The ‘B’ Word

On September 10, 2016, The New York Times published an op-ed piece by Bitch Media founder Andi Zeisler. The headline read, in reference to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “The Bitch America Needs.”

How would you have felt if a piece like Zeisler’s had been written about Barack Obama in September, 2008, with an invocation of the ‘N’ word?

Zeisler has clearly attempted to co-opt a word used pejoratively against a specific group in order to take back the term (“bitch”) and empower the group (women). Even though I have subscribed to Zeisler’s magazine for years, I don’t believe the ‘B’ word has shaken off its baggage and become a universally empowering term for women. Successful co-optations of terms used pejoratively include “queer” and “Quaker.” The ‘B’ word just isn’t there yet. Moreover, the term certainly hasn’t assumed enough strength and swagger to occupy a New York Times prime-time headline about the first woman to be a major party contender for the presidency.

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘bitch’? Take a moment to list all the definitions and images that come to mind.

Check out’s definition of the ‘B’ word. The Merriam-Webster list doesn’t revel quite as much in all of the slang terms, but does maintain the clearly pejorative sense of the word. This Oxford English Dictionary list is quite thorough and shows that the derogatory use of the ‘B’ word is many centuries old.

The primary definition—“a female dog”—already, when used in reference to human women, turns us into dogs. The term also implies that women are only good for our breeding capacities. Secondary definitions use adjectives like “malicious,” “unpleasant,” “selfish,” “lewd,” “submissive,” “subservient,” “passive,” “complaining,” “nagging,” and “difficult,” all referring to women, unless the adjectives are referring to a man who has lost status and therefore become, by these oft-used definitions, a woman.

Just a week ago I heard a much-celebrated writer say, “These men enter prison as men. Two days later they’re raped and become girls.” The implication here, heavily forcing us to recall the ‘B’ word, is that women are the raped ones, women are the disempowered, women are the bitches, women are the girls who will be raped. Men who are raped become girls. That is something. The ‘B’ word reinscribes time and again that men are universal and women are “other.” This reinforces the still limited gender roles available to women and the punishments we suffer if we diverge from those roles.

When we use the ‘B’ word, we are referring in a negative way to a woman, who is of course linked to the female of the canine species, or to a man who has lost status or power, or to a complaint, or to a mean person, or to something difficult and/or annoying. The ‘B’ word basically tells us that women are conniving, complaining, mean, negative versions of the human species, if we get to be human at all. This term, so frequently used in our culture and our media, dehumanizes women, which has real-life consequences, such as gender-based violence and a lower status that can translate into fewer opportunities, less pay, and more sexual harassment. In fact, we are so culturally inured to this term that I suspect many people, women and men, will think I should lighten up on this point.

Despite the generally positive reviews of Hillary Clinton’s performance in last Monday night’s debate, some of the coverage still ran along these ‘B’-word lines. For example, in PBS’s post-debate coverage (see here the link to the debate itself and then to PBS’s post-debate coverage) Mark Shields said about Hillary Clinton, “She can’t give a short answer.” Gwen Ifill’s co-host Judy Woodruff states that, before the debate, her colleagues, David Brooks, Mark Shields, and Amy Walter, had stressed Clinton’s likability as a huge issue. Shields adds that people need to see Clinton as a “good egg,” someone whom you would want in your “carpool” or “PTA” (clearly gendered references), but that Clinton still doesn’t achieve this level of likability in the debate.  David Brooks says that, when Hillary Clinton talks about policy, “It can’t just be 3 things, it has to be 16 things, and you get into laundry list mode.” Clinton’s thorough preparation and willingness to share nuanced answers seem not to matter when it boils down to whether or not she is the ‘B’ word who gets to be in your PTA. (Fortune Magazine ran a post-debate piece titled “There Is Literally No Facial Expression Hillary Clinton Can Make to Please Male Pundits.”)

I was not the only one to be startled and taken aback by the Zeisler headline, published in a newspaper that has consistently criticized various aspects of presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (see, for example, this op-ed piece by Maureen Dowd; and this open letter to The New York Times in protest of the paper’s “skewed coverage” of Secretary of State Clinton). Two days after the publication of the Zeisler piece, Liz Spayd (“The Public Editor” of The New York Times) published a response titled, “The Word a Headline Didn’t Need.” Like Spayd, I get that Zeisler (and, possibly, by extension, The New York Times) is attempting to appropriate the term and to use it as an appreciative and empowering aspect of Secretary of State Clinton’s image. Nevertheless, I believe that many people in the United States just see this as further license to use the term in increasingly discriminatory, violent contexts.

