Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Are You Ready for Some Football?

There is never a reason for physical violence.  There is never a reason to hit your partner or child to the point where they are unconscious or bruised.  There is never a reason to inflict violence against someone else but apparently there are exceptions to these rules if you’re a NFL football player.

Football JesusIn my native state of Wisconsin, watching football on Sunday is synonymous with attending church prior to the game.  Watching football on Sunday is a cultural norm in many, if not all, different regions of the country where individuals, whether you like it or not, gather each Sunday to both praise and pray that your team ends up on top.

In Wisconsin, you attend church with your family and head to your desired destination where you gather with friends and family to eat, talk about your life, and of course watch your local football team battle their weekly rival.  Although I am not much of a football fan these days, I have very fond memories of attending football games, watching them with my family and talking about the Green Bay Packers’ Super Bowl chances.  It was my time to both bond with the men of my family as well as catch up on the gossip the women would whisper back and forth to each other at the dinner table while the men were in the other room screaming at the TV.

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Although I’m sure I will watch more games in my future, lately, all I do is cringe when I think about the growing violence that women and children face and have faced in the large shadow of an organization worth north of $9 billion dollars.

The biggest scandal to hit the news waves lately is that of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s assault of his wife in an Atlantic City elevator.  Although Rice and the various other incidents regarding NFL players and violence is disturbing, the biggest problem facing the NFL isn’t just its treatment of women but its continual commodification of them as a disposable resource emblematic with the culture of violence that it has created.

If you didn’t know, women make up an estimated 45% of the NFL‘s more than 150 million American fans and have, in recent weeks, become their most valuable resource and source of criticism.  However, after a long string of incidents stemming back from NFL teams underpaying cheerleaders to the Ray Rice incident, one needs to ask what the roles of women, if any, are outside of the disturbing images of the abused wife, hypersexualized cheerleader?  Is being dragged out of an elevator by your abusive husband the only way to get women’s issues addressed in the NFL by fans, league owners, and the NFL commission?
bildeThe roles of women in the NFL and religion have many similarities.  Aside from end zone celebrations where players praise God for his apparent direct role in helping them score a winning touchdown or certain players edifications as gods on Earth, women make up the crux of both NFL fandom and attendance but are responsible for the gatherings similar to the ones I, and many others, grew up with.

Although putting women in charge of drafting new policies that address the “woman problem” currently facing the NFL, it too reeks of the similar dismissive and patronizing actions women face when trying to obtain leadership roles in their religious traditions.  Supercilious progress for the sake of progress isn’t progress and progress under the guise of silence is still misogyny.  We need women in positions of leadership in both the NFL as well as in religious traditions.  The culture of violence and silence will only continue, albeit with a Band-Aid firmly in place, holding the painful experiences and histories of women, long forgotten and often overlooked, until society values their rights just as much as the men leading the prayers and those that are being prayed for on Sundays across America.

Ann Braude said it best in her foundational text Sisters and Saints that “if we want to understand the history of American women, we need to examine the religious beliefs and activities that so many have found so meaningful.” Without women, we wouldn’t have many, if not all, of the religions that are present throughout the world today and in case we forget, without women, we too wouldn't have the millions of little boys who grow up being taken to and from practice by their mothers with the hope that they too could one day become the professional football players that fans scream and pray for.

Without women, there is no NFL and without women, there is no religion.  Kelly Brown Douglas said it best on this very blog when she stated, “It is the violence that violence creates.”  Although I agree with her, I would only add that while violence does indeed create violence, the real sin isn’t the violence itself but rather the silence that follows.

Let us pray that we will continue to not be silent and that we will rise up and fight for the millions of women (and men) each day who do not live in fear that their significant other’s multimillion dollar contract will not be reinstated but rather that they and their children may not see another day on this Earth.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

