Women’s Mixed Martial Arts: Skilled fighting or glorifying distorted masculinity?

Mangala Kanayson, Resident Blogger (’15, Emory University School of Law)

While in procrastination mode during finals season last year I discovered the inspiring, impressive, and bloody world of women’s mixed martial arts. Women’s Mixed Martial Arts (WMMA) is unabashedly badass. These fighters are strong, skilled, determined, and occasionally terrifying –  as fighters should be. WMMA broke into the mainstream in 2013 after an uphill battle, and this year is more promising than last.

During the 2013 attempt to legalize MMA competitions in the state of New York, women’s groups and lawmakers denounced MMA as a sport that promoted violence and harms women who are victimized by glorification of distorted masculinity.” Women’s MMA involves the same testing of skill, of physical prowess, and presence of mind as men’s MMA does, but sometimes it seems like only the fighters have each others back. The inclusion and mainstreaming of WMMA could help challenge the perception that MMA glorifies a “distorted masculinity” by forcing a shift in rhetoric.

Like most women’s sports, media coverage and promotions of WMMA often relies on the sexualization of female athletes, pressuring them to “keep their hair long, wear make-up even on the court, and emphasize any relationships they have with men or children to “prove” they are straight” to avoid stigmatization.

For the most part, however, sexist incidents are both reported  and censured by fans. Articles that reflect blatant disrespect for female fighters are forcefully taken to task. Hopefully, the mainstreaming of WMMA will continue to shift the top-down rhetoric from “distorted masculinity” and heavy sexualization to a celebration of dedication, talent, and strength.

In the meantime, here are some WMMA-focused websites unlikely to offend your feminist sensibilities while keeping you up to date:






Stop blurring the line

Melissa Torres-Montoya, Resident Blogger, (’11, University of California, Berkeley School of Law)

I’ve read the varying commentary on blurred lines; ranging from the song is “kind of rapey” to defenders that wrote, in fact, Robin Thicke’s song is allowing for the woman to take the initiative, “go ahead” get at him girl! I think, like most women, I landed somewhere in the middle.  Such lyrics of the song like proclaiming that “she” wanted him but “she’s” actually a a good girl bothered me because it draws a distinct line between a woman’s sexual desires and how she had to behave in order to still be seen as a “good girl” that feel unjustified and confining.  Some of the lyrics also just felt outright appalling; “just let me liberate you”? Thanks Robin Thicke, we women, have been waiting for you and your catchy pop lyrics to liberate us.  Finally, I probably fall in the minority in finding the title of the song also problematic.  I’m a pretty direct person, particularly in the matters of the heart and lust, so dealing with blurred lines just isn’t my thing.  And maybe if, as a society, we were taught to be more open about our feelings and desires then there would be less instances of blurred lines. I acknowledge, however, that this is not how the romantic lives of many operate. The phrase blurred lines is something many relate to and as long as blurring the lines doesn’t mean “well she said no but she really seemed to be acting like yes,” then I don’t really have a problem with the phrase. It is possible that the intent was to refer to blurred lines as being that period when both parties are trying to figure out whether they are interested in each other and not the worrisome “rapey” interpretation of blurred lines?

In any case, while the title of the song and these particular lyrics bothered me, mostly, I found the song catchy and not really a call to arms to perpetuate a problematic rape culture.  If the song came on at a party or after a late night happy hour, I would, along with most of my girlfriends, jump up to dance to it.

Now the video was a whole other matter.  I just couldn’t get behind it or understand it’s deeper “parody” meaning the artists’ claim they had in developing it. The video, to me, just looked demeaning and not even entertaining.

