulate it. They were under the impression that their G-spot did nothing for them when in fact, it may have just needed a different touch. Self report can be a terrific way to do research, but in a world where misconceptions about the G-spot abound, it may not accurately reflect women’s G-spot pleasure potential.

I’d love to see a study measuring the changes in G-spot sensations after reading a good book about the G-spot or after attending one of our G-spotworkshops.


Sounds like a perfectly reasoned challenge to me! Scientific G-spot researchers: I encourage you to collaborate with Babeland educators in your next round of investigations.


In his book, Telling Sexual Stories: Power, Change, and Social Worlds (1995, Routledge), Ken Plummer explains that when individuals narrate seemingly internal and personal stories about their sexuality, these aren’t very individual or internal at all. Rather, such narratives emerge in themes that are made possible due to specific cultural and political conditions; sexual stories are thus part of larger sexual storytelling culture, and can be understood and made meaningful and visible only via existing cultural frames.

In 1995 Plummer documented three kinds of emerging sexual stories: rape stories, coming out stories, and recovery stories. The year of 2009 brought several unique opportunities of its own to tell sexual stories. Some of these stories reaffirmed and revisited familiar plots to “old” sexual stories, while some forged new territory. We have decided to group this year’s stories (which we have selected with a highly subjective and US based lens) into themes; each theme is a compilation of several individual stories, forming what we see as a larger set of cultural stories being told about the pleasures and dangers of sexuality, and the roles of social institutions in regulating and redefining normative sexual boundaries. Thanks to Phil Cohen, Holly Lewandowski, and Amanda Hess for story leads. Also, thanks to RhReality Check’s Amy Newman for her list of top stories from 2009 (from which we borrowed a few).

#10. “Squeaky-clean”-men-who-cheat stories, starring Tiger Woods!Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren

In her recent article on Tiger Woods, Shari Dworkin debunks widespread psychological and “sex addiction” explanations for Tiger Woods’ affairs:

“Recent media coverage of Tiger Woods’ marital “transgressions” is overflowing. Some argue that Tiger is sex obsessed and has a “sex addiction” given his high sex drive and desire for sex with many women over time. Others argue that any sports star who is on the road and away from home so much has a huge chance of being unfaithful to their wife. (Some media reports argue that it is “rare” to find a faithful male sports star). Still others argue that Tiger Woods’ late father pressed him down under his thumb too much as a youngster and upon his death, Tiger unleashed his “wild side.”  Finally, some news reporters offer that Tiger was “traumatized” as a child when his father cheated on his mother, and that he must just be paradoxically following in dad’s footsteps. But very little media coverage attempts to press beyond an individual level and not many articles offered a much needed broader analysis of masculinity, race, sport, sexuality, and media.”

  • images-3Similar structural and cultural analyses incorporating masculinity and institutional/political power could and should also be applied to the other stars of this story, including: Mark SanfordJohn Ensign, & John Edwards.
  • Additionally, a cross-cultural perspective is needed here as well (e.g. why are these stories so powerful and shaming in the US, but not in European countries?)

#9. Gay-marriage-success stories, starring: Argentina!

Argentina Gay Marriage -- first in Latin America
Latin America's first gay marriage, in Argentina


According to The Guardian: “In Latin America policies and attitudes have mellowed over the past two decades and in most countries it is now illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Buenos Aires, Bogota and Mexico City boast gay pride parades and gay-friendly districts where same-sex couples can kiss and hold hands in public. Yesterday Di Bello, 41, and Freyre, 39, became the continent’s first gay married couple. The pair sidestepped a court ruling blocking their wedding in Buenos Aires by holding the ceremony in Ushuaia, capital of Tierra del Fuego province and the world’s southernmost city. They exchanged rings at a civil ceremony witnessed by state and federal officials, prompting jubilation by gay rights activists and consternation from the Catholic church. “My knees didn’t stop shaking,” said Di Bello. “We are the first gay couple in Latin America to marry” (Guardian.co.uk — Dec. 29, 2009).

Gay-marriage- success stories from 2009 also starred: Mexico City, Washington DC, New Hampshire, Sweden, Iowa, Vermont, and Norway. These are just the states, countries, and cities adopting gay marriage in 2009 and doesn’t include the longer list of locales which legalized domestic partnership in 2009. [The appendix to this is the Gay-Marriage-doom-&-gloom story: starring the Catholic Church (Maine) & the Mormon Church (California, from 2008)]

#8. Multiple-birth stories, starring: Angela Suleman (aka Octo-mom!)


While more women are having multiple-baby births (thanks to IVF technology), not all multiple-birth mothers are viewed the same. Kathryn Joyce from RhReality Check offers an insightful comparison between the highly demonized Angela Suleman (“octo-mom”) and a “Reality TV” family with 18 children:

“Suleman’s newborns were delivered, as it were, into a pop cultural moment of preoccupation with large families. Reality TV shows about families with many children abound on TV’s TLC channel, most notably with the chronicles of the 18-child Duggar family. That the Duggars are grounded in and motivated by the pro-patriarchy Quiverfull movement, with its emphasis on female submission and male headship, is breezily dispensed with in favor of dwelling on the sentimental and zany experiences of life in a 20-person family. “Jon and Kate Plus Eight,” another reality TV show about a large family – this one the result of sextuplets born to a mother who, like Suleman, chose not to selectively reduce the number of embryos that “took” during an IVF treatment – is less burdened by the extremist ideology that undergirds the Duggars’ convictions, but still presents a traditional picture of large family life, with married heterosexual parents and a stay-at-home mother. …. While many observers are concerned with her apparent inability to support such a large family, the fact that she is unmarried has alone been cause enough for others to declare her family a situation of de facto child abuse” (for Joyce’s full article click here).

#7. Homo-hater stories, starring: conservative religious anti-gay activists in Uganda and the US!

