This is a diary about pole vaulting, a stoning, and women.
The Washington Post had a story on teenage pole vaulter Allison Stokke.
I want to highlight something lower down in the article first:
A former gymnast, Stokke had tried pole vaulting as a lark as a freshman in high school. Two months later, she set a school record. She won the 2004 state championship three months after that. Stokke had augmented her natural, pole-vaulting disposition — speed, upper-body strength and courage — by lifting weights three times each week. College programs including Harvard, Stanford and UCLA also recruited her.
During her meet at Cerritos College, Stokke cleared 11 feet, then 12 feet, then 13 feet and qualified for the state meet. By the time she stared ahead at a bar set 13 feet 6 inches, all other nine pole vaulters had maxed out. Stokke warmed up by herself, the only athlete left.
I pole vaulted in high school. I was never as good as Stokke. The best height I ever cleared was 13 feet. I won the league championship and sectional championship, but finished third in the division and had a disastrous regional meet. Too many injuries had caught up to me.
I mention that because I want to emphasis something about Stokke: courage. My track coach always claimed he picked his pole vaulters by finding the craziest people on the team and making them pole vault.
She loved pole vaulting because it was a sport built on intricacies. Each motion required calculation and precision. A well-executed vault blended a dancer’s timing, a sprinter’s speed and a gymnast’s grace. “There’s so much that happens in a vault below the surface,” Stokke said.
As the sun set Friday night, Stokke positioned her pole as if she were jousting and sprinted about 100 feet toward the bar. She ran on her tip-toes, like she’d learned from ballet. As she approached her mark, Stokke bent her pole into the ground and coiled her legs to her chest. She lifted upward, twisting her torso 180 degrees as she passed over the bar. It was a beautiful clearance, and the crowd stood to applaud.
It’s an incredibly hard sport and Stokke has already mastered it, winning the state championship twice.
But what she’s known for on the Internet is something she never sought. She’s been subjected to lewd Internet postings.
Admittedly, she’s a beautiful young woman. But to many, she’s simply an object to lust after.
I know as a man I’ve lusted plenty in my time. But there’s a difference between a glance and open leers.
And that’s what Stokke has been subjected to.
Today, an unofficial web site www.allisonstokke.com went down after The Post featured a story on her.
Sorry for having contributed to the unwanted attention, Allison. We think you’re a phenomenal athlete and wish you the best of luck in your academic and athletic endeavors.
Good for the web site. But they weren’t the egregious offenders:
She gave them the Internet tour that she believed now defined her: to the unofficial Allison Stokke fan page, complete with a rolling slideshow of 12 pictures; to the fan group on MySpace, with about 1,000 members; to the message boards and chat forums where hundreds of anonymous users looked at Stokke’s picture and posted sexual fantasies.
I’m writing about this because it’s just plain wrong. There’s nothing wrong with women who want to show off their sexy side (I’m a huge fan of Shakira), but it is wrong for men to just treat women like Stokke as objects for their gratification.
I would say that didn’t need to be stated, but look at where we are with the treatment of women today.
We’ve got Supreme Court decisions following the 19th century views of women:
Quite simply, these justifications are premised on 19th-century conceptions of women as not being rational agents. And such justifications evidently underpin a great deal of anti-choice discourse and policy (most obviously seen in the fact that the official Republican position is that abortion is murder but women who obtain them should be entirely exempt from legal sanctions.) At least Kennedy was decent enough to give away the show, admitting that these assertions are backed by “no reliable data,” leaving us with meaningless claims that some women may regret their decision to obtain abortions in retrospect. (If some women regret getting married, can we ban that too? How about anecdotal evidence about women who become depressed after becoming mothers, does this justify state-mandated abortions?) These arguments aren’t about women’s health; they’re about assumptions that women are incapable of making moral judgments, period.
We’ve got Supreme Court decisions saying that it is okay that women are valued less than men. Justice Ginsburg:
The problem of concealed pay discrimination is particularly acute where the disparity arises not because the female employee is flatly denied a raise but because male counterparts are given larger raises. Having received a pay increase, the female employee is unlikely to discern at once that she has experienced an adverse employment decision. She may have little reason even to suspect discrimination until a pattern develops incrementally and she ultimately becomes aware of the disparity. Even if an employee suspects that the reason for a comparatively low raise is not performance but sex (or another protected ground), the amount involved may seem too small, or the employer’s intent too ambiguous, to make the issue immediately actionable — or winnable.
I could go on and on. There are too many recent examples to cite, from threats to women who have the audacity to post their views on the Internet (“blogging while female” one friend described it to me) to the paternalism of Rudy Guiliani’s responses to women asking serious questions.
But I want to highlight this post by Joss Whedon. Like Christy Hardin Smith, it has haunted me.
