Am I Proud to be an American?

In late June, many weeks before Obama’s and the Democrats’ total capitulation to the lunatic Republican Party’s actions on the debt limit and budget (i.e., no taxes for the rich, just spending cuts that harm the middle and lower classes), I was driving my car when I saw a car in front of me with two bumper stickers.  My thinking about the stickers was very telling and leads me to wonder if I am proud to be an American.

The first sticker said “Proud to be an American.”  As stereotyping as it was, my immediate reaction was to think that the driver was a right-wing “Patriot,” the type of person who, contrary to the self-described title, thinks only of his or herself and how the country can be made to serve their specific classes of (usually) white males and reactionary females who think like the white males.  I am going to do some exaggerated, inordinate generalizations from here on out, but, in other words, I think of “Patriots” as people who care nothing about anyone other than people like themselves.  They care nothing about the United States itself and, thus, cannot even be true “patriots” whether or not that is even a good thing to be.  So, I had a deeply negative feeling about the driver of the car simply because he or she had a “Proud to be an American” bumper sticker.  In addition, I wondered if it even made any sense for someone to proclaim that she or he is proud to be an American.

But . . . then I read the second bumper sticker.  This one said: “Proud to be a Union Sheet Metal Worker.”  Seeing this, my impression of the driver changed completely.  I thought that this was something that a person could really feel proud about.  I now had a good feeling about the driver, even though I didn’t really know why.

After I got home,  I wondered about what definitions of “pride” the bumper stickers were meant to convey.  In dictionary.com, there are five meanings:

1. a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.
2. the state or feeling of being proud.
3. a becoming or dignified sense of what is due to oneself or one’s position or character; self-respect; self-esteem.
4. pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself: civic pride.
5. something that causes a person or persons to be proud: His art collection was the pride of the family.

For the “Proud to be an American” sticker, my negative, stereotyping thoughts led me to generalize that a person espousing that sentiment has “a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority” and “a becoming or dignified sense of what is due to oneself or one’s position or character.”  In other words, it is all about the person’s feelings of superiority over others.  It has nothing to do with whether the person has actually accomplished anything.

In contrast, the “Proud to be a Union Sheet Metal Worker” sticker led me to believe that a person espousing that sentiment has “pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself.”  In other words, that person takes pride in something actually accomplished.

Those generalized feelings can’t be right, can they?  A requirement for legitimate pride can’t really be that the source of the pride has to have been something actually accomplished, can it?  For instance, can a person have pride in one’s college?  I think the answer to that is clearly yes since there is personal accomplishment involved.  But what about rooting for the college’s sports teams or for some professional or national team?  Can a person have pride in those teams?  According to the definitions above, I guess that the part of number four about civic pride is the one that would apply, although it seems rather conclusory.  One can have civic pride, but why?  What is it about a team that “reflects credit upon oneself”?

I think the answer is that it is not pride that is involved when you live in a country or when you root for a team.  Rather, I think that it is simply “identity.”  In other words, a person can identify with a team or identify with a sports team.  By coincidence, just yesterday I read an article by Sherry Wolf in The Nation about sports teams and identity.  (The article is about how the sports world remains “fiercely hostile to open participation by LGBT athletes.”  It’s a very good read.)  This is what she said about sports teams and identity:

As American society evolved from agrarianism to industrialism, a huge influx of immigrants settled in growing cities.  Sports were consciously used to win them over to a fabricated national identity. . . . In an increasingly mechanized world where the ethos of competition came to dominate, the rules, teams and nationalism of sports became part of the new “American way.”

And, so, let’s leave “pride” for some actual accomplishment like pride in a daughter or son, pride in putting together an art collection, pride in playing the guitar, pride in a job, or pride in one’s beliefs.  Let’s not say that a person is proud to be an American or proud to be a fan of some sports team, just that she or he identifies with it.

How would this work for an American when traveling or living in a foreign country?  If someone asks where you are from, do you say “I’m from America and proud to be an American”?  I certainly hope not.  Isn’t it good enough to just say that you are from America and, if a discussion about the pros and cons ensues, talk about the things you like and the things you don’t like.

