Off Our Chests: Gabby Douglas

As the Bartender and the Priestess are women of chests, we just needed to get this off ours: Gabby Douglas

Both the Bartender and the Priestess have been outraged by the treatment Gabby Douglas has received.

Ann: Perhaps it is a good sign that much of the back chat about the games has been about the rampant sexism in the coverage of the games. Go here and laugh as you weep at the long road we still have to travel. The list seems endless. But, maybe we’re just becoming more aware; I must say, I don’t remember another time that we’ve seen the pushback we have at these games about the archaic women-as-decoration notions.

The people who make it to the Olympics as commentators seem to be missing the point. S.E. Smith in xojane wrote: “A recent study from Cambridge took a look at the way people talk about women and men in sports, finding that men get described in terms of what they do, while women get described in terms of who they are.” There are a lot of years of not taking women seriously behind us; but it needs to come to an end. I’ve heard people saying the dinosaur is dying. Well, it’s certainly taking its sweet time. But maybe the paradigm is changing, and these are the last stupid gasps of dinosaurosity! But the Gabby Douglas story that we’re looking at takes it even farther than most of what we saw, combining sexism, racisim and flat out mean nastiness.

There have been example after example of women and particularly women of color being disrespected and sidelined. And, no. We are not just sensitive. It’s come from the crowds and the media. This is a dirty, ugly fact and it’s time for us to come to acknowledge it — and it’s time to demand it stops. How dare people diminish the very hard work, athleticism, and artistry of Gabby Douglas while they giggle at the same time over the “cute” boyish (read boorish) behavior of some men, even men who are breaking laws.

Terri: It’s particularly telling in light of the (legitimately) shameful display put on by Ryan Lochte and friends, though honestly, I don’t feel we need to talk about him too much. I really want to focus on the treatment Gabby Douglas received for no legitimate reason whatsoever.

Ann: Terri, when this all happened, I felt like we were in Middle School, or what we’re told Middle School is all about since I went to a plain ol’ Primary School.

Here’s a beautiful, talented young woman, who four years ago won a gold medal (as a 16 year old) for best all around gymnast — the first Black gymnast to medal in the Olympics, and it was gold, to boot. The entire time, she was perky and charming and oh, so talented. America’s sweetheart in the making.

Fast forward four years, she’s back at the Olympics, doing incredible work — not quite enough to be one of the two who was able to contend for individual medals but nonetheless quite wonderful. And a bunch of mean girls made up a bunch of stuff and stuck it on twitter. It was ghastly. What is up with people?

(Note from Terri: it wasn’t all mean girls. There were plenty of guys saying terrible things about her, too, though saying “mean girls” is an interesting dynamic in light of how men and women are portrayed in media, and are being discussed in this very column. But I digress.)

Ann: She won a gold; we don’t like her hair. Her teammates said she supports them; the public says they’re sure she didn’t. She had a grumpy face — hey, even you might have been disappointed if you had missed your chance to compete, but did anyone SEE Michael Phelps’ face? Did anyone criticize him? No, he might have been grumpy; he might have just been concentrating. Fact is I can’t tell you; I don’t live in his head. They? Don’t live in Gabby’s head either, but that didn’t inhibit them from talking smack.

And the last one? They savagely attack her for not being a patriot, for standing as people have often stood (well, ever since we gave up what is now known as the “heil Hitler” salute) with her hands respectfully at her sides. A friend looked up the requirements for standing at attention during the anthem. Here they are. They were passed in 1998. So if anyone on the Olympic team didn’t stand with their hand over their heart, I blame the Olympic Committee. All the money we spend sending these athletes to Rio, we might instruct them in proper ways to watch the flag rise and hear the anthem. So, if she had known, I’m sure she would have had her hand over her heart.

Terri: Here’s the thing—and I know this is going to piss people off, but—I don’t care if she had her hand over her heart or not. I don’t care what the rules say. I don’t care about any of it. Gabby Douglas spent the better part of her twenty years on this planet training to be a nearly godlike athlete, all for the greater glorification of the US in global competition. She didn’t win the gold for Exxon, or NASCAR, or any other sort of private enterprise. She went out and competed so the US, her home country, could put on their big bold bragging pants and tell the world how great we are because we can turn out the caliber of athlete like Gabby Douglas. She didn’t show respect? The hell with that, she’s been showing respect for twenty years, winning medals, working through blisters and injuries and illnesses and doubt. And she has shone, until the one time she let her guard down. And the media ate her alive.

I asked this before, and I will ask it again: she showed her respect by winning medals for her country. To her detractors: What did you do while she was busy winning?

Ann: And you know, when Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovaks (US Shot Put Gold and Silver) stood at attention, hands at side, nothing was said. Oh, they’re white men? Well, then, never mind.

She has said she was thrilled to represent her country. I’m going to believe her on that. Why would she lie? Why would you presume to know what’s going on in her brain?

Terri: I don’t know what’s going on in her brain. I just know what she’s done for the better part of her life. Which is train, and train, and win, and train some more. Where’s the joy in any of this? Where’s the love for the sport, where’s the honor that should attend upon a lovely young woman putting her heart and soul into a performance on one of the toughest stages in the world? Where’s the recognition of Gabby Douglas’s achievements, grace, relentless skill?