Doug Coe, leader of the arch conservative U.S. group, "The Family"
Doug Coe (center), leader of "The Family"


In a recent post on Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill, Kari Lerum wrote that:

“…there is an increasing amount of scrutiny and disgust from many regarding the direct connection between the Ugandan anti-homosexual campaign and a conservative U.S. religious group called “The Family” — which some, including The Observer have called a ” cult” due to the requirement for core members to remain secret about their activities. Regardless of what the group is labeled, it is clear that it has been successful in recruiting high level political leaders including some US congressmen and Uganda’s president Museveni to its core values:  “fighting homosexuality and abortion, promoting free-market economics and dictatorship, an idea they once termed ‘totalitarianism for Christ’ ”

#6. Catholic-priest-cover-up stories, starring: the Irish Catholic Church!

Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern
Irish Justice Minister Ahern at press conference about decades of Priest abuse


As quoted in the LA Times: “Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Dublin engaged in a widespread cover-up of abuses by clergy members for decades, a “scandal on an astonishing scale” that even saw officials taking out insurance policies to protect dioceses against future claims by the victims, a commission reported Thursday after a three-year investigation” (see full article here)

Ross Douthat, a conservative writer for the New York Times and the National Review, describes how a culture of fear around sexuality is precisely the kind of culture that produces sexual abuse — and especially cover-ups of sexual abuse. Douthat concludes that:

“…you can see how it could all go bad — how a culture so intensely clerical, so politically high-handed, and so embarrassed (beyond the requirements of Christian doctrine) by human sexuality could magnify the horror of priestly pedophilia, and expand the pool of victims, by producing bishops inclined to strong-arm the problem out of public sight instead of dealing with it as Christian leaders should. (In The Faithful Departed, his account of the scandal, Philip Lawler claims that while less than five percent of priests were involved in actual abuse, over two-thirds of bishops were involved in covering it up.) I suspect it isn’t a coincidence that the worst of the priest-abuse scandals have been concentrated in Ireland and America — and indeed, in Boston, the most Irish of American cities — rather than, say, in Italy or Poland or Latin America or Asia” (see Douthat’s article here).

# 5. Panic-over-sex/gender/sexuality-fluidity stories, starring: Caster Semenya!

Castor Semenya
18 year old Caster Semenya got a makeover


Mississippi girl fighting for her right to wear a tux for her Senior Class photo
Ceara Sturgis, fighting for her right to wear a tux for her Senior Class photo


Click here for Adina Nack's post on "cross-dress" codes


In her post in Sexuality & Society, Shari Dworkin writes, “While Caster Semenya’s recent “news” seems to have shocked the world, the concern about “gender verification” in sport has taken place for quite some time. The tests have changed over time…but the point has not (e.g. when women are “too good,” they must not be women). …” (see also sociologist Philip Cohen’s story about Semenya, and an update on Caster’s status in the NYT). Note that in these stories there are never any calls for parallel sex verification tests to see if men they are “too much of a man,”—a man that no other “normal” man can hope to “fairly” compete with. This is because of the specific role that sport has historically played in terms of making boys into men (when women compete, there have been numerous fears that they are masculinized and are not “normal” women).

This year’s sex/gender/sexuality-panic stories also starred: Morehouse College‘s dress code, a high school girl wearing a tux, & a 4 yr. old boy kicked out of preschool for having “long” hair.

# 4. Harsher punishments for-sex-with-minors stories, starring: Roman Polanski!

Roman Polanski

Filmmaker Roman Polanski was arrested in 1977 for the sexual assault of a 13 year old girl. He spent 42 days in a California prison and was released. Upon hearing of  a judge’s plan to have him serve more time and possibly deport him, Polanski fled to France. In 1988 Polanski was sued by the girl he assaulted and in 1993 settled with a payment reported at around $500,000. In the  years that have passed Polanski also married (in 1989), had two children, and continued on as a prolific and well regarded film maker.  For reasons that are still murky in terms of timing, Polanski was arrested on Sept. 26, 2009 (32 years after the crime) at the Zurich, Switzerland airport at the request of US authorities. Polanski’s case, spanning decades and continents, offers an insight into how laws and attitudes about sex with minors has changed in the US:

The LA Times reports that “(s)tatutory rape convictions similar to Roman Polanski’s typically result in sentences at least four times longer today than the 90-day punishment a judge favored before the director fled the United States in 1978, a Times analysis of Los Angeles County court records shows. Polanski’s arrest in Switzerland on an international fugitive warrant — and his pending extradition proceedings — have sparked transatlantic debate about whether the 76-year-old Academy Award winner should serve additional time behind bars for having sex with a 13-year-old girl….The Times analyzed sentencing data to determine how L.A. County courts today handle cases in which men admit to statutory rape — also known as unlawful sex with a minor — in exchange for the dismissal of more serious rape charges, as Polanski did. The findings show that those defendants get more time than Polanski has served — even factoring in his 70-day stint in Swiss detention — but less than his critics may expect. … “Thirty years ago, sexual assault — rape and sex crimes — were treated differently,” said Robin Sax, a former sex crimes prosecutor for the L.A. County district attorney’s office. “Time and education haven’t worked for Polanski’s benefit.”

Sociologist Barry Dank, founding editor of the Journal Sexuality & Culture, has blogged extensively about the Polanski case. Dank writes:

“There is no question that what Roman Polanski did to a 13 year old girl in the 1977 was wrong, and illegal. But it is also wrong to drag Polanski back to the US 31 years after the crime and have him spend an unspecified amount of time in prison. What possible good would come about by Polanski doing time for the crime? Obviously, it would not function to rehabilitate him or change him in some way. The fact that Polanski has had a stellar film career and apparently lived a law abiding life for 32 years after the crime is indicative that the case for changing Polanski is simply irrelevant.”

The details of Roman Polanski’s case lies in stark contrast to the case of Phillip Garrido, a registered repeat sex offender who was arrested earlier this year for kidnapping 11 yr old Jacee Dugard, and holding her captive and sexually abusing her for 18 years (from 1991-2009). The young Dugard bore two children out of Garrido’s abuse (now ages 11 and 15).