And how does this work for me?  I’m an American.  That’s good enough for me.  And there are currently a LOT of things I don’t like about America.

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Women-Only Chess Tournaments

I have written before about women’s sports like basketball and soccer.  I think it’s a great idea that the U.S. has professional women-only leagues like the WNBA and WPS.  As for the youth leagues in those sports, I think it makes sense for girls and boys to play together in their younger years and then to give girls the option of playing in girls-only leagues as they get older.

Chess

International Master Irina Krush against 18-year-old Women's International Master Alisa Melekhina at the Women's Championship (Wall Street Journal)

(And by the way, as we all know, there are plenty of sports-talk hosts and their callers-in who repeatedly ridicule all women’s sports.  A common “reason” they give is that the level of play in women’s sports is “inferior.”  The next time you hear a man say that, for instance, he will not watch the WNBA because the play is inferior to the NBA, ask him this:  Do you watch and like men’s college basketball?  High-school basketball?  The play there is inferior to the play in the NBA, isn’t it?  Just because you perceive some type of play to be inferior doesn’t mean that you don’t watch and like it, does it?  And use this as the ultimate kicker.  Have you ever played in some kind of a tournament as an adult, like basketball, tennis, racquetball?  You enjoyed that, didn’t you, even though you’re not as good as a professional.  So you don’t really care about the quality of play, do you.  What really matters is the competition and who is playing, doesn’t it?)

But what about chess?  I’ve never paid attention to chess rankings and tournaments other than the every-once-in-a-while match-ups of the world’s best that are written up in the main-stream press.  Those confrontations have always been between men.  But I just learned that there are separate “masters” rankings and tournaments for women.  The Wall Street Journal recently had a column that advocated the abolishment of women’s chess titles.  And then I saw an article yesterday in the Washington Post about the recently-held U.S. Chess Center’s “first all-girls chess tournament.”

Chess 2

An All-Girls Tournament (Washington Post)

The two articles tend to give the same reasons for why there are all-girls tournaments.  Here are some quotes from the WSJ:

“All-girls tournaments allow participants to make friends, share hotel-room expenses, and compete in Open tournaments,” says two-time U.S. Women’s Champion Jennifer Shahade, author of “Chess Bitch,” an informative and entertaining history of women in the game. “So rather than take women away from mixed competition, I think they actually encourage them to compete in the end.”

“Having both Open and Women’s divisions enables female players to earn money that helps them continue their professional pursuits.”

“The most serious challenge for top-rated female chess players in general,” says 25-year-old Russian GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, winner of the 2008 Women’s World Championship and another World Cup qualifier, “is to find commercial sponsors or institutional support, like from sports foundations or government sports committees.” As the mother of a toddler, she also cited the problems posed by frequent travel to international tournaments, many of which last for two or three weeks.

“Chess is a pretty solitary activity,” says Ms. Krush. “My feeling is that women overall are not as fanatical about it as men. The Polgar sisters worked very hard at chess from an early age, but it’s rare to see women being encouraged to do that or even wanting to do that. Women . . . [believe] there are other things in life.”

Both articles talk about “removing the intimidation factor” of having girls compete against boys.  One of the reasons for that is that the percentage of female participants is very low.  The World Chess Federation reports that ” women make up about 10% of the organization’s estimated one million members, 7.6% of 100,456 rated players, and 2% of the top 1,000 players world-wide.”

Relating to intimidation is this about a sixth-grader participating in the all-girls tournament:

This one [compared to the previous open tournament she had competed in], “was way more casual.” When a boy opponent says to her at the beginning of a match, “Are you ready to play?” Naomi feels as though what he is really saying is, “Are you ready to lose?”

And a third-grader had this to say about why she joined a chess club at her all-girls school:

“I just thought it sounded interesting. It’s fun, but it also helps you concentrate in school.”  A lot of boys do chess, but fewer girls, so it makes me feel special.”

