Let’s talk about the NFL and Colin Kaepernick

I was in the middle of writing a post on body image and running, but I’ve seen too many Facebook posts about Nike, the NFL, and Colin Kaepernick, and truthfully, I’m spitting mad. But I’m not going to try to change anyone’s mind here. Instead, I have some questions for you. For those of you who feel that Kaepernick is disrespecting America, the flag, and our soldiers, yes, but also for those who find his protest admirable. Because if we’re going to talk about respect and justice, well, we need to actually talk about respect and justice.

So, did you boycott Nike in the 90s when the report on its use of sweatshops came out?

Did you boycott Nike after that because they never really improved their labor practices?

Did you boycott the NFL after owners willfully covered up and actively distorted science to hide the numerous, life-long, devastating complications from players receiving concussions? (See also the book League of Denial, which was also made into a documentary.)

Did you boycott the NFL after player after player was accused of murdering, beating, raping, and assaulting woman after woman after woman after woman, and some dogs for good measure?

Did you boycott the NFL after almost every single one of those men walked free?

Are you boycotting Nike and the NFL now because you disagree with Nike hiring an athlete who designed a peaceful protest of injustice in conversation with a Green Beret, who fought and risked his life for the country you claim to love so much? Are you certain there aren’t other reasons, maybe ones you aren’t comfortable facing?

Because if you answered “no” to the first five questions and “yes” to the sixth question, I have to ask you another, even more pressing set of questions.

You respect a flag, a symbol of a country, but where is your respect for women? For laborers in third world countries—working class people struggling to get by? Where is your respect for human life? For the right to pursue life, liberty, and justice for all? Do you show your respect for people and values the same way you show respect for a symbol? Why does THIS, a peaceful protest that harms no one, make you so angry, when all those other things didn’t?

And to those who are now applauding Nike/Kaepernick/the NFL, what about those first five questions? Are you a “yes” or a “no”? If you’re a “no,” why not? Why is Kaepernick’s protest against injustice praiseworthy, but the suffering and death of real people across decades doesn’t warrant a pass on those two brands, at the very least?

I’m not going to make any arguments here or tell you what to think. All I ask now is that you consider your answers to these questions, and examine the reasons behind them. I’m happy to discuss this further in the comments here, or elsewhere on the net. However, I will not tolerate any racism, sexism, disrespect to myself or other commenters or troll bullshit here or elsewhere.

For the record, I’ve never been a football fan. I’ve always thought it was stupid, and the more I learned about its violence and concussion issues, the more I grew to despise the NFL. My record with sweatshop clothing isn’t perfect—it’s damn hard to avoid—but I make an effort, and will and do pay more for ethically sourced clothing (and I also shop secondhand).

Finally, I leave you with this line from the musical Hamilton: If you stand for nothing, what will you fall for?

Why I didn’t march this year

Last year, I went to the Pittsburgh version of the Women’s March on Washington after Greyhound failed to provide buses to D.C. (even though I’d bought my ticket a month in advance, and so had many of the other people left stranded in Pittsburgh). I knew there had been drama behind the scenes, where white women were putting black women down and calling them “divisive” for voicing concerns and opinions.

Another group (Black Femme Excellence Co.) held an intersectional march across town, but after being up until 2 a.m. waiting for a bus that never came, having a migraine, and having to rely on sketchy Sunday public transportation, I didn’t have it in me to take multiple buses to East Liberty.* The main Women’s March was just Downtown though, which is only a 10 to 15 minute bus ride from my house. That, I felt capable of doing. So I went, and I marched. I even made a stupid pink pussy hat in a misguided attempt to show solidarity.**

Found on Facebook. Will update if original creator is found. (Yes, it contains erroneous apostrophes. That’s not the point.)

In the moment, it felt important to make a statement. To do something. Anything. And I do believe protests are an important part of resisting right wing extremism. I hope, sincerely, that the statement made by last year’s (and this year’s) Pittsburgh’s Women’s March overshadows the behind-the-scenes bullshit. I hope that statement is ultimately one of inclusion and acceptance and love.

But this year, after the organizers showed more of the same behavior toward women of color, I couldn’t in good conscious be a part of it.