That’s why when these Auckland law students came out with this parody, I found it absolutely brilliant!  Their parodying lyrics are sharp, witty, insightful and their video highlights exactly how absurd and demeaning Robin Thicke & co’s original video was.  Thanks Aukland law students for a video that identifies the misogynistic nature of sexuality in our society and reminds us, no men can’t just grab us, that’s a #sexcrime! (And Kudos for garnering more attention to gender equality and #Liberation)

Dangerous Data

Rosie Wang, Resident Blogger (’14, Columbia Law School)

The Utah Senate has passed SB60, a bill that would force health care providers to collect information from women seeking abortions on their ethnicity, the stage of pregnancy, and the reason given for the procedure. While the federal government already provides this data, this bill is a preventative measure to ensure that even if federal government changes its approach, Utah will still have access to this information. This is troubling because the sponsor of the bill, Senator Margaret Dayton, has previously expressed interest in challenging race-selective abortions as well as targeting specific cultural preferences that supposedly give rise to sex-selective abortions. The information sought to be gathered by SB60 sounds like it could be a stepping stone to a number of racially charged campaigns that disguise their anti-abortion agenda with a veneer of concern about women and people of color. This is a strategy that has been attempted before, with billboards accusing black women who seek abortions of committing genocide. This bill also sounds like a precursor to so-called “Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act” or PRENDA, which would have required health care providers to report women they suspected of seeking an abortion for reasons based on the fetus’ gender or race. PRENDA purported to be pro-women but was actually a way to both scrutinize and stereotype women based on race and create arbitrary obstacles to abortion access.  PRENDA failed in the House of Representatives last May.

Senator Dayton’s assumptions about the makeup of society and people’s ability to function within it suggests that she is not aware of the effects of being denied reproductive choice. It is her stated belief that the “traditional family is the fundamental unit of our society” is blind to the fact that “traditional families” account for only 7% of the US population. It is her belief that “personal initiative is better than government programs,” when unplanned pregnancy perpetuates the cycle of poverty. Dayton’s focus on personal initiative sounds like another way of saying that she would not be in favor of investing in programs targeting poverty, hunger, and poor health outcomes that would help women considering abortions post-pregnancy. Legislators who ignore the reality of family structures and what it takes to sustain them can hardly be presumed to be using this type of information to the best interest of women.

We have to trust you with a gun, trust us with our bodies and families

Ash Moore, Resident Blogger (’14, University of Oklahoma College of Law)

The recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut has created a lot of reactionary political push from the left for more gun control. I own multiple guns. I believe the second amendment is broad and sweeping. I believe it is one of the secured rights that makes this country unique and legally superior. However, I also think the implicit right to privacy in our Constitution that is necessary to fulfill the promises of the second amendment and others, is also an important secured right.

This right is what Roe v. Wade was based on. After the recent 40th anniversary and discussion about the ever-increasing restrictions and regulations, Newtown got me thinking. The right wing trusts every American who can walk and chew gum with guns. But they don’t trust an educated woman to make choices about her own body and family (including but not limited to abortion). On the other hand, the left wing wants the government to trust every American who can walk and chew gum with decisions about the most important building block of society, the family.

I remember coming to law school thinking of Justice Scalia as a cold-hearted, heinous Justice who sought to disenfranchise the American people (my parents are pretty liberal criminal defense attorneys). But the first case I read in law school had an opinion by Justice Scalia that I agreed with. I immediately called my mom in tears thinking something was wrong with me. She consoled me, but was obviously upset by the news. She asked me what the name of the case was and when I told her it was DC v. Heller, a gun rights case, she sighed some relief and said, “calm down, Idiot. That’s different.”

Before too long I realized she was right, but I still don’t understand why. Why is it encouraged for political parties and individuals to tailor their arguments to the outcome they want? Why is it encouraged for politicians to flip-flop their reasoning but not their outcomes? There is a lot I don’t understand in this world. I don’t know why they leave chip bags two-thirds empty or how they get those ships in those bottles. But I thought I understood the Constitution.

I know argument exists over the proper way to interpret the Constitution. But I didn’t know people reasoned backwards to get the result they wanted out of it. I believe the political parties should take a stance; you either trust the American people to make their own choices and properly exercise their rights, or you don’t. But you don’t get to pick and choose which rights they get control over. Whether the discussion is about gun or reproductive rights, the argument will always turn to the power over life and death. But I think all the mudslinging and buzzwords cloud the bare bones arguments. Probably intentionally.