But here is one reason given in the WSJ article for why gender-segregated titles should be abolished:

“I don’t see their benefit,” says 25-year-old IM Irina Krush. “Women’s titles are really a marker of lower expectations.”

Here is my favorite quote.  It comes from Joie Wang, a sixth-grader who tied for first in the all-girls tournament and has competed in dozens of tournaments.  When asked why she plays chess, she said, “I like how I beat people.”

I don’t know how I feel about whether there should be separate chess tournaments for girls and women.  Certainly, there is no difference in innate skill level even though the WSJ article says: “A number of aficionados claim that men have an edge because chess is a game of spatial relations, and some studies show men scoring higher than women in ‘mental rotation.'”  In simple terms, that is ridiculous.  That’s the same kind of ridiculous statement as the one given by Harvard president Larry Summers four years ago when he remarked that inferior “intrinsic aptitude” in science and engineering was responsible for the lack of women tenured in academia.   There is no difference in “intrinsic aptitude” of girls in math, science –or chess.

And the concept of multiple leagues based on some criteria is common, even among men.  For example, there are different divisions of college sports based on characteristics such as the number of students in the colleges, whether they want to offer scholarships, and how much money they want to spend.  Similarly, there are different divisions of public high-school sports based on the number of students.  In fact, for high school basketball, the state of Indiana created a major uproar some years ago when the officials decided to do away with the long-time, extremely-popular practice of awarding a single state boys basketball championship and instead awarding multiple state championships based on the number of students in a school.  The reason for that was to give more boys the opportunity to compete for state championships.

So, I guess that having separate tournaments and rankings for girls and women is okay.  But I have the nagging concern about competition and the statement that “Women’s titles are really a marker of lower expectations.”  And I don’t like it for young girls to feel “intimidated” by boys.  It would be nice for girls and women to be able to say that they are the best regardless of gender.  I think that only by having girls and boys compete together will those issues be able to be overcome.

But the “compromise,” I suppose, is to have “open” tournaments in addition to men’s and women’s.  That is what chess has been doing.  I don’t have a better solution.

Quick Hit: Roller Derby in Scotland

A few weeks ago, I saw the Roller Derby movie “Whip It.”  It wasn’t great, but was fun and poignant.  (See this review from the always interesting reviews on Bitch Flicks, from where I obtained this photo.)

Whip It

Whip It - The Hurl Scouts

Today, I saw that Roller Derby is becoming popular in Scotland.

Stalking Victims: Tracee Hamilton and Erin Andrews

Tracee Hamilton, a new sports columnist for the Washington Post, wrote a column today, following up on the Erin Andrews case, discussing stalking and victim-blaming. It’s a rather personal column, as she opens up about a stalker who followed her for years, instilling terror and helplessness in her for more years to follow. It’s a chilling read, but it’s relevant to the Erin Andrews case, and to many women’s lives.

Hamilton was stalked for years by a man she met in school; he sent her explicit and threatening letters, made frequent silent telephone calls, and stood outside her window all night. And on top of it, school administrators and even a mental health professional blamed her for the man’s unstable state of mind:

I still remember standing there, in the dark, phone in my hand, shaking, as [a therapist] went on and on about my ‘boyfriend’ and my poor treatment of him. You see, my boyfriend wasn’t in therapy. The ‘boyfriend’ he was describing was my stalker. Slowly it came to me: I was being chastised by a mental health professional for being mean to the man who was torturing me. And finally, I snapped.

As Hamilton writes,

Some people may think that the worst thing that happened to Andrews is that video clip on the Internet. As awful as that violation of privacy was, remember that Andrews also has to live with the knowledge that this man stalked her all over the country, that at times only a hotel door separated her from a clearly obsessed and disturbed man. As hard as it is to remove a video from the Internet, that’s how hard it is to remove that kind of fear from your mind. And that’s why I’m tired of the endless debate about whether Andrews somehow “asked for it.”