Ann: I am dead tired of listening to people, often other women, pick apart another woman’s body. Gabby has grown up in the public eye, and has done so on the world stage since a very young age. As with most women, her body changed. So now the public is wondering if she’s had breast augmentation.

Terri: AGGGHHH! People, people, people. It’s called puberty. I wonder more at the people who aren’t alarmed that most female gymnasts’ careers are over by the time they’re 20, because their hips and boobs develop and make balancing extra-challenging. Hey, try facing the reality that at 20, you’re done. (Note: male gymnasts don’t excel until AFTER puberty, when their upper bodies develop and they can do all those holding poses…another interesting example of the male/female dynamic in Olympic sport. And again, I digress.)

Ann: The people who make it to Olympic competition are athletes. If they delight our eyes, it’s with their astonishing prowess. Certainly some of them are beautiful; Gabby is one of those women. And you want to tell me that her hair wasn’t right as she was spinning around like a top? I don’t think they make hairspray strong enough to withstand that velocity!

Terri: What should have been her opportunity to go out as the champion she is has been robbed from her by the tsunami of negativity that burst forth when she didn’t make the “proper” gesture during two minutes of song. The haters can’t take away what she’s accomplished, but they can steal joy. For what? Because they didn’t like her hair? Because she didn’t hold her hand correctly? Because she looked disappointed when she didn’t get to compete in the individual competition? In the Olympics? Which she’s been training for her whole life? For shame, people. I’m so disappointed in the soul of the US in light of this collective social event. We think we are civilized, but we have so far to go.

Ann: There are some things I do very well. However, I’ve never spent the kind of time Gabby Douglas and her fellow teammates have, becoming proficient at anything, let alone balancing on a tiny, little beam. And you, you Gabby haters? Are you proficient at anything other than being spiteful and, well, stupid? Feh. #Love4Gabby happening right here.

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What I’m Watching: West Side Story

Darlings!

Sorry I’ve been away for so long, I was really quite sick and it was all I could do to lay on the couch and watch dreadful TV.  I couldn’t even watch much of anything that challenged me to think, what with the vicious coughing fits and all, and it’s been a week already and I’m tired of this…have you come to my pity party yet?  Anyway, I’m feeling much better and so, am back in the game.

As I am feeling better, the other night my boyfriend brought me to the one night only, 50th anniversary, big screen showing of West Side Story.  For those who live in a cave, West Side Story is a movie musical based on a stage musical set on the west side of New York City, and that is based on Romeo and Juliet.  For those who live in an even more remote cave, that’s a play, by William Shakespeare. You know, Shakespeare, Elizabethan England, sported a neck ruffle, look it up.

Gentlemen: When a tie simply won't do, consider a neck ruffle to meet your fashion needs.

It’s an extraordinarily well done adaptation, with the Sharks and the Jets standing in for the Montagues and the Capulets.  I’m not looking to explain the plot because frankly, the good people of Wikipedia have done that already and I feel no need to reinvent the wheel.  Besides, if you’re not familiar with either R&J or WSS, then it’s high time to get yourself out of that cave, already.  You can get back to me once you’ve dived into the 21st-century pool of cultural knowledge.  As for me, I’ll be over here, carrying on about my observations.

I grew up watching this movie; it was on ALL. THE. TIME.  Of course when I was a kid I was more interested in “I Feel Pretty“…largely for the line, “And I pity/Any girl who isn’t me, today.”  Because that?  Is how I roll.  But anyway.  As a kid I knew this was an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet and never really stopped to consider the broader social commentary going on in this picture–what more did I need?  R&J, star-crossed lovers, breaks bad for them all around, nobody’s happy at the end.  And West Side Story seemed to stick fairly well to this plot line by substituting “Romeo” and “Juliet” for “Tony” and “Maria”, so…all good?  All good.  But I haven’t seen this movie in a long time and so, seeing this movie as an adult with adult sensibilities and an interest in social issues I have to say, this movie is contextually so different from Romeo and Juliet, I almost marvel that they’re considered related at all.

One of the major differences lies in the social demographics of the family systems in the two stories; in R&J, they are wealthy families who hate each other.  Their hatred for one another is somewhat akin to the rivalry between Microsoft and Apple, if Microsoft and Apple execs forgot what even started their animosity toward one another and engaged in open warfare in the middle of the street, which would make for a much more interesting time in Silicon Valley, but I digress. Instead, in WSS, they are gangs and as such, are poor.  They’re painfully aware of the reasons for their hatred, as the Sharks are moving into their territory and trying to take away the only thing the Jets consider their own–control of their local streets.  So the Jets hate the Sharks simply because they exist, and the Sharks hate the Jets because the Jets hate them.  It’s plain old racism, though that was never hidden in the storyline…it’s just different from R&J.  Still, the WSS writers didn’t shy away from a discussion of the gangs’ social issues, especially those of the Jets.  Take a look at the song “Gee, Office Krupke“.