#YesAllWomen, the Darwin Debate, and the God Complex

The one thing I typically will always choose to do on the rare occasion that I’m able to sit down and relax is watch a documentary.  While some people may go to the gym, read a book, or hang with friends, I typically choose to stay in, nestle up on my couch, and learn.  While on my last bout of relaxation, I chose to watch the HBO documentary Questioning Darwin. Although it offers very little new insight into the evolution vs. creationism debate, it does offer an interesting new way to look at the recent social media hashtag war feminists, allies, and supporters found themselves in over the #YesAllWomen movement that took the world by storm.
Now, before I discuss #YesAllWomen I have to admit that I did not enter into the safe space women created for themselves to tell tales of the horrible things they have and have had to face on a daily basis.  I firmly believe that men should not have entered into the digital space that women created to “voice” their opinions on a subject that women, specifically two women (writer Annie Cardi (@anniecardi) and one other, who has since made her profile private to protect herself and her identity), created.  Although I did see men chiming in as allies from time to time, the #YesAllWomen space proved more than ever that some men really can't just shut up and let women have a space all to themselves. The #YesAllWomen movement has become a tome of lived experiences where women were and are able to share the pain that they have, currently, or fear they will one day experience.  The troubling aspect of the hashtag activism that took place wasn't that women were openly talking about these horrible experiences but rather that the men, who openly engaged, accused, harassed, and ridiculed women (and some men) felt they had to do in order to defend themselves from stories that had nothing to do with them personally, but rather indirectly put their divinely sanctioned manhood under duress.
This leads us back to the main question – what does all of #YesAllWomen dialogue have to do with the HBO documentary Questioning Darwin?  Simply, 1 Timothy 2:13, that states: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” and Genesis 2:18: “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper [read: woman] suitable for him’” have led many men and women to become victims of a God complex that appears to have divinely ordained men to rule over women. While many of us have written about and refuted these biblical passages and norms, the sad and oftentimes painful aspect of the debate is that many communities and people, both young and old, believe these passages to be the literal word and wishes of God.  While the arguments in Questioning Darwin between creationists and evolutionists did not diverge from the same ones we have heard over time, the one argument that rose above the rest was that the men, who touted and blew their horns for the sake of creationism's significance, often stated that they (read: men) could never have evolved from a primate because they were not only to rule over them, as dictated in Genesis 1:28, but also because they, as men, were made in the image of God and therefore bestowed with certain divine rights and privileges that primates and those created as helpers (read:women) did not have.  This ultimately lead men to feel as if they were the oath keepers of some divine truth, both within and outside of scripture, that places them atop of the proverbial totem pole of life.
22-year-old Elliot Rodger, the author of “My Twisted World,” a 141-page manifesto that he created prior to going out on a shooting rampage in Isla Vista, California near the University of California Santa Barbara killing seven people and a major proponent for why the #YesAllWomen debate started, stated: “I would have an enormous tower built just for myself, where I can oversee the entire concentration camp and gleefully watch [women] all die…If I can’t have them, no one will…Women represent everything that is unfair in this world, and in order to make this world a fair place, women must be eradicated.” Rodger and his MRA (Men’s Rights Activist) elk all prove the point that men like him think and feel that women are not only objects that they can control but also can do away with at any given moment because they, like God, can do whatever they want.  They are the leaders of the world and therefore everyone else should just fall in line.

 The success of the #YesAllWomen movement isn’t that it openly allowed women the spaces to talk about their painful lived experiences and fears but that it helped them to prove the point that their safe spaces are oftentimes eradicated by the likes of Elliot RogerPaul ElamAnders Breivik, and many other individuals who feel it is their place to tell women what to do and inflict verbal, mental, and physical violence upon them if they don't listen.  #YesAllWomen proved that although not all men commit horrible crimes against women, the men that often get the headlines and create the most controversy are the ones that need to be watched out for. If you can or have the ability to stomach their various manifestos or read their tweets and blog posts, the one thing that will ring true above all else is that these men feel threatened by strong and empowered women and girls, who they truly believe to be both beneath them and ruining the world that they are to rule over with their feminist agendas.  Although a lot of these MRA and religious men like to think they are Gods, they in reality, after watching Questioning Darwin or reading tweets like the one below, are sometimes nothing more than a bunch of baboon’s asses contained in 140 characters. Although they like to admit that they did not descend from apes, they oftentimes can be found acting like a bunch of babbling baboons.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In Memoriam - God Hates Fags

Fred Phelps, an American Pastor who headed the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas died at the age of 84 on March 19, 2014.  While some individuals leave behind legacies of their good deeds and loving memories, the only thing Phelps left behind was a family and church founded on the principle of hate.