As strange as it is that people would suggest Andrews and other stalking victims “asked for it,” women are frequently blamed for initiating harassment, rape, and abuse. Even Christine Brennan, a female sports columnist who spoke at a feminist conference I attended, suggested that Erin Andrews brought it on herself because of “short skirts” and “beauty” (see Mike’s post).

About 1 in 12 women and 1 in 45 men will be stalked in their lifetime. What’s more, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 76% of femicide (murder of a woman) victims had been stalked by the person who killed them, and 56% had reported their stalker to the police prior to their murder. From the NCVC:

I’ve never been stalked, in a continuous, long-term, serious way. But I can also say that there’s not one woman I know who hasn’t at one time been followed, cornered, or otherwise harassed. I can tell you how frustrated, angry, and powerless you feel while being trailed in every aisle in a store; followed on your way home; stalked on the street at night; harassed at a bar, restaurant, or at work. But I can’t even imagine what it’s like for the situation to persist over weeks, months, years— and on top of it, have people you go to for help blame you, or do nothing. I’m glad Tracee Hamilton had the courage to share her experience in such a public way, especially to remind us that no one deserves it, and that not all, or even most, victims of stalking “have been pretty blonde women with high-profile television jobs.”

No Women in Obama’s Weekly Basketball Games

It’s great that President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize!  But what about including women in his weekly basketball games.  The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, under the title of “So Much for Shattering the Glass Backboard,” reports that:

President Obama hosts a basketball game at the White House on Thursday evening for Cabinet secretaries and members of Congress. Of the 15 participants whose names are put out by the White House, not one is a woman — even though Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was a college basketball player and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who was in town for the afternoon, played high school ball.

At a daily briefing,Obama’s press secretary was asked if Obama had ever invited any women to play and replied “The point’s well taken.  The president’s certainly played basketball and other sports with women in the past, and I anticipate he’ll do so in the future.”

The article also reports this about Seblius:

On Jay Leno’s show Wednesday night, HHS’s Sebelius, who played college ball for Trinity Washington University, was asked: “Who would win in a game of HORSE, you or President Obama?”
Sebelius talked trash. “I actually made my college basketball team, so –”
“Whoa!” Leno exclaimed at this taunting of the president.
“Bring it on!” Sebelius dared.

Erin Andrews in the News Again

ESPN reporter Erin Andrews is back in the news again because, last night, she did her first college football sideline reporting since the incident in July when someone took a video of her naked through a hotel room peephole and then posted the video on the internet.  (See my previous posts on July 22 and August 6.)

Photo from Yahoo!Sports

Photo from Yahoo!Sports

Here are some sample articles.  The New York Post (I can’t believe I’m citing them) said that Andrews “was clearly subdued over the trauma of an Internet voyeur video showing her naked in her hotel room” and seemed to be most interested in the fact that Andrews did not “interview psyched-up fans as they waited to enter the stadium” as she had done in previous years.  The male-sports-oriented FanHouse titled its article “Erin Andrews Returns to Toe Sideline Between Reporter, Vixen” and said “We won’t know what she was feeling Thursday night, but it had to be awkward, frightening, liberating and hopefully cathartic.”  Another male-sports-oriented blog, DeadSpin, said “But the real intrigue was on the sidelines. . . In summary: nothing happened. Erin Andrews and the ESPN crew were consummate professionals, of course. She wore a tasteful little number, and no references were made by anybody (including, as far as we were shown, the fans) to anything but football.”  Yahoo!Sports said “Andrews’ appearance? Largely uneventful, to put it mildly.  She showed up without fanfare, without undue comment, and carried on her typical duties with all her characteristic poise and professionalism.”

But here is the really interesting article.  Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post titles her column “Andrews Was Victimized, But She’s No Victim.”  Jenkins says:

One of the really likable things about Erin Andrews is that she handles her beauty better than everyone around her. When the frat boys scream inarticulate devotions, or puritan critics scold her for dressing too pretty on the job, or the creeps fixate, she shows just the right amount of amused cool. Self-possession is her main feature as an ESPN reporter. It’s as obvious as her beauty and it makes her good in the blaring, pressured chaos of a sideline interview, yet it’s been overlooked about her. It strikes me that Erin Andrews, for all that she’s been through, can take care of herself.