The only thing better than being a Texan is being an American. There are a lot of things wrong with my state and my country. But as a patriot, it is my job to question when appropriate and defend when needed. I am a second class citizen in a lot of ways. But I believe in this country and in the people who make it up. That’s my stance. What’s yours? Do you trust me and others, or not?

The Family and Medical Leave Act Advances Reproductive Justice

This article was published by The Center for American Progress.  

Elizabeth Chen is a Policy Analyst for the Women’s Health and Rights Program at the Center for American Progress and a Law Students for Reproductive Justice law fellow.

The Family and Medical Leave Act was signed into law 20 years ago today and was a great first step toward supporting workers and workplace fairness. The law ensures that employees can receive 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave to recover from a serious medical condition, provide care for a seriously ill family member, or care for a new child. Workplace leave, however, is not just an employment issue—it is also a matter of reproductive justice.

Reproductive justice stands at the intersection of traditional reproductive rights concerns, such as the decision whether to become a parent, and social justice issues. In addition, it centers on the reproductive health needs of the most marginalized populations, including women of color, low-income individuals, and individuals with disabilities, among others. In our 2006 report,“More than a Choice: A Progressive Vision for Reproductive Health and Rights,” we set forth four cornerstones essential to a progressive reproductive health, rights, and justice agenda, including policies that support the ability to become a parent and to parent with dignity—meaning being able to financially, emotionally, and physically support a child’s basic needs—and the ability to have healthy and safe families and relationships.

Workplace leave is crucial for all people, but especially for low-income individuals seeking to become parents and have healthy families—a right to which we are all entitled. Historically, though, some parenting has been privileged at the expense of others, and not everyone has been able to exercise this right.

Laws and social movements, for example, encouraged white women to stay out of the workforce in order to provide full-time care for their children, while driving women of color—especially black women—into paid work, thus preventing them from being full-time stay-at-home caregivers to their children. Harvard Law Dean Martha Minow has documented how welfare policy for mothers in the late 19th century provided income support for them to stay at home. When access to such income support became increasingly available to black women during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, however, the rhetoric surrounding welfare became more negative. University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Dorothy Roberts explainsthat, “The central message of welfare reform is that recipient mothers are deviant for staying home and would better serve their children by finding jobs.”

To this day, programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which provides income support for families living in poverty, require work in the formal economy—or training for it—driving low-income parents into the workforce. Unpaid work within the home, including caring for families, does not satisfy the program’s requirements. This is not merely a historical remnant of former cultural biases—as recently as the 2012 presidential election, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) claimed that he would require mothers receiving income support to either work outside the home or lose the support.

Furthermore, parenting itself is highly gendered in law and society, making it difficult for men to assume caregiving roles. Sex-role stereotypes, often historically codified in law, cast white women as caregivers and white men as breadwinners. Masculinity throughout the 20th century was defined by this stereotypical family wage system, even though working-class men and men of color were largely excluded from that system.

The gendered breadwinner-caregiver model has become increasingly destabilized over time. In fact, as we noted in our issue brief, “The New Breadwinners: 2010 Update,” in 2010 women were either primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American families with children. Yet gendered caregiver bias persists and can result in employment discriminationagainst men when they request leave to care for their children.

Given the devaluation of caregiving, while also recognizing that most parents—especially low-income ones—must work, how can we support working parents as both workers and caregivers? The Family and Medical Leave Act was a step in the right direction: By protecting the jobs of workers caring for a new child, the law reflects policymakers’ recognition that caretaking after birth or adoption of a child is essential, and that workers should have the flexibility to take time off to do so.

The law also furthers equality and disrupts sex-role stereotypes by applying equally to both men and women. Under the law, men and women alike have the opportunity to take time off to care for family members—and the percentage of men taking leave for caregiving purposes hasincreased steadily over time. Even former Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, initially anopponent of women’s equality under the law, acknowledged the crucial work that the law does to “attack the formerly state-sanctioned stereotype that only women are responsible for family caregiving.”