Spayd rightly concludes her piece by saying, “… Referring to the first female presidential nominee as the right bitch for the job brings an air of legitimacy to the word that seems beyond where we are at this moment in history. The mainstream may someday apply this term to women who stand up for themselves and bust through feminine stereotypes. Until then, it remains an insult, degrading and misogynistic.” Indeed, misogyny and racism are running rampant in our nation. Do we need to add fuel to the flames by using a term that hasn’t quite ripened into an empowering counter-cultural existence?

Black Lives Matter, Damn It!

The title of my most recent book uses the metaphor of “gender shrapnel” to think about how we get hit with gender and intersectional injustices and then have to figure out how it happened and what solutions are available.  Today I want to talk about very real, lethal events—the actual bullets deployed to kill black person after black person in the streets of our cities.  As I said in last week’s post about Fox News (citing Elizabeth Stanko), violence is not hidden.  This violence has such a clear pattern, one that seems to demonstrate that we have normalized lynching.  We know the violence exists; now, what are going to do about it?

The #BlackLivesMatter website states its purpose in this way:  “#BlackLivesMatter is working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.  We affirm our contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.  We have put our sweat equity and love for Black people into creating a political project–taking the hashtag off of social media and into the streets. The call for Black lives to matter is a rallying cry for ALL Black lives striving for liberation.”

In many ways, white people have not seen this as a white problem—ignoring the plain fact that white power structures are the problem—and have not supported #BlackLivesMatter in active enough ways.  I am guilty of this too, in part because I have been trying to help to ensure that we don’t elect a president who has already made clear how many of our lives really don’t matter (e.g. building walls; deporting friends and neighbors; practicing religious exclusion; denying rights of women; lying, cheating, and stealing).  I haven’t even participated fully enough in our local CARE Rockbridge (Virginia) events—only attending vigils and group protests, but not helping to organize or to connect us to groups beyond our community.

We must make clear that the lives of black people—young, middle-aged, unarmed, disabled, men, women—matter right here and right now.  White people of all walks of life need to state clearly that this is a gigantic problem on the structural level and on the everyday, individual level from Ferguson to Minnesota to Tulsa and to Charlotte (and too many places in between).  Alexa Sykes makes this case (here) much better than I do.  Click here for an excellent interview that Sebastiaan Faber has done with one of Black Lives Matter’s spokespersons, Rosa Clemente.  Clemente posits many of the questions we need before us as this anti-racism protest gathers more steam, and she includes the Afro-Hispanic population in her platform.

Two nights ago I watched a rerun of “The West Wing.”  It was the episode in which a group of white supremacists try to kill Charlie, the African-American assistant to the President of the United States and the boyfriend of the President’s daughter.  Several episodes later, as the white characters are sorting through the trauma (both physical and emotional) of the shooting, they recognize that what they had witnessed was an attempted lynching.  Their delayed realization is portrayed in stark contrast to Charlie’s immediate understanding of the events.  We need to shorten, then eliminate, this delayed response in the white population.

The night I watched that episode (which I didn’t know would have that content) was the night of the day I learned about Terence Crutcher’s death in Tulsa.  I woke up in the middle of that night crying, then sorting through the reality of Crutcher’s death with the fictional representation of “The West Wing.”  Little did I know that Keith Lamont Scott was being killed in Charlotte at the same time.  Waking up—that is the comfortable metaphor for white people, while constant, fearful vigilance is the reality for black people.  In fact, the following day, I was driving on I-81, trying to pass four gigantic trucks and not noticing that, as I did, the speed limit sign, obscured by the trucks, had changed to 60 MPH.  I was pulled over, and I had the luxury of just handing over my license and registration and then receiving a patriarchal scolding and fine from the officer.  My white privilege makes this traffic stop just a traffic stop.

What is the plan? Given that our streets are clearly not safe places for people of color, how can we protest together and create safe spaces in public to make protesting voices heard more clearly?  How can we get our local and national governmental officials to put this issue front and center?  How can we create regional and national coalitions to state the problems, clearly and without protecting white guilt, and create multi-pronged solutions? These solutions need to encompass a reevaluation of the composition, training, and deployment of our police forces; increased visibility of the day-to-day lives and concerns of our African-American and Afro-Hispanic citizens; increased representation of African Americans in all arenas, and especially in government.  There must be dozens of other items that are not occurring to me but which have occurred time and again to others who have been more active than I.

This matters right now, damn it.