I don’t want to march behind people who tell black women to essentially shut up because they aren’t focusing on “important things.” I don’t want to march behind people who don’t listen when they get called out on their mistakes. I don’t want to march behind people who think it’s okay to exclude trans women and their experiences (and feelings) from the conversation.

Now, I’m not by any means saying that people who went to the march last year or this year think any of those things or have engaged in the same behaviors as the organizers. I wouldn’t have caught the same drama unfolding if not for my sharp network of badass feminist friends. I can even understand knowing all this and still feeling a need to go, to march, to demonstrate. I respect that. But I couldn’t do it, not this time around.

(Don’t get me started on the pink pussy hat some jackass put on a statue of Harriet Tubman in Harlem. Like, seriously?)

On Sunday, instead of marching, I worked on the 2017 VIDA Count, tallying bylines by gender and recording names so that we can send surveys for the Intersectional Count. I gave (a little) money directly to black mothers who needed the help. I cooked good food for myself and my partner. I told my friends I love them.

I will keep calling my senators and congressman. I will keep sending emails and filling out comment forms online. I will keep making art. I will keep resisting.

But I refuse to leave anyone behind while I do it.


*Chronic illness can really complicate activism. There’s an essay there. I’ll suss it out at some point when my head doesn’t hurt.

**There’s another essay about my feelings regarding pink pussy hats. Maybe next week?

 

Joss Whedon, woke misogynist

Kai Cole’s revelations about her ex-husband Joss Whedon’s manipulative behavior toward women don’t surprise me. I’ve dealt with this kind of man before—the one who says “I’m a feminist!” and “I believe in equal rights!” but turns around and tells clearly misogynist jokes (the “woke misogynist,” if you will) and is quick to blame you for anything and everything. “Lighten up, it’s just a joke!” he says, when you point it out to him.

Gif of Buffy saying "If the apocalypse comes, beep me"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer helped me get through 7th and 8th grade at an awful Baptist School that wanted me to be docile and pure. But there were always things about it that bugged me, especially in the spin-off Angel, where literally every significant female character (spoiler alert!) winds up dead. In the main show, I always felt that Buffy’s relationship with Spike was problematic. He’s repeatedly abusive, but she still takes him back. One could argue this is simply in her character, or that she’s messed up emotionally, but she demonstrates plenty of strength and moxie is other situations, so I’m not sure I buy that argument.

Even so, Buffy is a great show, and a great character. Sure, it has some flaws (*cough* Riley *cough*), but beyond Buffy, it gives us other awesome female characters like Willow, Tara, and Anya (okay, okay, and Faith).

Does Ms. Cole’s revelation completely invalidate all the good that’s come of Buffy and the positive, kick-vampire role model she provided for countless young women like me? No, not at all. Buffy can still be a feminist icon, because even though her character was created by Joss Whedon, he’s not solely responsible for the character or the show. And aside from the Spike thing, the show on the whole is pretty upstanding from a feminist perspective. I also don’t find much fault with Firefly in that regard.

Iron Man saying Black Widow doesn't need her own movie.

If we invalidated every work of art that had a flawed creator, we’d have no art left. That doesn’t mean we excuse the bad behavior of artists just because they make good art. No. Judge the art on it’s own merits, and judge the creator on their own merits.

But like I said, I’m not surprised that Whedon has behaved this way in his personal life. Angel is a feminist dumpster fire, and The Avengers movies aren’t any better. Whedon has never been, in my opinion, the upstanding feminist he’s been portrayed as. It might not be so visible in Buffy or Firefly, but it’s there in his other work. As others have pointed out, Dr. Horrible is about a stalker that we’re supposed to sympathize with, and the main female character winds up dead at the end. Women are basically absent from the main Marvel movies, and they certainly don’t get to be heroes (but Black Widow! is not a valid argument, because why does she still not have her own movie?).

That’s basically systemic oppression in a nutshell. It’s so baked into our culture that even people who truly believe they are feminists might behave in very anti-feminist ways. Let me just be clear that I am not making excuses for Whedon’s behavior in any way, shape or form. Exploiting people you have power over is never excusable, and I’m saddened to learn it’s something that happened repeatedly (and is probably still happening).

The best way to fight it is to call it out and hold people accountable for their behavior. Will I still watch Buffy? Yes, absolutely. But will I rush out to drop money on the next big Joss Whedon thing that comes out? Well… probably not.