Body Impolitic

Post-Olympics Link Roundup

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Debbie says:

Coverage of the Rio Olympics led me to a substantial number of fascinating articles. Now that the event is over, I’d like to share some of them with you:

This really well-designed New York Times quiz has you match Olympic and Paralympic athletes with their sports. I confess I only got five out of 16 right, but the point — that all different kinds of bodies can be athletes’ bodies — is made, and made well.

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The quiz pairs well with Ragen Chastain (often quoted in this blog), writing about fat Olympians at her blog, Dances with Fat. Ragen breaks down five unreasonable assumptions which people sometimes draw from the existence of fat athletic competitors. Here’s her list, plus her full comment on one I thought she did particularly well.

This proves there’s no excuse not to be fit at any size

This proves that anyone of any size can be an Olympian

This proves that everyone of every size can be healthy

First, don’t confuse athletically successful with healthy.  Many athletes push far beyond what would most support their bodies’ health – risking  and getting expensive sports-related injuries that they wouldn’t otherwise be at risk for – in order to be successful at their sport.  They are absolutely allowed to do that – their bodies, their choice (though that doesn’t meant that we shouldn’t be asking questions about the way that sports are managed/judged and what is really “required.”)  Moreover, health is difficult to define, multi-faceted, not an obligation, not a barometer of worthiness, and not entirely within our control or guaranteed under any circumstances.

This proves that anyone of any size can be an athlete

fuyuanhui

Female Olympians face their own set of challenges. As menstruation becomes more talked about around the world, Zheping Huang at Quartz discusses Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui’s radical acknowledgment.

When China’s favorite swimmer Fu Yuanhui openly mentioned her menstrual cycle on Sunday (Aug. 14) at the Rio Olympics, it was the first time many Chinese people realized it is possible to swim while being on your period. …

“I feel I didn’t swim well today. I let my teammates down,” Fu said, between gasps of breath. When asked if she was having a stomachache, Fu said: “Because my period came yesterday, I’m feeling a bit weak, but this is not an excuse.”

Just like that, Fu broke a great sporting taboo by talking about menstruation in public. During the 2015 Australian Open, British tennis player Heather Watson blamed her poor performance on her period after losing in the first round. At the time Watson’s remarks shocked the sports world and later sparked initiatives to break the silence on the issue.

The article goes on to discuss Chinese attitudes towards menstruation, tampons, and virginity. I learned a lot.

It’s no secret that people of fluid, indeterminate, or challenged gender have a daunting set of Olympic challenges. We’ve written here about Castor Semenya and Dutee Chand. Dana Moskowitz, writing at Deadspin, makes the question very personal.

What is it, exactly, that makes me a woman? Is it my breasts? If so, is it because they are a certain size? Is it that I have a womb? Does it matter that I have no idea if my womb works because I’ve never tried to get pregnant? Is it my two X chromosomes or my level of testosterone? I have no idea the status of either my chromosomes or testosterone for the simple reason there’s never been a good medical reason to test them. Asked to prove that I am a woman, I’d probably come up with this—everyone says I’m one.

I find myself returning to that thought exercise as Caster Semenya competes in the 800 meters this week. Semenya was told her entire life that she was a woman. Until she wasn’t….

Sports reporters have found ways of dancing around what this is. That’s why you’ll see the word “fair” in so many headlines about Semenya….

See, ladies, this is just about fairness! About leveling the playing field! About following the rules! Geez, women, calm down. We’re trying to make your races more fair for you!

One tactic, used by SI among others, is warning that this could be the end of women’s sports, as if this and not underfunding, sexual violence, and harassment were what kept women out of sports. Reporters will harp that this is about maintaining women as a protected class, ignoring that the legal term protected class means a group you cannot discriminate against—making this the bizarre act of asking if Semenya is too manly to be a woman, in which case she would receive the bizarro right to be discriminated against.

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But if your body size and shape is culturally acceptable for the Olympics, and you aren’t menstruating (or don’t care to talk about it) and no one has challenged your gender, the media still gives itself complete license to analyze and criticize your religious attire. At Al-Jazeera, Rachel Shabi has a biting response:

Witness the countless headlines breathlessly hailing the first United States Olympian to compete in a hijab: the fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.

To help us get to grips with this dazzling achievement – the hijab, obviously, and not the fact that she’s ranked eight in the world – we had BBC World tweeting about the incredible phenomenon as: “Hijab and a sword” – which, we hope, is the start of a series, continuing with, say: jodhpurs and a riding crop; athlete pants and a javelin; leotard and a chalk bowl.