Workplace policies such as the Family and Medical Leave Act give workers the opportunity to care for their families with dignity by permitting them to continue to work and also to spend crucial time bonding with their new children. Under the law, workers can also take time off to care for a seriously ill family member, including a child, expanding the ability for parents to meet the needs of their children.

Unfortunately, the Family and Medical Leave Act doesn’t go far enough. As we noted in our 2009 issue brief, “Labor Pains: Improving Employment and Income Security for Pregnant Women and New Mothers,” the law only covers a subset of workers.  According to new statistics released by the Department of Labor, more than 60 percent of workers do not qualify for the protections of the law because they or their employers do not meet one or more requirements for leave. Moreover, because the leave is unpaid, almost 50 percent of workers report not being financially able to take the leave. Guaranteed leave does not enhance the ability for individuals to parent with dignity if they do not qualify for it or cannot afford to take it.

Workplace leave is crucial for people with children to be able to parent with dignity and have healthy families. The ability to care for children when they are born or adopted, or when they fall ill is essential to a holistic and comprehensive vision of reproductive health, rights, and justice. The Family and Medical Leave Act was a good beginning, but we must continue to fight until all Americans have the ability to care for their children without jeopardizing their job or their income.

The Whole Picture: The 50’s weren’t “romantic” for everyone

Elisabeth Smith, Resident Blogger (’14, University of Washington School of Law)

Over Christmas my cousins and I were watching television and we just kept flipping channels until we got to TLC and saw some women dressed up in 1950s garb turn from black and white to full color. Heard of Wives with Beehives? The show is basically a Real Housewives variant, but all the women live a “vintage lifestyle”. Other people have talked about the show, but I want to highlight something besides its antiquated notions of gender roles.

All of the women go on and on about the magic of the 1950s.  Dollie calls the 50s “a very romantic period. It’s romantic to have a husband [who] you love, and beautiful children [who] you take care of and a beautiful home you take pride in.”  Here’s where I take issue with this show. Traditional gender roles aren’t my cup of tea, but a show about 4 white women mooning over the romance of the 50s without any recognition that the decade wasn’t all moonbeams and starbursts for everyone is gross.

Let’s start in reverse order. The home.  After World War II, “FHA underwriters warned that the presence of even one or two non-white families could undermine real estate values in the new suburbs. These government guidelines were widely adopted by private industry.” [Click here @ 1:30:55]  So if you were a white GI you could take advance of the GI Bill and get a home in the new suburbs. A GI of color had far fewer options. As Dalton Conley, a sociologist, a points out “basically, the whites moving to the suburbs were being subsidized in the accumulation of wealth, while blacks were being divested.” If a beautiful home is one component of the magical 50s, it was out of reach for many people.

Okay, two: beautiful children with whom you spend your time. In the 1950s, African American women worked outside the home in large numbers so they if they spent their day with children, those children probably weren’t their own.   Another statement made by one the “Wives with Beehives” underscores this reality. When the women discuss whether any of them have dishwashers, one replies “I don’t need a dishwasher, I have Maria.”  Wow. So living a vintage lifestyle also includes vintage racism!

Yikes, people, yikes. I get that these women have chosen to make the 50s their thing, but seriously, what we say on tv does have effects.


Just in Time for Halloween… Fake Hymens!

Josie Sustaire, Resident Blogger (’14, University of Oregon School of Law)

There have been few times in my life that I have thought about my hymen.  Somehow, it just hasn’t come up in conversation.  I wasn’t aware that I had essentially taken its existence for granted until my friend introduced me to the artificial hymen.  My immediate reaction was giggling, followed by more giggling, followed by disgust, and ending with contemplation.  And I’m still contemplating.  For me, the idea of the artificial hymen is completely offensive.  To think that virginity can be bought for $29.95 or that virginity even matters enough to necessitate faking is ridiculous to me.  Particularly after reading descriptions of the “device,” I realized that gummy, fake blood-gushing artifices that you wedge into your vagina aren’t my style.