“Our mothers all are junkies/Our fathers all are drunks/Golly Moses, natcherly we’re punks!”  Or, “Dear kindly Judge, your Honor/My parents treat me rough/With all their marijuana/They won’t give me a puff/They didn’t wanna have me/But somehow I was had/Leapin’ lizards! That’s why I’m so bad!”

And so on.

I know this was written for a performance, and I know WSS isn’t a documentary.  However, this is a song written about social problems, showing in the performance how this kid gets passed around from agency to agency, from “helper” to “helper”, until he’s back where he

The Jets. All the way.

started with no help at all.  This song is a moment of comic relief–the actors are wonderful in their mockery of the social safety net and how readily it can undergo breakdown–and yet, it manages to speak directly about problems like drug abuse, physical abuse, unwanted pregnancies and neglectful parenting.  We tend to nostalgize the era in which this was written; the Broadway play was first produced in 1957 and the movie was released in 1961.  People didn’t DO things like that then, right?  Times were simpler, people were nicer, nobody did drugs and everybody respected their elders, yeah?  Or maybe, no.  Discussing these things so directly indicates a (at the very least) tacit understanding that these concerns were very real, very present, and not just things that people of color did.

Because the Puerto Rican Sharks’ biggest problem, other than the color of their skin and the attendant systemic racism (see “America“), seems to

The Sharks' biggest problems: 1) Skin color. 2) The Jets. 3) Excessive use of jazz hands.

have been the Jets.   While it is a common understanding that a gang becomes its members’

family, the Sharks have family units in place.  They have parents who are present, who worry about Maria and call for her when they think she should be safely inside.  Maria and Bernardo are brother and sister who engage in traditional, protective, loving relationships with each other.  There are functional family units in Sharkworld, as opposed to the Jets, who are left to their own devices and only have each other.

Also, in modernizing the story, it makes its impact more tangible to the viewer.  Romeo and Juliet is an undeniable classic, one of those timeless stories of heartbreak and love and loss and the tragic result of unfettered, pointless, malevolent will.  But it is Shakespeare and at times, can be a little opaque.  (To my Shakes professor sister…sorry.)  It’s much more difficult to identify with someone dressed like the daughter of a 16th century, wealthy Italian family, who speaks in airy, poetic, antiquated English, than it is to relate to a 20th century woman in a dress I wouldn’t mind trying on and a cute pair of heels, speaking perfectly modern English.  Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio come reallyreally close in their ability to make the original language accessible in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, but it still slightly misses.  (And as an aside, John Leguizamo is *off the hook* good in this film, so if you like him even a little and haven’t seen it yet, put it on your to-do list.) I don’t mean to sound like I’m harshing on Willie Shakes, but the language can become an obstacle.  And I’ve grown up around it.  If you think I’m overstating resistance to the language, think about any high school English class you’ve ever taken, and mentally count how many students rolled their eyes and slumped in their seats when they had to read a Shakespeare play.  That’s resistance, and people keep the Shakes at an emotional arms’ length.

Since the modern viewer can so much more easily identify with the WSS characters, it’s also that much easier to stick your own social expectations on to her, and feel their loss much more personally.  Juliet–had she lived, of course–would have had a life that involved being waited on by servants, while living in a fabulous estate…no matter who she married.  (And I can hear the arguments already–she didn’t love Paris, what if Romeo’s dad cut them off because of disapproval, Romeo was exiled, life was more complicated than that in 16th century Italy…blah blah, whatever, not listening. See?  I don’t relate as well.)  Maria is offered the chance to get out of the projects, a path to the American dream, especially the dream prevalent at the time.  Maria has met a man who wants to marry her, work hard, fill her with babies and provide a sanctuary/home in the country.  Thanks to blind hatred, to relentless racism, and despite her and Tony’s color-blindness, we get to watch that future dissipate, stolen from them in Super Panavision 70 format.  And while I haven’t exactly trodden the traditional path, it’s still a framework I know and understand, and I grok that loss far more profoundly.  I’m sure I’m not alone.

It ain’t pretty, people.

I love this movie.  I grew up loving this movie, and am so grateful that I had the chance to see it on the big screen, especially when I think about watching it on my parents’ old…what was it?  19-inch?…tabletop number.

19 inches of pure viewing power, no remote. Oh, the hardships...

But what I love more about this movie, now that I’ve taken the time to think about it, is how it underscores the reality of the times, and shows us that our nostalgia fix is all wrong, and that fifty years ago we faced the same social problems we have today.  White folk hated the euphemistically determined  “immigrants”, were junkies, and had gangs, premarital sex, neglectful parents and unwanted babies.  Only they were poor, so no one really cared much about what happened to them.  Much like today.

Photos from a former employee of the law firm of Steven J. Baum: Two Steven J. Baum employees mocking homeowners who have been foreclosed on.

Yeah.

So, that’s my take on West Side Story.  It’s a musical, it’s an adaptation, and it’s so much more, but I’ll get off my soapbox now.  Oh, and one more thing:  The song “Cool”.  Most jazz hands in this movie, or most jazz hands in a performance, ever?

Compare with:

And

Who can decide?

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