Despite today’s more stringent punishments for statutory rape, we hope that US jurors and judges will be able to distinguish the vast differences between the sexual crimes of Polanski and Garrido.

# 3. No-condoms-for-those-who-need-it-most stories, starring: Pope Benedict XVI!


While HIV/AIDS rates in sub-saharan Africa continue to soar, and condoms are very effective in fighting HIV/AIDS (when used correctly and consistently) Pope Benedict told Africans that it was wrong to use condoms.

The Pope’s message was also heard in the US, at least among some US Catholic college students. Amanda Hess, writer for the Washington City Paper highlights how all 3,000 students at Catholic University are now prohibited from having sex that is “disruptive”  (defined as “ANY” sexual expression inconsistent with the Catholic Church including premarital sex and same sex sexuality). These rules are written into the code of student conduct. Hess states that:

Deference to the catechism spares Catholic administrators from the awkward enterprise of referring to masturbation, condoms, or any other specific of a typical undergraduate’s sex life” … “violations to the student code can’t be absolved in typically Catholic fashion, with forgiveness administered privately after confession to a priest. At the Catholic University of America, your sins are subject to judicial review” (click here for full article).

Clearly, if the Catholic church cannot discuss sex outside of sex within marriage, they cannot discuss condoms very effectively.

#2. Backlash-against-sexual-&-reproductive-justice stories, starring: the murderer of  Dr. George Tiller!

Gosh, this story is soooo last century (the 80s and 90s were full of anti-abortion terrorism stories), but unfortunately it’s still a story in 2009.

George Tiller

Dr. George Tiller, a doctor who provided late term abortions in Wichita, Kansas, was shot dead while attending Sunday Church services. Jodi Jacobson, Editor of Rh Reality Check explains the importance of Dr. Tiller’s work, as well as the cultural context for how perceptions of his work are widely inaccurate:

“In all the extensive coverage of the assassination in his church of Dr. George Tiller by a murderer affiliated with extremist right-wing groups, little has been said to shed light on what late-term abortions are, who has them and why. Instead, much of the media and talking heads pontificating on this subject have constantly focused on Tiller’s being “one of the very few doctors who perform late-term abortions,” without providing any context as to why he did so and under what circumstances. As a result, the dominant narrative is one which perpetuates an assumption that people are electing to have late-term abortions for the sake of convenience.”   (To read Jacobson’s entire analysis, click here).

And finally, we’d like to end on a positive note, with a list of sexual and reproductive justice stories from 2009:

1. Sexual-&-reproductive-justice stories, starring Barack Obama!

Obama signed and/or was involved in the following sexual health and justice developments:


And although this last bill still needs to be signed, we are expecting Obama to:

  • fulfill his promise to fund evidence-based, scientifically based sex education.

As Kari Lerum noted in a recent post, the movement toward more abstinence-only approaches is driven almost entirely by conservative religious ideology, not scientifically reliable evidence.” Because of the lack of scientific credibility for Abstinence-only sex education, we are hopeful that all funding for abstinence-only sex education will finally be eliminated from the US Federal budget.

We are intrigued by many of this year’s sexual stories, saddened by some, and encouraged by others. May 2010 be filled with opportunities to reframe old (sexist, racist, homophobic, and sex-negative) stories into sexual stories that involve measured discussion of sexual health, sexual justice, and sexual rights.


Kari Lerum & Shari L. Dworkin, Eds. Sexuality & Society.

With 2010 approaching, we are joining in on a tradition of many media/news writers of compiling a list of top ten stories of the past year. Since we only launched Sexuality & Society three months ago, we need your help! We are looking for stories from around the globe related to sexuality, culture, health, and politics from the past year. Please email us at sexuality@thesocietypages.org with your ideas (and we’ll be sure to credit you as well).

Best Regards,

Kari Lerum & Shari Dworkin, Eds, Sexuality & Society

“Sexting” — the practice of sending sexy words and images from cell phones from person to person– has suddenly emerged as the newest social problem for American youth. News reports overwhelmingly describe sexting as a new teenage trend which is “alarming,” “dangerous,” and “shocking.” Parents of minors are told be on red alert. Sales are on the rise for “net nanny” controls, which alert parents via a text message if their child visits an “inappropriate” web site and/or sends or receives “inappropriate” email or instant messages. Parents are advised to pay extra cell phone fees to block all images–sexual or not—from their children’s phones. The underlying message of most news reports is this: if parents don’t put a stop to sexting, their children will end up traumatized, endangered, in jail, or dead. Read on, as we’re not making this up.

This sort of alarmist language, suddenly emerging as a sort of moral tsunami, is a fantastic example of what sociologist Stanley Cohen has termed a “moral panic.” According to Cohen, moral panics are reflections not of any inherent physical threat but of threats to existing moral orders. Moral panics are driven by the construction of a “folk devil” — symbolized by a group or a social movement seen as causing a threat to a particular moral order. Using this framework, the moral panic around sexting reflects deeper social fears — for example around loss of parental authority and increasing teen agency over their own sexuality. The folk devil responsible for this moral threat lives in “cyberspace” and in some cases may be “cyberspace” itself.

From what I can tell, the growing visibility of, and panic over, sexting was at first largely generated by media personalities such as Dr. Phil and Matt Lauer of the Today Show. Since then, dozens of news outlets have featured stories on sexting. Surveys on sexting have been quickly conducted and released: MTV asked teens about the prevalence of their sexting; CS Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health asked parents about how concerned they were about teen sexting. The results, as reported in the media are as follows: Teens are sexting like crazy, and parents are freaking out.

imagesDr. Phil was one of the first to discuss this on a national stage with a show in April 2009 called, “Scary Trends: Is your Child at Risk?” In the video promo for the show, Dr. Phil warns in his classic fatherly drawl: “There are some dangerous trends popping up in schools everywhere, and you may not even know if your children are getting involved.”