And then there was the viral image of Egyptian and German women playing against each other at Olympic volleyball, one in a bikini, the other in a hijab.

As the Libyan-American writer Hend Amry tweeted in response [to comments about “cultural clash”], the actual caption to this picture could have been: “Athlete vs athlete”. …

[W]hat has crept into so much of the commentary is a sense of – what shall we call it? – Orientalist awe, as with this Washington Post headline: “Muslim female athletes find sport so essential they compete while covered” as in, wow, these women love sport so much that they’ve even managed to overcome this uniquely disadvantageous Muslim religion thing.

If you’re celebrating the fact that official sporting bodies have stopped being so restrictive over uniforms, maybe spotlighting the hijab each time you see an athlete wearing one isn’t the way to do it.

In the end, so many of these links, and so many other Olympic stories, come down to what should be a very simple thing: what would it take for us to simply appreciate the athletic ability of these amazing people, without making assumptions about them, shoving them into categories, or generalizing from them as individual competitors to everyone else, competitors or not?

I’m about ready for Olympic competition for journalists; and most of them are a very long way from the finish line or the perfect 10.

Lisa Hirsch sent us the New York Times quiz, others are from our general reading.

Trump Statues: Body Shaming Is a Weapon, Wherever You Point It

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Debbie says:

nakedstatue

If you read the news at all, you know that large statues of a naked Donald Trump (not pictured above) have been appearing in several major U.S. cities.

The statues are the work of anarchist collective INDECLINE, which has done other political art projects, such as covering the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame with names of African-American victims of police shootings. This project is named “The Emperor Has No Balls.”

“Like it or not, Trump is a larger-than-life figure in world culture at the moment,” said the spokesman, who discussed the project with The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity. “Looking back in history, that’s how those figures were memorialized and idolized in their time — with statues.”

The artist, known as Ginger, was specifically trying to emphasize unattractive features.

The goal was to give him the slightest hint of a scowl — a “constipated look” — that hinted at Trump’s implicit frustration with contemporary America, Ginger said. “He has a very distinct little mouth, the way his chin meets the jowl, it had to look right,” he said.

Also challenging was figuring out how to create unsettling body parts in a realistic fashion, a process that required extensive online research.

“If somebody were to look at my browser history, it would be a little disturbing,” Ginger said. “Turns out there’s not too many Google results for ‘saggy old man butt.’”

Some of the reaction to the statues has simply been that they are funny (and I originally thought they were funny). I changed my mind before I learned that INDECLINE’s website also showcases a billboard size graffiti piece entitled “Rape Trump” (really!). Marissa Jenae Johnson, writing at The Establishment, is among many critical voices:

The joke itself is bad. It relies on body-­shaming, fatphobia, toxic masculinity, and transphobia to take jabs at Trump. The “joke” behind the statues is two­fold:

One is that it makes fun of Trump’s body, and likely his weight. He is depicted completely naked, rolls and all, and his skin is intentionally blemished. Beyond clearly relying on beauty standards most progressives would normally reject, it seems pretty fatphobic. Even if the artist didn’t intend it that way, it has certainly made space for fat ­shaming.

The second part of the joke is about Trump’s dick, or rather, his “manhood.” The title itself is an attempt to emasculate Trump in the same way that his shrunken penis is intended to. The implication is that people with a small penis, or lacking testicles, are not real men and are therefore worthy of scorn.

One defense of the statues that I’ve heard is “sauce for the gander”: Trump, though sensitive about being body-shamed himself, is perfectly happy to shame other people about their bodies. He even thinks it’s disgusting that women pee.

While I agree that the statues raise issues like fatphobia and transphobia, that’s not my core objection. All body shaming, by definition, is about body characteristics that the culture finds shameful: otherwise, it isn’t shaming. You can’t effectively shame someone by poking fun at how muscular they are, how slender they are, or how clear their skin is. What bothers me is that INDECLINE thinks Trump’s body is a target for any kind of shame.

Listen up, INDECLINE: you are falling into his trap. You are playing his game. You are shaming him for things that are not character flaws, things that are only shameful because the wider culture says they are. The list of things Donald Trump should be ashamed of is encyclopedic; by choosing his age, his body configuration, and your slurs about his genitals, you are affirming his propensity to do the same thing. If you don’t want to ever hear him make cracks about Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle (and I don’t, even if you do), don’t give him permission. And while we’re at it, no “joke” about anyone being raped is ever funny.