A frequent eyesore at various events ranging from military funerals and gay pride gatherings to mainstream events that captured the attention of our pop-culture obsessed society, Fred Phelps and his clan believed it was their sacred duty to warn others of God’s anger over the growing acceptance of not only modernity in general but also issues like gay rights and abortion.  From slogans and signs such as ‘God Hates Fags’ to ‘Thank God for IEDs,’ Phelps has caused many controversies both during his lifetime and after his death.

The first response many individuals had when hearing that Phelps was close to death or that he had actually died was: “Are people going to picket his funereal?” or “Should members of the [Insert Varying Communities the Westboro Baptist Church Pissed Off Here] show him the same amount of respect as he did in life to us and the multitude of funerals he and his family were frequent at?” While many individuals are stating that they should forgive and forget his hate, the matter that not only the church he founded but also the rhetoric and legacy of hate he created still exists is troubling.  While there is still room for debate about the symbolic power rising above it all it is worrisome that he’ll exist even more so now in death than he ever did in life. 

While any such protest at Phelps’ funeral is impossible because the Westboro Baptist Church is not having one for Phelps (coincidence?), the problem still remains that it is far too easy to reduce that Phelps was most likely a homosexual and his repressed sexuality caused him to utilize religion as a force of hate to embody the worst parts of humanity in public forums.  More importantly, it is too easy to dismiss Phelps and his independent church as a bunch of loons.  However, it is not easy but rather very difficult to clean up the mess that Phelps has caused since he famously picketed Matthew Shepard, the gay student who at 21 years old was tortured, murdered and strung up on a Wyoming field fence in 1998. 

The complex legal, religious, and social mess that the Westboro Baptist Church has created goes all the way from their tiny, secluded area in Topeka, Kansas all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.  In the case Synder v. Phelps, the Court held that even speech deemed outrageous could not be liable for a tort of emotional distress (a.k.a. the plaintiff was forced to return a settlement won in a previous court case where the Westboro Baptist Church was held liable for causing emotional distress towards their family after their son was killed in Iraq).  

While I do not know many individuals who are willing to marry into the Phelps family (they're famous for not marrying people with beliefs that do not match their own, their utter demise seems to be imminent not because of Phelps’ death but because the legacy of hate that he created being slowly beaten back by the tide of modernity that greets the remaining Phelps family members each time they unpack their signs to protest yet another event.

Should we rise above his death and not protest?  Did Phelps awaken a new, more radical class of LGBT activists who have dedicated their lives to turning back the hateful tide he has caused? Or did Phelps help further the divide between the LGBT and religious community by embodying everything that hurt and grief-stricken closeted and open LGBT members dislike about religion as a whole?  If Fred Phelps never existed, would some other nameless figure have taken his place?   

While I do not think we’ll ever know the answers to the multitude of questions behind Phelps’ existence, I say if people want to dance on his proverbial grave we should let them polish their tap shoes.  However, the problem is that although Phelps may be gone to whatever version of heaven or hell one believes in, his family and his church live on and will be at the next funeral or event with their signs higher than ever. 

Phelps didn't just live a life filled with hate but he also embodied the very reasoning why so many communities cannot cross that proverbial bridge to work together to see past their differences and maybe never will.  In the case of Phelps, sticks and stones may break our bones, but words really do hurt.
Although this video may be doctored, I think it is the perfect ending to a violent and conflict ridden recent history of anti-gay crimes both in Russia, abroad, and here at home in the United States.  Often painted as the enemy of gay-rights, Russian LGBT activists have been sacrificing their lives to further the cause of gay rights in a country where people who, like Phelps, can do more than just hold up signs stating that you are going to hell but rather pass laws that make it nearly impossible for you to exist in the first place.  While were here in the United States often paint Russian individuals with a broad stroke of anti-gay sentiments, especially prior to and after the Sochi Winter Olympics, I find it comical that a "Russian News Caster" reporting on the death of Phelps, an American who at his very core hated LGBT individuals, is incapable to not only read the news story but also the various types of signs that Phelps created without laughing.  Homophobia is a traded commodity and it knows no boundaries and it is time that we start realizing the the outsourcing of homophobia doesn't begin abroad but rather right here at home.