The camera cuts to video shots of three pairs of young white hands (two identifiably female) punching keys on a cell phone. A voiceover from deep, spooky-sounding male voice says: “The disturbing new trend, called sexting, sending nude shots from phone to phone.” (the word NUDE is flashed on screen).

Next we see and hear clips of a white woman talking about her daughter, who we gather, was a “sexter.” The spooky male voiceover comes back: “It nearly killed her daughter.” The camera shoots back to the mom, eyes pleading for Dr. Phil’s forgiveness: We thought we were doing everything right, Dr. Phil.” Dr. Phil nods, knowingly. The Spooky voiceover states: “how to protect your children.” The camera cuts back to Dr. Phil, who points to the camera and warns: “Don’t think it’s not your kid!” (Click here to see this short promo).

Dr. Phil’s “Scary Trends” program arrived on the heels of a few stories, some tragic, found in the news in the previous weeks and months. For example, in separate cases, two teenage boys (one in Wisconsin, one in New York) were charged with “child pornography” after sharing digital photos of their girlfriends posing nude. In another case, four middle school girls in Alabama were arrested for exchanging naked photos of themselves (ABC news, March 13, 2009). In all of these cases, the photos were being exchanged for and among peers. None of these photos were sold.  And yet, teens taking pictures of themselves, their partners, and/or their friends are now being labeled and punished as child pornographers by the criminal justice system.

The most tragic stories however are of two teen girl suicides; both killed themselves after they were viciously bullied, sexually shamed, and socially isolated from their peers. In both cases the girls were inadequately defended, and even further shamed and punished by, teachers, school administrators, and parents. Jesse Logan, a vivacious 18 year-old from Ohio hanged herself in her bedroom after being targeted for torment by other girls at school. Jesse had tdy_lauer_sexting_090306.300wsent a nude photo of herself to her boyfriend, and in retaliation when they broke up the boyfriend sent the photo to a group of younger girls. The younger girls ran with the photo, using it as a powerful social shaming tool (which of course can only work within a social context where girls’ sexuality is shameful). In an interview with Matt Lauer of the Today Show, Jesse’s mother, Cynthia Logan, said that:

“…she never knew the full extent of her daughter’s anguish until it was too late. Cynthia Logan only learned there was a problem at all when she started getting daily letters from her daughter’s school reporting that the young woman was skipping school.

“I only had snapshots, bits and pieces, until the very last semester of school,” Logan told Lauer. She took away her daughter’s car and drove her to school herself, but Jesse still skipped classes. She told her mother there were pictures involved and that a group of younger girls who had received them were harassing her, calling her vicious names, even throwing objects at her. But she didn’t realize the full extent of her daughter’s despair. “She was being attacked and tortured,” Logan said.

“When she would come to school, she would always hear, ‘Oh, that’s the girl who sent the picture. She’s just a whore,’ ” Jesse’s friend, Lauren Taylor, told NBC News.

Logan said that officials at Sycamore High School were aware of the harassment but did not take sufficient action to stop it. She said that a school official offered only to go to one of the girls who had the pictures and tell her to delete them from her phone and never speak to Jesse again. That girl was 16. Logan suggested talking to the parents of the girls who were bullying Jesse, but her daughter said that would only open her to even more ridicule.

In this same interview with Matt Lauer, Cynthia Logan described her unsuccessful legal attempts (she tried six attorneys) to hold school officials accountable for not intervening in the bullying of her daughter. Lauer turned to his guest, Parry Aftab, described as “an Internet security expert and activist in the battle to protect teens from the dangers that lurk in cyberspace.” In a stunning re-direction of the issue of school accountability for creating bully-free zones, Aftab brought the discussion back to laws about child pornography:

“If somebody’s under the age of 18, it’s child pornography, and even the girl that posted the pictures can be charged. They could be registered sex offenders at the end of all of this. Even at the age of 18, because it was sent to somebody under age, it’s disseminating pornography to a minor. There are criminal charges that could be made here.”

Here’s the take home message we get from the Today Show: don’t worry about madonna/whore dichotomies that are spread among youth and adults. The main thing we should be concerned with is that Jesse “fell victim to the perils of the Internet and the easy exchange of information on cell phones.” So let’s be clear: The source of Jesse’s anguish and eventual suicide is not the unrelenting and unchecked bullying at school but the fact that cyberspace (folk devil that it is) made her into a perpetrator of child pornography. And don’t forget, parents: child pornographers go to jail, and you don’t want your kid to go to jail.

Hope Witsell was only 13 when she killed herself in her bedroom, also by hanging. Hope, a girl from a conservative Christian Florida family, hadg-tdy-091202-texting-suicide-peace-8a.300w sent a topless photo of herself to a boy crush. The boy showed the photo to a friend, who embraced the opportunity to gain social power by sharing it widely with kids in that school and neighboring schools. The following comes from a story about Hope on Today, MSNBC.com:

While Hope’s photo spread, her friends rallied around her in the midst of incessant taunting and vulgar remarks thrown Hope’s way. Friends told the St. Petersburg Times, which originally chronicled Hope’s story, that they literally surrounded Hope as she walked the hallways while other students shouted “whore” and “slut” at her.

“The hallways were not fun at that time — she’d walk into class and somebody would say, ‘Oh, here comes the slut,’ ” Hope’s friend, Lane James, told the newspaper.

Clearly, the taunts were getting to Hope. In a journal entry discovered after her death, Hope wrote, “Tons of people talk about me behind my back and I hate it because they call me a whore! And I can’t be a whore. I’m too inexperienced. So secretly, TONS of people hate me.”

Shortly after the school year ended, school officials caught wind of the hubbub surrounding Hope’s cell phone photo. They contacted the Witsells and told them Hope would be suspended for the first week of the next school year.

Donna Witsell told Vieira that she and her husband practiced tough love on Hope, grounding her for the summer and suspending her cell phone and computer privileges.