Fox News and the Cycle of Sexual Harassment

I’m writing this blog without use of spluttering expletives, but please feel free to insert them where you think I might have.

I have spent several weeks wondering why the word “shocking” has been used so many times to describe the Roger Ailes sexual harassment case at Fox News and why the mainstream media seems to think of the case as so unusual.  Gabriel Sherman is the author of The Loudest Voice in the Room:  How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News—And Divided a Country.  In Sherman’s interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Sherman used the word “shocking” or “shocked” five times.  For an author who has extensively researched Roger Ailes and Fox News, nothing about this sexual harassment case should be surprising.

*See this link at for a thorough and frequently updated summary of what we know about the Ailes case.

Senior Advisor to the London Metropolitan Police and Visiting Professor of Criminology at Royal Holloway, Elizabeth Stanko has collaborated with members of the Violence Research Program in the United Kingdom.  She summarizes the years-long research in this way:  “These lessons include the fact that violence is not hidden, that the meanings of violence are gendered, and that people’s accounts of violence matter” (“Theorizing About Violence.  Observations from the Economic and Social Research Council’s Violence Research Program” in Violence Against Women 12:6 (June 2006): 543-555).  Let’s remember the important lesson that violence is not hidden.  We generally are aware of discriminatory and violent acts in the workplace.  It’s what we do with this information that has a hidden character.  Many organizational managers see the discrimination and violence, circle the wagons to manage risk, and begin a long process of pretending that nothing negative has happened.  As Elizabeth Stanko pointedly states, “We need to know why official knowledge about violence is not often translated into action that supports, helps, or furthers policy to reduce violence and to make people’s lives following violence better” (547).

In Gender Shrapnel, I posit that sexual discrimination, harassment, and retaliation are on a continuum with sexual assault and violence.  In other words, organizations that allow people to discriminate and harass are also likely to mismanage reports of even more acute issues, like rape and other forms of violence.  These actions are not only violations of Title VII Law, but they also reveal a deep trend towards dehumanization of the workplace.  Roger Ailes’ alleged decades-long campaign of sexual discrimination, harassment, and retaliation at Fox News includes allegations of more profound problems of sexual violence.

Let’s think for a moment about the common denominators at the core of sexual discrimination, harassment, and retaliation:

  • Hierarchy with powerful, high-salaried white men at the top [e.g. Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch]
  • Reinforcement of white, male privilege through the hiring and retention of more people who look the same, thus making people of color and women a rarity [Just look at the Fox News administrative team and line-up of anchors]
  • Institutional leaders who practice sexual discrimination, harassment, and retaliation are not only protected by other organizational leaders [e.g. Bill Shine, Diane Brandi], including general counsel, but are also imitated by men below them in the hierarchy [e.g. Bill O’Reilly, who has also been the subject  of complaints of sexual harassment]
  • Establishment of a workplace environment that gives power to men and takes it from women.  Examples of this include giving more and higher quality airtime to men, regulating women’s appearance in highly scripted ways, and repeatedly airing sexist broadcasts as if they were news [Check out this series of clips of Fox News’ rampant misogyny]
  • “Boys-will-be-boys” indulgence of men’s illegal behavior [See that series of clips I just mentioned!]
  • Punishment of and retaliation against those lower in the hierarchy who make people aware of the illegal acts [Fox News firings of those who came forward about sexual harassment]
  • Silencing news of the illegal behaviors, through intimidation or pay-off
  • Condoning these behaviors through high-level protection afforded the wrongdoers.  The wrongdoers stay, and those who complain of the wrongdoing must go.
  • This cycle repeats itself.

While the law (see also Chapter 6 of Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace) distinguishes between quid pro quo (usually involving requests for sexual favors) and hostile work environment (HWE) harassment and discrimination, often where there is one form of harassment, the other is lurking as well.  There are multiple ways for the higher-ups in an organization to create a dehumanizing culture in which the lower-downs are not accorded respect for the work they do, are paid too little for the jobs they do, are silenced for taking a stand, and/or are removed because they challenge the hierarchy.  It is reported that Fox News employees, with Ailes at the helm, used both quid pro quo and HWE to foment a culture of harassment and dehumanization for decades.  This is textbook, people, and there is absolutely nothing shocking about it.  (Bryce Covert makes a similar point in this New York Times opinion piece.)

We should be particularly concerned by several factors in this case:

Fox News is one of the most powerful media outlets in the world.  It got away (and, given current hiring practices, appears still to be getting away) with a culture of harassment, both off-screen and on-, for decades.