Last month seventeen year old Dua Khalil was pulled into a crowd of young men, some of them (the instigators) family, who then kicked and stoned her to death. This is an example of the breath-taking oxymoron “honor killing”, in which a family member (almost always female) is murdered for some religious or ethical transgression. Dua Khalil, who was of the Yazidi faith, had been seen in the company of a Sunni Muslim, and possibly suspected of having married him or converted. That she was torturously murdered for this is not, in fact, a particularly uncommon story. But now you can watch the action up close on CNN. Because as the girl was on the ground trying to get up, her face nothing but red, the few in the group of more than twenty men who were not busy kicking her and hurling stones at her were filming the event with their camera-phones.
There were security officers standing outside the area doing nothing, but the footage of the murder was taken – by more than one phone – from the front row. Which means whoever shot it did so not to record the horror of the event, but to commemorate it. To share it. Because it was cool.
I could start a rant about the level to which we have become desensitized to violence, about the evils of the voyeuristic digital world in which everything is shown and everything is game, but honestly, it’s been said. And I certainly have no jingoistic cultural agenda. I like to think that in America this would be considered unbearably appalling, that Kitty Genovese is still remembered, that we are more evolved. But coincidentally, right before I stumbled on this vid I watched the trailer for “Captivity”.
What is wrong with women?
I mean wrong. Physically. Spiritually. Something unnatural, something destructive, something that needs to be corrected.
How did more than half the people in the world come out incorrectly? I have spent a good part of my life trying to do that math, and I’m no closer to a viable equation. And I have yet to find a culture that doesn’t buy into it. Women’s inferiority – in fact, their malevolence — is as ingrained in American popular culture as it is anywhere they’re sporting burkhas. I find it in movies, I hear it in the jokes of colleagues, I see it plastered on billboards, and not just the ones for horror movies. Women are weak. Women are manipulative. Women are somehow morally unfinished. (Objectification: another tangential rant avoided.) And the logical extension of this line of thinking is that women are, at the very least, expendable.
I try to think how we got here. The theory I developed in college (shared by many I’m sure) is one I have yet to beat: Womb Envy. Biology: women are generally smaller and weaker than men. But they’re also much tougher. Put simply, men are strong enough to overpower a woman and propagate. Women are tough enough to have and nurture children, with or without the aid of a man. Oh, and they’ve also got the equipment to do that, to be part of the life cycle, to create and bond in a way no man ever really will. Somewhere a long time ago a bunch of men got together and said, “If all we do is hunt and gather, let’s make hunting and gathering the awesomest achievement, and let’s make childbirth kinda weak and shameful.” It’s a rather silly simplification, but I believe on a mass, unconscious level, it’s entirely true. How else to explain the fact that cultures who would die to eradicate each other have always agreed on one issue? That every popular religion puts restrictions on women’s behavior that are practically untenable? That the act of being a free, attractive, self-assertive woman is punishable by torture and death? In the case of this upcoming torture-porn, fictional. In the case of Dua Khalil, mundanely, unthinkably real. And both available for your viewing pleasure.
Whedon is on full-steam ahead rant mode and it’s a thing of beauty as he gets rolling.
I think he hit it on the head. Men are jealous of women and that’s why they abuse them so in in thought and in deed.
I’m a man. I’ve been one my whole life. And though I’ve dated many women in my life, some seriously and some not so seriously, and though I’m very close to my wife and my ex wife, and though I am the father of young daughters, I am not really qualified to write about women. So I’m posting this in the dead of night when few will see it.
But I couldn’t sleep because the story I read about Stokke weighed on my mind. Others had written much more eloquently and passionately about Dua Khalil, and the SCOTUS decisions.
It seems a far cry from a pole vaulter to the death of a teenage girl in Iraq. It’s not. The sexual objectification of Stokke and the murder of Khalil are both symptoms of the same problem: men don’t treat women as equals.
You hear people mouth the words, but then you hear a Don Imus refer to female athletes as “hos” and you read another account of a young woman murdered by an estranged boyfriend. It’s enough to make me sick of my entire gender.
I had a police friend, a gruff older guy, who told me he hoped his daughter grew up to be a lesbian. He’d been on one too many calls involving an abusive boyfriend who thought it was his right to always have his way and if he didn’t get it he could beat the shit out of the girlfriend. (I don’t mean to put lesbians on a pedestal or to make saints of women, but when I think of the high percentage of idiots I’ve met among my gender I can see where my friend is coming from.)
I’m really sick of the mistreatment of women in this country and elsewhere. I’ve been guilty of it too. For a while when asked if Ms. Carnacki and I planned to have more children, I would answer, I’d like to have a son. I have three beautifully spirited daughters and as Ms. Carnacki reminded (she too is from a family of three girls), it can hurt girls to hear that, as if they’re not good enough. That was never my intent of course. Yet I did it. Now I frequently point out to them how much I love having daughters. And I mean it.
Sexism is stupid. I’d like to think we were evolving as a species beyond the point where such inequality still existed, but we haven’t. We still treat half of the species as if they’re inferior even though they pole vault, break up bar brawls, nurse wounds and most miraculously of all give birth to continue the species.
I want to believe it is getting better for women, but as optimistic as I tend to be it’s hard for me to see much cause for hope because men have made such a mess of the world. When I do see hope, it’s with people like Stokke and my girls and many other women leading the way.