In her interview on the Today Show with Meredith Vieira, Hope’s mother was joined, just as Jesse’s mom was, by the same Parry Aftab, proponent of internet safety measures. Again, Aftab directed the viewers away from thinking about adult accountability in protecting the rights of teens to not be shamed and bullied about their bodies. In fact, parents and their girls are all innocent here in Aftab’s view. Aftab even reassured Hope’s mother that her child wasn’t a bad girl; in fact, Aftab points out that Hope’s suicide is actually a sign that she came from a “good” home because kids with good morals have more guilt when they stray sexually:

Good kids are the ones this is happening to; Jesse was a great kid, and now we have Hope,” she said. “Good kids; they’re the ones who are committing suicide when a picture like this gets out.” (Parry Afteb, speaking to Hope Witsell’s mother on the Today Show).

Dr. Phil, the Today Show, and countless other media sources are doing teens, and especially girls a great disservice by offering content, tone, and implications of their sexting panic. Instead, a much more helpful and interesting perspective on the issue would be to explore the following questions and lines of reasoning:

  • What are the gendered sexual, class, and race dynamics of the panic over sexting? It seems that white “good” girls are at most “risk”: let’s talk about why, and what it is that is at stake! Should we panic over boys as well?
  • Why do so many adults remain complicit in the sexual shaming and bullying of kids? What models can be used to talk openly about sexuality at school, and to create a safe learning environment for all kids regardless of their sexual expressions?
  • Related to the above, how do school curriculums that teach/preach abstinence only sex education (which implicitly and explicitly underscore a Madonna/Whore dichotomy) encourage and facilitate the bullying and shaming of girls? How do they set up a gendered system that assumes that girls are usually sexual victims and boys are usually predators?
  • How can sexual health and justice scholars work with parents, teachers, school administrators, and teen advocates around these issues?
  • How does a concern with protecting girls’ sexual purity come at the expense of NOT protecting their sexual and human rights?

Recommended readings & resources:

Recent media coverage of Tiger Woods’ marital “transgressions” is overflowing. Some argue that Tiger is sex obsessed and has a “sex addiction” given his high sex drive and desire for sex tiger woods pixwith many women over time. Others argue that any sports star who is on the road and away from home so much has a huge chance of being unfaithful to their wife. (Some media reports argue that it is jan22_woods2_427x600“rare” to find a faithful male sports star). Still others argue that Tiger Woods’ late father pressed him down under his thumb too much as a youngster and upon his death, Tiger unleashed his “wild side.”  Finally, some news reporters offer that Tiger was “traumatized” as a child when his father cheated on his mother, and that he must just be paradoxically following in dad’s footsteps.

But very little media coverage attempts to press beyond an individual level and not many articles offered a much needed broader analysis of masculinity, race, sport, sexuality, and media.  Here, my own previous research might shed some light on these media events. Awhile back, I wrote an article titled “The Morality/Manhood Paradox” with Faye Linda Wachs that was published in a book titled Masculinities, Gender Relations, and Sport. In that article, I underscored how media coverage frequently packages these types of media events into familiar frames of individual morality and they do so through frames of sin and redemption. To be sure, media reports do not offer redemption to everyone. Media coverage only offers redemption to certain athletes while others do not enjoy this privilege. For example, basketball Magic Johnsongreat Magic Johnson openly admitted to having hundreds of sex partners in the early 1990s and stated that he acquired the HIV/AIDS virus due to his lack of sexual protection. He was forgiven in media coverage and by the public, and was even repeatedly deemed a “hero” for his announcement. At the same time, another male athlete, Greg Louganis, who self identifies as gay, was not offered any media redemption. This was the case even though Greg Louganis was monogamous with his long-term partner and his long term partner cheated on him.

Why the difference in access to forgiveness by the media and by the public? At the time, Faye Wachs and I argued that sexuality and sexual identity was a key reason. Self-identified heterosexually active Magic Johnson was discussed as “doing what any normal man would do” and as having kindly “accommodated” the hundreds of women who “wanted him.”  Women were presented as sexually desirous and out of control and men were presented as  doing what “boys” do  to be “boys.” There was no mention of Magic Johnson’s own sexual agency in those media framings, and the women he was with were framed as having all of the wild desire. The women were described as uncontrollable groupies who were anxiously awaiting Magic and numerous other ball players after the big games were over and the athletes swaggered off the court.

In the media events surrounding Tiger Woods’ circumstances, media coverage couldn’t be more different. Tiger Woods’ sexual agency is the primary frame of news media. Articles discuss his “preference” for blondes, his “big appetite” for sex, his enjoyment of “girl-on-girl sex” and how he “wanted to be with them together,”  his “endurance,” the difficulty some of his mistreses had in  “keeping up with him,” in bed and his wish to party 24/7 on the weekends with a large number of women. Some news articles discuss his “kinky” sexual desires, some discuss his willingness to pay for sex, and some describe how he would “ask for” the type of women he liked in advance before he arrived at bars and clubs, and he would have a table of “his type” women-of-tiger_537x409waiting for him when he arrived. All of the articles discuss the physical beauty of the women he was with and news media features them as “gorgeous” or “hotties.” Without question, Tiger is framed as wanting sex–needing sex–and is even frequently cast as a sexual addict.

Not only is the current coverage different from previous married athletes who are unfaithful through multiple extramarital partners, but it is also different from the sexist ideologies that are often used by media to blame women for men who stray. For example, George Gilder, a conservative and major player in the Reagan Administration underscored that:

“In a world where women do not say no, the man is never forced to settle down and make serious choices. His sex drive–the most powerful compulsion in his life–is never used to make him part of civilization as the supporter of a family. If a woman does not force him to make a long-term commitment to marry–in general, he doesn’t. His sex drive only demands conquest, driving him from body to body in an unsettling hunt for variety and excitement in which much of the thrill is in the chase itself” (Gilder, 1986, p. 47).