A number of high-profile individuals knew of Ailes’ alleged acts and said nothing and, in several cases, made sure to defend Ailes and even to sing his praises.  (*See this piece in The New York Times.) Those who refuse to see the truth or who know the truth and refuse to speak it add to the culture of harassment and its damaging cycle.

Instead of publicly reckoning with the numerous complaints of sexual discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, Fox News appears to have concealed them through silencing those who came forward—by either paying them off or firing them.  Non-disclosure agreements in general should be questioned because they send the message that the organization has swept its culture and illegal actions under the rug and that its managers are unwilling to make real change.

In The New Yorker, Margaret Talbot writes that one of the surprising elements in the Fox News case is that powerful women were subjected to sexual harassment.  Talbot then examines the sexual harassment research that demonstrates that women in positions of power might be more prone to have to deal with these kinds of behaviors, precisely because sexual harassment operates by means of a power hierarchy.  At the same time, Talbot writes, “Still, the more that powerful women who have experienced harassment come forward, the less likely it will be that employers can get away with punishing them.”  This seems to be how things have turned out at Fox News when Megyn Kelly came forward to say that she too had been sexually harassed.  The lesson here is that there is an onus upon high-ranking people in the “protected categories” to report what they experience and/or see.

PERHAPS THE MOST DEEPLY TROUBLING PART OF ALL OF THIS:  Roger Ailes is an adviser to Donald Trump.  (See these pieces for links established between Ailes and Trump:  Washington Post [The Fix; Aug. 29, 2016] and Washington Post [The Fix; Aug. 17, 2016]; The New Yorker [Aug. 1, 2016].) Some have claimed that Roger Ailes helped to create Donald Trump.  Therefore, the deep hatred and generalized misogyny so prevalent at Fox News is part and parcel of the platform of one of our nominees for the President of the United States.

Finally, some reporters (Washington Post Style [why Style?] section; New York Times Style [again?] section) have been perplexed by lawyer Susan Estrich’s decision to defend Roger Ailes.  Estrich, known as a feminist legal scholar, defended Bill Clinton in the Clinton-Lewinsky case.  Two of the points against Bill Clinton that I believe she missed (see Chapter 14 of Gender Shrapnel) are (1) that there was no greater possible hierarchical disparity in workplace relations (President-intern) and (2) that the act took place in the most iconic workplace of the United States, if not of the world.  These are serious factors in the consideration of sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation in the workplace.

The Fox News-Roger Ailes case should serve as a lesson for the United States workplace.  We can make a list of the many things that went wrong and then use it to complete a sincere audit of our own organizations and institutions.

The Empire of Housewifery: Phyllis Schlafly, Martha Stewart, and Pilar Primo de Rivera

Do you have time today for a three-question, multiple-choice quiz?  Here goes:

Martha Stewart is:

  • a) an entrepreneur
  • b) an extremely successful businesswoman with her own line of home décor products and multimedia publications
  • c) a former Wall Street trader
  • d) a and b
  • e) b and c
  • f) all of the above
  1. Phyllis Schlafly was:
  • a) a lawyer
  • b) an expert in political science
  • c) the author of over 20 books
  • d) a wife and mother of six children
  • e) a political icon of the mid-20th century
  • f) all of the above
  1. Pilar Primo de Rivera was:
  • a) the head of Spain’s Sección Femenina
  • b) the daughter of a Spanish dictator and the sister of a right-wing Spanish leader celebrated by Francisco Franco
  • c) a single woman who traveled the world as part of the Sección Femenina
  • d) the longest serving delegate in the history of Spain’s government
  • e) a politician who insisted on the traditional family as the cornerstone of Spanish cultural and political life
  • f) all of the above

If you answered “all of the above” for all of the above, you are right!

Do you notice anything that doesn’t seem to add up, any hypocrisies?  If not, then read on.  (And, if so, you may as well read on anyway, just for the heck of it.)

As most of us know, Martha Stewart has worked in many business sectors and has enjoyed great success, despite the jail sentence she served for insider trading back in the early 2000s.  Her mega-business was predicated on women staying in the home, purchasing home products, and beautifying the private space occupied with family.  The more creative the home Halloween design, the better.  The more intricate the weekend dinner for neighborhood friends, the better.  The message?  It’s up to you, housewife of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, to make that homey place perfect for all of your people.

Have you picked up on the hypocrisy yet?  No?  Well, then read on.

