Body Impolitic

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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

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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.

It’s July! Let’s Have Some Links

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Debbie says:

In 1998 when Camryn Manheim was up for an Emmy, which she won. Designers lined up to make her dress, like they do (or did?) for Emmy nominees. Manheim, ever the fat activist, refused to take an offer from any designer who didn’t otherwise make plus-size clothes.

leslie-jones-768Leslie Jones, star of the upcoming Ghostbusters remake, complained on Twitter and found a designer, Christian Siriano, to make a gown for her. At least some of the fashion press thinks this is Jones’ fault. Kara Brown reports from Jezebel:

Pret-a-Reporter talked to Hollywood stylists who perfectly exemplified the stereotypes of the thin-obsessed, catty, narcissistic fashion industry.

 In addition to arguing that designers who have complete control over what sizes they make and still only produce the smallest sizes available do not have a size bias, stylist Jeanne Yang suggests that it would be a financial burden to create a new dress for a woman starring in what will likely be one of the biggest movies of the summer and who will soon be snapped thousands of times on the red carpet. …
It sucks that Jones had to complain on Twitter to get a nice dress to wear and that Christian Siriano was the only designer to step up, but hopefully he will do her right and she’ll show up on the carpet looking like a queen and making those fools wish they weren’t such brats.

All I can say is “Still? After all these years?”

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In the class of “how was this ever not true?” towards the end of June New York City passed a law providing tampons and pads to all women in public schools, shelters, and correctional facilities.  As Mattie Kahn said at Elle:

New York City is leading the crusade to free women from shelling out for a public health imperative. No one is forcing high schoolers to pay for toilet paper, dudes! 

“Tampon taxes” are going away, but seriously: how did anyone ever think that supplying menstrual products was not a necessary thing?

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Medium went to Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal to show us a biting overview of how female firsts are covered, from Amelia Earhart to Hillary Clinton. Hint:  the woman’s accomplishments are often not given any credit. Here’s just one of my favorites:

December, 1903, OSLO, Norway — “Ignoring voice vote, rigged Nobel Prize committee hands award to Marie Curie.”

Bee also cites reports about Billie Jean King, Sally Ride, and … Joan of Arc! Sadly not surprising, but well worth the two-minute read.

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I really liked B.A. Beasley’s essay at The Toast on genderqueer parenting:

You see, there’s no such thing as a parent. We only have mothers and fathers.

Here’s what I don’t mean: I don’t mean that women and men are hardwired to parent differently. I don’t even mean that the social construction of gender is so overpowering that overcoming motherhood or fatherhood is difficult for individual parents. I mean the social category of parent just doesn’t seem to exist.

I say this despite the fact that my social world is filled with people who are deeply invested in egalitarian parenthood. I personally know inspirations in the realm of splitting reproductive labor. They are not doing it wrong.

But all the good people in the world making all the right decisions about sharing, pitching in, and helping each other out can’t fix the fact that every form you complete, every book you read, every law you face, every policy you confront has two categories: mothers and fathers.

There’s a lot more: very thoughtful and some of it very personal. If the topic interests you, read the whole thing.

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Discussing a different aspect of families, social circles, and social expectations, Amalthea Aelwyn at Queen of the Chaos Circle wrote a long, detailed advice column for the families and friends of people with autoimmune diseases. Her piece has over twenty bullet points of things to think about and do: here’s just one that struck me.

  • She will already be her own worst critic. In her head, she will most likely be struggling to avoid chewing herself out regularly.   Nothing you can say will possibly be as harsh as she is on herself.  So she needs you to be especially careful of the things you say to her, and how you say them.  It’s okay to have your own feelings, and to express feelings, but you always have a choice in how you say something. There is a big difference between grumpily demanding “why do I have to stop eating wheat (candy or whatever else), just because you’re sick all the time!?” and saying “I wish there was a way to make you better, so we wouldn’t both have to skip candy and soda.” The first statement becomes an attack on a person who can’t help that she has this problem. The second statement is a way to express your frustration in a way that shows you care about her, and know that she misses those things too. It is even okay to be mad at her disease, but it’s not okay to take that mad out on her. Tell her that you are mad at her disease, too, if you want. But don’t yell at her for it. She can’t help it.

I have both family and several friends with autoimmune diseases. I found this a hard read, the kind I sometimes push against saying either, “That’s not fair to me!” or “But I already do that!” in my head, which usually means it’s things I need to hear. I’ll come back to it again and again when I need it.

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Finally, Casey Chan at Sploid features an adults-only video by SuperDeluxe that takes those of us who want to go there (not for everyone) through a sex-doll factory:

Being inside a sex doll factory and watching all that plastic nakedness get shaped is much more haunting than it is titillating. It gets unsettling, like if you were trapped inside a scene from a horror movie and couldn’t get out. But it’s also somewhat intriguing, just to see the mixture of products and body parts that they put together in a puzzle to shape a doll.

The queer parenting link is from zulu. Otherwise, links are from my regular reading, which includes Feministe, Shakesville, Sociological Images, Feministing, io9, and TakePart, along with other sources.