Using this conservative logic, one would think that media frames might discuss the women who “tempted” Tiger as being at fault or “making” him stray. But no. Given the history of media frames of this kind, there is a rather shocking media silence on women’s sexual agency in this story (this fact is not being stated to suggest that the women should be analyzed for this reason–we are simply pointing out that the coverage is different from other unfaithful male athletes). The sexual “problem” is all on Tiger. And Tiger is viewed as a sex addict. Why?

To be sure, male athletes who participate in sports at very high levels in US society are often highly culturally valued. They are framed as heros and they are often associated with an unusual dose of moral superiority. Yet, simultaneously, given their cultural fame and popularity, they also enjoy numerous economic and social privileges. One of those privileges is the highest valuation of masculinity which brings with it access to numerous women’s bodies. Hence, male athletes in particular are faced with a “moral paradox:” athletes are viewed as moral role models but being a successful sports star is often equated with the pinnacle of masculinity and sexual prowess. What typically happens is that the public will use this paradox to  stigmatize subordinated masculinities when the men “fall.”  Men of color and gay men have historically paid that price in terms of denigrating tropes of promiscuity. Tiger Woods is now linked to other men of color in team sports who are said to have shown him the ropes of how to access large numbers of women.  News media report that Woods “was always palling around with Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan.” As one woman said: “They’re the ones who showed him the way.” Charles Barkley has stated that he can’t even get in touch with Tiger and is quoted by media as saying that Tiger “…is a 33-year-old grown man. He did something wrong to his wife. He has to answer to her and his kids. That’s it.”

I think that the quantity of media coverage and the sexual addict frames of Tiger Woods’ story make it different from the media coverage of Magic Johnson and other male athletes who “step outside of their marriages.” Here are a few reasons why I think this is the case:

  • First, there are the class and race dynamics of golf. Media have not cast their high surveillance eye on the sport of golf, likely because iJack Nicklaust is dominated by upper class and white players who are assumed to be more moral. Yes, the men of golf are assumed to be more moral than men who participate in hegemonic sports such as basketball, baseball, and football–who are often men of color–and are often stereotyped as violent, promiscuous, or both.
  • Second, Tiger Woods is  a man of color who is married to a white woman and he frequently selects white women as his sexual partners. The U.S. has a long and unforgiving history of lynching, anti-miscegenation laws, rape and violence accusations, and more when it comes to Black men being with white women (during slavery, and post slavery, black men  could not even look at a white woman without being accused of rape). Tiger Woods is a mixed race man who is playing a sport that is not dominated by men of color and hence his behavior as a token person of color is being explosively explored. The current media coverage runs the risk of essentializing men of color as sexually exotic and sexually obsessed just as racist ideologies of sexual excess always have (there are many works on this, but 2 excellent ones are Patricia Hill Collins’ 1990 book titled Black Feminist Thought, or Frantz Fanon’s, 1967 work titled Black Skin, White Masks).
  • Finally, male athletes’ sexuality itself is constituted differently in different sports. Men who participate in sports that constitute hegemonic masculinity (football, basketball, baseball) are team sports that require high degrees of aggression, physical contact, musTigerWoodscularity and explosive physicality, all of which get marked as masculinized and as highly valued sex objects (some scholars argue that these particular sports and their participants are disproportionately responsible for sexual assaults and rapes. For work on these claims see Jeff Benedict’s book titled Public Heros, Private Felons: Athletes and Crimes Against Women) . Golf is not only less sexy because of the polo shirt, action-ball-cartoon_~u14839428goofy shoes, and white grey hair, but because it is an individualized sport rife with controlled skills which do not frequently allow for sports performances that take visible muscularity and power. The media coverage of Tiger’s behavior then—explodes because it takes the mask off of the assumed to be more moral realm of upper class golf. Tiger Woods’ younger age, good looks, and muscular body helped to change the stiffness of the sport (no pun intended).

Current media coverage doesn’t just tell us that sport can be sexist or that women get betrayed with age old stories of infidelity (or thinking they’re the only mistress). It also tells us that Americans may feel betrayed because they thought they were getting a squeaky clean man of color in a white sport.  They didn’t get that man. Media reports now state that white quarterback Peyton Manning, who also has a “squeaky clean image” in football will be checking his phone to ensure that he isn’t guilty of any racy text messages.  The unrelenting nature of the media coverage of Tiger Woods doesn’t just expose the hypocrisy of Tiger Woods–it exposes the hypocrisy of media and of Americans. Tiger Woods needed tiger-woods2a squeaky clean image to make him acceptable in golf as a man of color and yet we fault him more than other athletes for trying to uphold this image and failing at it.tiger_woods3tiger-woods

In the past several days there has been growing global dismay and disapproval over Uganda’s “kill the gays bill” (to use Rachel Maddow’s term). As well there is an increasing amount of scrutiny and disgust from many regarding the direct connection between the Ugandan anti-homosexual campaign and a conservative U.S. religious group called “The Family” — which some, including The Observer have called a ” cult” due to the requirement for core members to remain secret about their activities. Regardless of what the group is labeled, it is clear that it has been successful in recruiting high level political leaders including some US congressmen and Uganda’s president Museveni to its core values:  “fighting homosexuality and abortion, promoting free-market economics and dictatorship, an idea they once termed “totalitarianism for Christ’ ” (as quoted by Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, 2008). This post is a follow up on my last post on this issue and a compilation of several news stories for the purpose of updating concerned readers on the Uganda situation. I start with snippets of a Nov. 25, 2009 article from The Observer which describes the history and ideology of “The Family” (I have put some words in bold for emphasis; also note that the article below mispells Sharlet as “Sharlett”). I end with a very preliminary list of groups lining up in opposition to this bill.