Fewer people might know Phyllis Schlafly, who died just last week (see the lengthy New York Times obituary here).  Ms. Schlafly, extremely influential anti-feminist icon of the mid- to late-20th century, was extremely active—earning advanced degrees, writing over 20 books, raising six children, and advocating for “traditional” family models in which women stay at home and play only supporting roles.

Are we there yet?  I think so, but let’s go on to one more example.

Pilar Primo de Rivera, legendary head of the right-wing Feminine (or Women’s) Section (Sección Femenina) of the Spanish Phalanx (Falange), spent her life in politics, serving for 43 years as a Spanish delegate, traveling the world, and advocating for women’s supportive role in the home (see Professor Jessica Davidson’s excellent piece on Primo de Rivera here; see also Julia Hudson-Richards’ article, titled “‘Women Want to Work’: Shifting Ideologies of Women’s Work in Franco’s Spain, 1939-1962,” in the Journal of Women’s History, volume 27, no. 2 (2015), pp. 87-109).  Primo de Rivera never married or had children, but she fomented popular belief in and practice of the Falange’s 18 Points for Women of the Falange.  These include “Obey, and through your example, teach others to obey,” “Do not seek to have your personality stand out; endeavor to have another’s (masculine form, “otro”) stand out,” and “Action no longer corresponds to you” [or “Don’t try to be active”].

Okay, whew, I think we’ve arrived:

In Spanish, a woman who operates out in the world, who is visible and active, is sometimes called a “public woman” (“mujer pública”).  This term, certainly in Spanish but I think also in English, is also often linked to prostitution or sex work.  It therefore manifests a moral judgment about public women and entrenches the cultural dichotomy between the private woman (pure Madonna) and public woman (corrupt Eve).

Lessons about gender shrapnel tell us (through a number of researchers’ excellent work; see, for example, Jeanine Silveira Stewart’s “Mothering Out of Place,” Linda Hirshman’s Get to Work, and several articles by Peter Glick and Susan T. Fiske, all cited in Chapter 4 of Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace) that many people in the world can accept a woman “out of place,” that is, in the public space, as long as that woman is advocating for other women to stay “in their place,” in private.  This is exactly what Martha Stewart, Phyllis Schlafly, and Pilar Primo de Rivera did.  They pursued advanced degrees, moved freely through national and international spaces, wrote books, weighed in on business or public policy, all the while preaching for a stable domesticity that would ensure women’s financial, cultural, and political subordination to men.  Their platform—the empire of housewifery—encompasses a “do what I say, not what I do” approach that somehow has successfully hoodwinked many men and women who are not hip to the hypocrisy.  This strikes me as both hilarious (How are people played like that?) and deeply revealing of the stealth with which cultural gender impositions function.

I prefer my anti-feminists to be full-out anti-feminists, eschewing hypocrisy between their public platforms and personal and professional decisions.  As for the feminists, we can always look to 17th-century genius, writer, and nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, who, even through the dangerous fires of Inquisition, signaled gender hypocrisies and tried to undo them. Check out her famous poem “Hombres necios” (in Spanish and/or in English) for your Monday poetry pleasure.


Labor Day: Equal Pay, the Home Workplace, and the So-Called Glass Ceiling

In the United States, today is Labor Day.  While this might mean you’ve got a day off or are headed to a neighborhood barbecue, this national holiday, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, “is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

There are few images that resonate better with gender shrapnel than the glass ceiling referred to in Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Democratic National Convention speech and subsequently and symbolically shattered at the end of her speech.  Clinton says, “When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.”  At the end of her speech, a symbolic glass ceiling up on the big screen shatters into millions of little shards.  This scattering of small bits of oppression represents gender shrapnel and begs some Labor Day analysis.

Today I want to talk about equal pay, the home workplace, and struggles to break the glass ceiling, even in the highest of jobs in the land.

We had the Equal Pay Act of 1963.  The fact that we still needed the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Fair Pay Act of 2009 should tell you something about how legislation can be both freeing (statement that, “Differences in pay that occur because of sex violate the EPA and/or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. In addition, compensation differences based on race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, and/or retaliation also violate laws enforced by EEOC”) and limiting (e.g. statute of limitations, even when the employee might not be aware of pay inequities due to secrecy surrounding employee salaries and benefits).

Doesn’t this make you wonder which acts we still need to legislate in order to ensure that Latina women can earn more than 54 cents on the dollar that white men earn, black women can earn more than 64 cents on that same dollar, and white women can earn more than 78 cents on that dollar (2013 statistics)?  Furthermore, how can we move the needle on the stagnation of black and Latino men’s wages as compared (controlling for other variables) to those of white men? (*See 2015 figures from the Pew Research Center.) The state of Massachusetts has passed a new law prohibiting employers from asking job applicants their salary history (reported by The New York Times on August 2, 2016).  This creative approach will be an interesting, and likely effective, experiment for other states to watch.