Jenkins discusses the July incident and the different sides of the issues faced by an attractive woman in male-oriented sports television and says that:

One of the really likable things about Erin Andrews is that she handles her beauty better than everyone around her. When the frat boys scream inarticulate devotions, or puritan critics scold her for dressing too pretty on the job, or the creeps fixate, she shows just the right amount of amused cool. Self-possession is her main feature as an ESPN reporter. It’s as obvious as her beauty and it makes her good in the blaring, pressured chaos of a sideline interview, yet it’s been overlooked about her. It strikes me that Erin Andrews, for all that she’s been through, can take care of herself.

The article is worth a read.

Hope Solo and Pink

Hope Solo is the goalkeeper for the U.S. women’s soccer team.  She is the best, or one of the best, in the world.

Winning the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics

Winning the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics

She is probably most known by casual soccer fans for what happened in the 2007 World Cup.  She had been the starting keeper during the entire year and the first round games, and had played well.  However, the coach inexplicably replaced her for the semifinal game with Brazil with Briana Scurry.  Scurry had been the very successful starter for a long time (and I was a big fan of hers), but, after injuries, seemed not to be the same player she once had been.  But even if Scurry was the equal of Solo, the coach absolutely should not have replaced her.  It is just something that is not done in high level athletics.

Predictably, the U.S. lost to Brazil 4-0 and, in my opinion, Scurry could be blamed for some of the goals.  Solo was very unhappy and told a reporter after the game that “There’s no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves.”  Although blaming a teammate is absolutely frowned up in sports, I thought Solo was absolutely correct to say what she did because it was really an attack on the incompetent decision of the coach.  Others should have been saying the same thing about the coach.  I remember saying at the time that I was really pleased that she did that, but knew that there would be many repercussions.  The repercussions came immediately.  Solo’s teammates predictably stood up for Scurry and Solo was banned from the team for the consolation game.  Eventually, the coach was fired (as he should have been) and Solo’s teammates welcomed her back.

The September issue of The Atlantic magazine has an article about Solo titled “The Bad Girl of Women’s Soccer: Why Hope Solo–loudmouth, showboat, jerk–may be the best thing that’s ever happened to women’s soccer.”  The author’s point is that the new U.S. women’s professional soccer league (WPS) needs to have an “edge” so that it doesn’t fail like its predecessor (WUSA), which only lasted three years.  He thinks that having someone like Solo is good because she is a “polarizing” player who can draw fans who both love and hate her.  The author says that “in most professional sports, a large measure of that entertainment value typically comes from booing, or at least rooting against, a villainous athlete” and that “alas, many of the stars of women’s soccer have been too bland (at least in their public personas) to inspire much in the way of strong feelings, especially negative ones.”

I disagree with the author from a purely on-the-field perspective since I think that fans should root for teams or players rather than rooting against opposing teams or players.  However, to attract more fans, I do think that it is important to get off-the-field attention in the media.  Thus, I can see that controversy can be important.  In that respect, if, in fact, some people may think of Solo as a “loudmouth” or “showboat” or “jerk,” it could be good for women’s soccer.  (Closely related to this, of course, is that attractiveness is obviously used by women’s sports to sell tickets and TV ratings.)

But you might be wondering why I have the word “pink” in the title of this blog.  Last month, I wrote that my 6-year old granddaughter refuses to wear anything pink.  Maybe she has the same thoughts as Solo, who said this about goalkeeper shirts that were designed by Puma for the teams:

They go and make this padded goalkeeper jersey and it’s hot pink–it just looks girly, it looks juvenile, it doesn’t look professional.  And so I said, “There’s no way in hell I’m wearing this.”

(BTW, Solo has been successful in getting endorsement deals from companies such as Nike and VitaminWater.)