Museveni, Bahati, named in US ‘cult’ (click here for the full article in The Observer) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 25 November 2009 20:45
NEW YORK: “President Museveni, Ethics Minister Nsaba Buturo and MP David Bahati have been linked to a shadowy religious fundamentalist group in the United States known as the ‘The Family’.  …According to journalist, academic and author Jeff Sharlett, who has spent years researching on The Family, its core agenda includes fighting homosexuality and abortion, promoting free-market economics and dictatorship, an idea they once termed ‘totalitarianism for Christ’. “  

“It recruits people in positions of power and influence to promote its agenda and, according to Sharlett, the group has had its sights on Uganda for over 20 years. He also says the group is behind the anti-gay legislation recently tabled in Parliament by Ndorwa West MP, David Bahati, which proposes the death penalty for men who have gay sex with disabled people, under-18s, or when the accused is HIV-positive.”

“In an extensive interview with National Public Radio (NPR), a privately and publicly funded non-profit radio network in the United States, Jeff Sharlett said that The Family identified President Museveni as their “key man in Africa” in 1986.  …”

“Describing Museveni as a “core” member of the group, Jeff Sharlett alleged that President Museveni visits, spends time and “sits down for counsel” with Doug Coe, the leader of The Family, at the group’s headquarters at a place called The Cedars in Arlington, Virginia.

The Observer reporter continues:

“One of The Family’s central ideas, according to Jeff Sharlett, is that Jesus Christ’s message was not about love, mercy, justice or forgiveness. Rather, it was about power. The group says that Jesus didn’t come to take sides, he came to take over. Doug Coe, the leader of the group, tries to illustrate this, for instance, by saying, sort of posing a puzzle: name three men in the 20th Century who best understood that message of The New Testament. And most people are going to say someone like Martin Luther King, or Bonhoeffer; or maybe the more conservative, they can say, [evangelist] Billy Graham.  And Coe likes to give an answer – Hitler, Stalin and Mao, which just makes your jaw drop. And he will say – he’s quick to say these are evil men, but they understood power. And that message recurs again, and again, and again in The Family,’ Sharlett said.”

“Sharlett, who spent time within The Family as an undercover researcher, given access to its leaders and archives, said that the group actively promotes dictators in pursuit of its economic and other interests. Because of its influence in Washington, the seat of the American government, foreign leaders find it in their interest to associate with the group.”

“Senator Tom Coburn, who also sits on the Senate Arms Forces Committee, is quoted to have said he has been on a mission to Uganda to “promote the political philosophy of Jesus as taught to him by Doug Coe.” … Jeff Sharlett says he has established in recent investigations that the group has been channeling money to Uganda to promote its activities, including the anti-gay Bill. … “The Family has poured millions of dollars working through a very convoluted chain of linkages passing the money over to Uganda,” he said. According to Jeff Sharlett, in Uganda, Museveni, Buturo and Bahati are not merely under the influence of The Family but they are, in effect, The Family.

“The Family, also known as The Fellowship, was founded in the United States in 1935. According to its founder, Abraham Verene, God came to him one night in April, 1935, and told him that Christianity has been focusing on the wrong people, the poor and the suffering, “the down and out”. He commanded him to be a missionary to and for the powerful, the “up and out”, who could then pass off the blessings to everybody else.”

Doug Coe the head (or perhaps more aptly titled, “the godfather”) of The Family does not have the name or face recognition of other conservative evangelical Christian leaders such Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, or Rick Warren (in fact, it is very difficult to find ANY good or current photos of the man online). Nevertheless he is well known in Washington DC amongst politicians and has considerable political influence domestically and globally. In 2005, Time Magazine named him one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America. As reported by Time:

Several members of Congress live in rooms rented in a town house owned by a foundation affiliated with the group. Coe and his associates sometimes travel (on their own dime) with congressional members abroad and—according to investigations by the Los Angeles Times and Harper’s—have played backstage roles in such diplomatic coups as the 1976 Camp David accords…

While Time Magazine named Coe and described his organization over four years ago, only in the past several months has The Family began receiving serious, and critical, media attention. This attention began after Jeff Sharlet published his book on the Family in 2008, and escalated after the summer of 2009 political sex scandals of Senator John Ensign and S. Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, both of whom are connected to the group. With the introduction of the Uganda anti-homosexual bill in October 2009, The Family and other US based evangelical Christians such as Rick Warren became subjects of widespread academic and human rights critique.

In the past few days scores of politicians, global public health workers, human rights groups, and religious leaders have denounced this bill as a fascist, even genocidal, act. Below is a sample of those making public oppositional statements:

Politicians: Senator Russ Feingold “has warned that relations between Uganda and the United States would suffer because of a proposed Bill against homosexuality. Mr Russ Feingold, who chairs the Senate’s Committee on Africa, said he was outraged by the Anti-homosexuality Bill proposed by Ndorwa West MP David Bahati.” (US Senator joins critics of Anti-homosexuality Bill (Dec 14) Daily Monitor)

Public health officials: According to Stephen Lewis, the former United Nations envoy on AIDS in Africa, “This intended anti-homosexual statute has the taste of fascism.”.. “The proposed law would “demonize homosexuality” and “intensify stigma,” driving gays underground and making it much more difficult to prevent the spread of AIDS…”. (http://www.stephenlewisfoundation.org/)

Human rights groups: Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both released statements in absolute opposition to this bill.

Religious leaders: Several moderate US Christian leaders have expressed opposition to this bill. Some Conservative evangelical Christian religious leaders  in the US are also now coming out against it. After several calls by human rights activists and reporters, US evangelical pastor Rick Warren released a video statement to Ugandan Christian leaders asking them to not support the bill (while maintaining that God does not support homosexuality). Warren has been identified as closely tied to Ugandan anti-gay activist Martin Ssempa. Click here to view Warren’s video address and read Amie Newman’s analysis.

The growing multi-sector, and increasingly multi-national, opposition to Uganda’s anti-homosexual bill is heartening. The bill itself has been temporarily “tabled.” However the hatred and fear stirred up by US-based anti-gay activists in Uganda and surrounding African countries is enormous, and will take much work to reverse. Building coalitions between Ugandan and African-based human rights activists, moderate religious leaders, and HIV/AIDS workers is an obvious step. But another, perhaps more crucial step in the US is for the politicians to finally uphold their commitment to a separation of Church and State. It may be time for the White House and Congress to officially sever its ties with The Family.