One workplace whose employees enjoy neither the benefits of equal pay nor glimpses through the glass ceiling is the home workplace.  According to a 2014 Pew Research Report, “The share of mothers who do not work outside the home rose to 29% in 2012, up from a modern-era low of 23% in 1999.”  The report details many complicated factors that explain these statistics.  In addition, it points out that, “One of the most striking demographic differences between stay-at-home mothers and working mothers relates to their economic well-being. Fully a third (34%) of stay-at-home mothers are living in poverty, compared with 12% of working mothers.”

These statistics also beg the question about unremunerated work in the home workplace, where mostly women are the primary workers.  When jobs of the home workplace are outsourced, they become paid jobs.  Some who enjoy economic privilege pay a pretty penny to have their children taken care of or driven to activities, their houses cleaned, and their clothes laundered.  Nevertheless, women who stay at home and carry out these duties are unpaid and receive no fixed vacation days or retirement benefits.  This is an incredibly precarious position for those living in poverty, and it is also precarious for married women who consider divorce or lose partners.  Furthermore, traditional workplaces tend not to value the experiences gained in the home workplace, and so women have trouble explaining “resume gaps” and having others value work experience gained in the home. Over the next eight years, we will need to think more creatively and proactively about how to value, both literally and figuratively, home work.

Even when women accede to the highest posts in the land, they encounter troubling obstacles.  The constant false equivalence made between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump demonstrates how little we consider and value women’s real, earned educational degrees, work experience, and accomplishments.  Even more dangerous are the violent rhetoric and images used against Hillary Clinton, ranging from “Lock Her Up” of the Trump rallies, to Trump’s own comment about what the “second amendment people” could do to Hillary, to the tweet of an image of a large, cloaked, male figure next to two nooses with the slogan “I’m Ready for Hillary.”  These threats reveal a deep preoccupation among parts of the U.S. populace about women operating in public spaces and their prescription for what should happen to women when they don’t “stay in their place.”  We should be particularly concerned about this use of sex-based violence as political practice.

I wonder, too, how this glass ceiling shrapnel has affected Dilma Rousseff in Brazil (See these pieces in The Economist, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, O Globo, and La Vanguardia.)  As women near the so-called glass ceiling, referred to by Buzzanell and Lucas as the “cement wall” for women of color, we must somehow be threatening a sense of the labor status quo that runs deep in our world.  So deep that successful women should pay for the sins of their successes?

As we celebrate Labor Day here in the United States, let’s think about what progress we can make for people of color and women before Labor Day in many other parts of the world (May 1).

Visibility and Invisibility: Gender Shrapnel in the Coverage of the 2016 Rio Olympics

I know what you’re thinking: Aren’t the Olympics over? Haven’t we heard enough about gendered, raced, and U.S.-centric coverage of the Olympics? Haven’t traditional media outlets and social media done their job by signaling all of the problematic reporting? The answer is: Nope, not even close.

We need to think of the realm of athletics as a workplace. In the United States, of course, the athletics workplace has been greatly changed and enriched by the 1972 passage of Title IX. This New York Times article and this one attest to the many ways in which Title IX has changed the sports landscape (although still not enough) for girls and women. Despite significantly greater access to sports opportunities and the demonstration of amazing talent, skill, teamwork, and dedication, girls and women still don’t get the positive media attention they deserve. I still cringe when I think that Sports Illustrated believes that women in bikinis (although unprepared to swim races or to dive) are appropriate subjects for the magazine’s cover.

We all absorb the gender scripts promoted by more than a few of our media outlets. These scripts are insultingly limiting for women because they dictate along the lines of the “good” (wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, helpmates) and the “bad” (oversexualized, undersexualized, homosexualized), rather than focusing on the athletic accomplishments of the incredible athletes we watch on television. Let’s not forget how limiting gender scripts are for men: men are not supposed to express emotions (except for anger and braggadocio) and/or have also become hypersexualized. The male gold medal winners (oh, and also Katinka Hosszu’s husband) who beat their chests in victory give us a revealing shorthand to examine the narrow confines of gender scripts.

(Quick note: Even as I write this, when I google “beach volleyball” and get taken to the NBC Olympics site, the site defaults to men’s beach volleyball.)

Even as women Olympians in many nations rack up the medals, they are scrutinized for their familial roles, race, “hotness,” choice of hairstyle/make-up, and demonstration of emotions. They are too visible in these arenas, and then remarkably invisible when it comes to their numerous accomplishments.  Why hasn’t media coverage been saturated by Katie Ledecky’s amazing achievements in Rio? Ledecky won individual gold medals in the Women’s 200, 400, and 800 freestyle events, a group gold for the Women’s 4×200 freestyle relay, and a group silver in the Women’s 4×100 freestyle relay. She won the 800 free by over 12 seconds and set a new world record. Her success is unprecedented, and yet she planned each step and worked towards it in a steadfast, steely, no-nonsense way. Have we not heard more about Katie Ledecky because she hasn’t turned pro, and therefore doesn’t have to do hair and make-up according to company contracts, or because there was no boyfriend or husband or child around her to narrate an acceptably gendered story? Is her brilliant success not enough of a story? Again, visibility for women and people of color seems to emerge only through prescribed gender and race roles. At the same time, the incredible talent, competence, and accomplishments of women and people of color often don’t become the fundamental element of the narrative around them.

We also haven’t heard enough yet about Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Simone Manuel, or Aly Raisman. Ryan Lochte and his supposedly excusable boyish behavior eclipses coverage of other athletes, and his white privilege makes even more profound the violence against black lives. (*See The Washington Post’s excellent opinion piece by Alexandra Petri, “Ryan Lochte and the Privilege Tree.”)

(Another quick note: I haven’t addressed the invisibility of athletes from other nations, because I saw so few in the NBC coverage.)

As the first African American swimmer to win a gold medal (actually, two golds and two silvers) at the Olympics, Simone Manuel has made history. In her first race to gold, the announcers almost forgot to mark her presence. She only seemed to exist when she won the gold, which the announcers seemed never to consider as a possibility. This clearly exemplifies the invisibility—in this case, at the race and gender nexus—of accomplished people of color and women in the gender shrapnel puzzle.

Women Olympians are repeatedly linked to their male family members (visible), and sometimes this element is highlighted over the actual prowess and success of the Olympians (invisible). Katie Rogers examines this in The New York Times, August 18, 2016.

Some examples include:

(1) An NBC Olympics feature on Kerri Walsh Jennings’ role as wife and mother. This is not negative per se. It’s just that the male athletes are rarely highlighted in their roles as husbands and fathers;

(2) the focus on Italian synchronized diver Tania Cagnotto’s father. There was no mention of her mother, Carmen Casteiner, who was a diver in the 1976 Olympics. In unfortunate related news, the site fully objectified Cagnotto by focusing on her looks rather than her ability to dive. (I have not included the link so as not to dignify it);

(3) the repeated attribution of Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu’s incredible swimming success to her husband-coach, even after the social media storm that decried it (see also The New York Times long and worried piece about domestic abuse). If I had to see her husband beat his chest, as if all of Hosszu’s victories were his own (as claimed by one of NBC’s announcers), one more time…

(4) the focus on U.S. high jumper Vashti Cunningham’s father (example here at; and

(5) Corey Cogdell-Unrein, Olympic medalist in trap shooting, referred to in this Chicago Tribune tweet as simply the wife of a Bears lineman.

The message: It’s time for those who work in media and in athletics to recognize women athletes and athletes of color for their many accomplishments. It’s time to let go of the media circus and overwrought attention on women as appendages to others and women as mere objects. It’s 2016. It’s the 21st century. We can kick these rotten habits.



Rarity, Reporting, and Retaliation in Baltimore (and elsewhere)

Gender shrapnel hits home in Baltimore (and everywhere). The New York Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Jess Bidgood reported on August 11, 2016, that the Justice Department’s report on police bias in Baltimore “painted a picture of a police culture deeply dismissive of sexual assault victims and hostile toward prostitutes and transgender people. It branded the Baltimore Police Department’s response to sexual assault cases ‘grossly inadequate.’” They cite examples from the report that include calling an individual who reported a sexual assault a “conniving little whore,” testing only 15% of the rape kits of reported sexual assaults, and expressing concern about “messing up” the life of alleged rape perpetrators. The article also mentions similar investigations in Missoula, Montana, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Puerto Rico.

Just two weeks before (July 26, 2016), The New York Times published an opinion piece by Amy Stewart in which Stewart makes the case for hiring many more women police officers across the United States, in part because “studies show that female officers are significantly less likely to be involved in instances of excessive force or police brutality.”