See also:

In yesterday’s news, CNN reporter Saeed Ahmed asks “Why is Uganda attacking homosexuality?” As Ahmed reports, the Anti-Homosexuality Bil in this Eastern African nation (introduced in October, and expected to pass by the end of December) “features several provisions that human rights groups say would spur a witch hunt of homosexuals in the country.” Punishments for homosexual sex will include:

Uganda is bordered by the East African coastal nations of Kenya and Tanzania


  • life in prison
  • possible execution for people who test positive for HIV
  • three years in prison for anyone who knows of homosexual activity taking place but does not report it
  • possible execution for homosexual sex with a minor, or engaging in homosexual sex more than once.

Although it is already illegal to engage in “homosexuality” in Uganda, this law would tighten and broaden the punishments. As Ahmed writes,

  • The bill also “forbids the ‘promotion of homosexuality,’ which in effect bans organizations working in HIV and AIDS prevention,” and
  • “(i)It applies even to Ugandans participating in same-sex acts in countries where such behavior is legal. They are supposed to be brought back to Uganda and convicted here.”

This level of virulent hatred against gay people is a dramatic contrast to the gradual shift in many parts of the globe toward more acceptance and/or legal decriminalization of homosexuality, including a United Nations Declaration calling for a global decrimimalization of homosexuality. This UN Declaration was signed by the Obama administration in March 2009 (after the Bush administration refused to sign):

In announcing U.S. support, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the U.N. declaration is consistent with the U.S. commitment to being an outspoken defender of human rights. The United States “is pleased to join the other 66 U.N. members states who have declared their support of the statement that condemns human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity wherever the occur,” Wood said (Washington Post, March 18, 2009).

The United States has close diplomatic ties to Uganda, sending Peace Corps volunteers and massive aid through Pepfar and USAID. The current US State Department profile on Uganda argues that Uganda it is actually doing WELL on human rights issues:

“(s)ince assuming power, Museveni and his government have largely put an end to the human rights abuses of earlier governments, initiated substantial economic liberalization and general press freedom, and instituted economic reforms in accord with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and donor governments.”  (US State Department, profile of the Republic of Uganda).

Hmmmm. It seems that the US State Department needs to update their assessment of Uganda’s human rights. My question is: why Uganda, and why now? According to Amie Newman from Rh Reality Check and a report by Political Research Associates, conservative US evangelicals are directly linked to bringing Uganda to this homo-hating mess. Below I quote extensively from Newman’s recent post on this issue:

Amie Newman“Uganda’s new anti-homosexuality law currently on the table, before Parliament, is an especially vicious piece of legislation that seeks to impose life imprisonment and the death penalty upon those who are involved in  “homosexual crimes.” In this era of growing rights, in the United States, for LGBT individuals, one may be excused for thinking that laws like the one in Uganda are completely unrelated to the Christian, religious right in the U.S., responsible in large part for the onslaught of attacks against LGBT equal rights in this country. However, according to “Globalizing the Culture Wars”, a new report produced by Political Research Associates and released today, laws like the one in Uganda can be seen as the direct result of a campaign by United States neoconservative religious groups to use Africa as another player in the culture wars they have fomented on American soil for many years.” According to the PRA report:

“Conservative U.S. evangelicals play a strong role in promoting homophobia in Africa by spreading their views and underwriting the widespread conservative educational, social service, and financial infrastructure. Right-wing groups have enticed African religious leaders to reject funding from mainline denominations – which require documentation of how the money is spent – and instead to accept funds form conservatives. This money usually goes to individual bishops without accountability or oversight for how it is used.”

Newman writes: ” The truth is that Conservative leaders in this country, like Pastor Rick Warren, have put tremendous effort into cultivating relationships with African clerics who can help further their strong anti-gay agenda, while simultaneously contributing to the vicious homophobia in African nations.” …

US evangelical leader, directly implicated in Uganda's draconian anti-gay movement
US evangelical leader Rick Warren -- who despite gay activist protests led the invocation for Obama's inauguration. Warren is implicated in Uganda's draconian anti-gay movement


Newman continues:

“Pastor Warren has strong ties to Pastor Martin Ssempa, a conservative, religious leader in Uganda who has been the recipient of PEPFAR funds (the U.S. AIDS plan which distributes funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment) and is extremely vocal and active about his homophobic beliefs. There are many churches in Uganda, and other African nations, that are the direct recipients of U.S. federal funding via PEPFAR, used to implement clear religious agendas (vocally supported by Pastor Warren) such as requirements for spending a share of funding on abstinence-until-marriage.”  …

Newman points to a list of recommendations provided by the PRA report, including:

  • “exposing and confronting U.S. religious conservatives (like Pastor Rick Warren) who foment homophobia in Africa,
  • exposing the financial ties between African conservatives and various American institutions (like our very own federal government),
  • and maybe most importantly supporting African activists and scholars to lead the struggle for LGBT rights and the study of sexuality in Africa. “

Newman concludes by stating that “th)e U.S. neo-conservative movement is working tirelessly to push a religious agenda in Africa that serves their own purposes. As we continue the fight for LGBT rights in our own country, the report reminds us that it is critical we use our peripheral vision to see the bigger picture if we are to truly win the war against religious evangelicalism’s homophobia, and not just individual battles.”

We at Sexuality & Society could not agree more. The current Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton might agree as well. Hillary Clinton’s recent condemnation of international homophobia may help put a stop to this; other world leaders also need to take a strong stand against homophobia and human rights abuses on the basis of sexuality. The US State Department should also reconsider its development assistance to Uganda, and should partner with other nations (including South Africa, which has freedoms for gays written right into their constitution) in the struggle for global human rights.