Taken together, these two stories reveal four key elements of gender shrapnel.

First, the rarity of women on police forces speaks to our collective vision of police officers as armed men. As we know, current questions about hypermasculine cultures and the increased militarization of police forces are on the table, especially as we consider the use of violence against unarmed black men and women. Hiring more women to police forces and, ultimately, to leadership positions in law enforcement will certainly encourage a more “in the trenches” move to have police forces reflect and respond to—rather than oppose—our communities.

Second, all of the important issues raised by the BlackLivesMatter movement, and by many other activists and authors, point to an increased need for intersectional reflection. Baltimore’s NAACP President Tessa Hill-Aston, as cited in the New York Times article about Baltimore, says, “They just didn’t care, because it was a poor black woman or a poor black neighborhood.” Ms. Hill-Aston perceptively signals that we need to look at intersections of gender (including transgender), race, and class in the case of black women’s reticence to report rape in Baltimore.

Third, a sure sign of a sick system is when people attempt to go to authorities to report crime and are further victimized or abused by those authorities. To have to report, possibly have a rape kit done, and then continue to recount the story is difficult enough. Add to that real additional abuse by the authorities (ranging from an officer actually raping a victim making a report to letting rape kits languish for years in labs), and you’ve created a system in which individuals are actively discouraged from reporting severe felonies. Retaliation—a turning against and punishing those who report crimes—is the reinforcing element of sexual and racial discrimination and harassment. In many cases, authority remains coolly white and patriarchal, reinforcing its power and maintaining its distance from the communities it is supposed to serve.

Fourth, we need more people to call out these actions and to recognize the dehumanizing effects of them. Silence and shutting up (see Chapter 7 of Gender Shrapnel) contribute to a real and rhetorical violence that permeates our communities.

Don’t we want to live in communities in which we value each other’s full humanity? Let’s address questions of rarity (hire more women and people of color), reporting (transparent and fully accountable), and retaliation (remove those who practice it) head-on.

Gender Shrapnel, General Information


After deciding that I had experienced too many bad gender days and had observed too many others do the same, I wrote Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace to describe gender problems in the workplace, provide new terminology to give shape to gender phenomena, and offer solutions.  The book first provides new descriptive terms, then giving voice and texture to gender problems in the workplace through real-life stories, offers a set of concrete solutions for employers and employees, and finally outlines training principles to create a workplace more focused on equitable treatment.  “Bad gender days” can be alleviated with more knowledge and deliberate actions proposed in this book, in which vivid stories of gender shrapnel make the notion of gender in the workplace come alive.

Gender Shrapnel employs the image of “shrapnel,” bits of scattered metal that can hit purposeful targets or unwitting bystanders, to narrate the story of workplace power and gender discrimination. The project interweaves stories of gender shrapnel with an examination of national rhetoric surrounding business, education, and law to uncover underlying phenomena that contribute to discourse on privilege and gender in the workplace. Sample terms include the “feminist fuse,” the “last straw phenomenon,” the “professional mystique,” “being radioactive,” and, of course, “gender shrapnel.”  I establish concrete examples that serve as case studies for subsequent discussion of data about women in the workforce, language use and misuse, sexual harassment, silence and shutting up, and hiring, training, promotion, and the glass ceiling.  This book examines how one small comment or one minor deed that relays gender inequity takes a series of zigzag paths—the route(s) of gender shrapnel—to arrive at bigger organizational mishap and entrenched labor and cultural problems in the workplace.  The examination of these paths is part of the storytelling component of Gender Shrapnel.

Gender Shrapnel in the Workplace is unique for three principal reasons: (1)  It combines a sometimes funny, always hard-hitting, narrative voice with solid, up-to-date research on sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation and is therefore highly readable but also chock-full of information; (2) it appeals to employees, employers, and full organizations—helping all three groups to understand how gender dynamics gone bad have negative consequences for all involved; and (3) it provides tools (glossary, case studies, training sessions) to teach organizations how to create equitable work environments.

Now that you understand the notion of gender shrapnel, make sure to tune in to next week’s post.

ann e michael

Poetry, nature, books, & speculative philosophical musings

Ms. Magazine

Ellen Mayock

The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics


killing joy as a world making project

Edurne Portela

Bio, información sobre publicaciones de libros y artículos, agenda y más

ann e michael

Poetry, nature, books, & speculative philosophical musings

Ms. Magazine

Ellen Mayock

The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics


killing joy as a world making project

Edurne Portela

Bio, información sobre publicaciones de libros y artículos, agenda y más

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