What I didn’t take into consideration while I giggled and then turned my nose up at the artificial hymen was the reality that for some women in the world, virginity is no joke.  While my friends and I can giggle over the idea of faking chastity, a number of countries permit “honor killings” of women who lose their virginity before marriage.  Women in Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, and a whole host of other countries are under threat of being asked or in most cases forced to undergo a virginity examination.  These tests, as one can imagine, are highly invasive and demoralizing examinations of the woman’s hymen in search of signs that she is no longer chaste.

After all these hymen considerations, a friend brought to my attention yet another.  What about the virgins?  “What about them,” I asked rather clueless.  She then confided that she was a virgin and as much as she might have enjoyed giggling along with the rest of us, inside she felt as though the joke was on her.  As shocked as I was at the idea of the fake hymen, I was just as shocked at the idea of the 25 year-old virgin.  But why?  In the world we live in, it seems, she has surmounted incredible odds with her chastity intact.  But only to feel inadequate?  I say enough is enough.

Fake hymen or real hymen we need to stop defining ourselves by them.  I won’t get into comparatives among males and females (I would be here all day).  The fact of the matter is that men have rarely, if ever, fallen under the scrutiny that women face.  A woman is more than her hymen.


Social alienation versus Predditors

Rosie Wang, Resident Blogger (’14, Columbia Law School)

Women being catcalled on the street, paparazzi spying on celebrities’ intimate moments – these are two unsavory, disrespectful practices with unfortunately long legacies and deep roots in our culture. With the modern technology and social networking thrown in the mix, these practices start to intersect and evolve in disturbing ways. Parallels definitely exist between society’s fascination with spy-style photos of Kate Middleton topless on private, secluded property and the power that perpetrators of street harassment feel – parallels that find an overlap in certain internet communities.

Creepshots was a sub-forum of popular link-aggregator Reddit, where anonymous posters upload and comment on photos they take of women’s bodies, taken without these women’s knowledge as they go about their everyday lives. Part of their stated motto was “When you are in public, you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. We kindly ask women to respect our right to admire your bodies and stop complaining.” The photos’ distribution for mass consumption, the flippant physiological and sexual commentary they produce, and the fixation on the nonconsensual nature of the photos all combine into something supremely icky although probably not illegal.

Now, some have taken to fighting fire with fire. Gawker exposed the identity of a prominent member of the Reddit community who has the stellar track record of starting sub-Reddits promoting domestic violence and sexual attraction to underage girls. Others tracked usernames into other sites that Creepshots users were active in, gathering personal information and then posting it to a tumblr named “Predditors” that has since been shut down, but not before the arrest of a teacher in Georgia [need link]. The exposed people in question unironically invoked both their 1st Amendment freedom of expression to photograph women unawares and their own right to privacy and internet anonymity.

This summer, while interning for LSRJ, one of the most inspiring talks I heard was from Sujatha Jesudason and Tracy Weitz of CoreAlign. They asked why, if reproductive rights is the most funded field in women’s issue, do we still seem culturally deadlocked? One of their major points was that the reproductive justice movement has often aimed for incremental changes – reform rather than radical transformation and immediate rather than long term goals. Calling out individual offenders seems to fall squarely into the immediate and incremental. It is reactionary rather than revolutionary and responds to this particular instance, rather than an overall culture of viewing women’s bodies as public property and fetishizing women’s nonconsent. While it is crucial to have discussions on the individual facts of this situation, how can we proactively work to create a different dominant mindset? Perhaps, start by educating people while they are younger. Perhaps the answer is to build into our public school system a more explicit and complex discussion of the importance of privacy and autonomy. Perhaps the answer is to encourage more open discussions among men as a jumping off point to encourage internal moderation of both online communities and real life social groups.

These tactics have echoes of the Hollaback movement, which posts photos of catcallers and narratives of harassment. Both situations have an element of turning the tables of public humiliation on the offenders. But does posting the name, age, and phone numbers of the perpetrators cross the line? While it has undertones of quid pro quo, poetic justice, and may indeed deter future creep-shooters, these tactics raise questions to ponder: Is this sinking to the same level? Is this perhaps engendering (misguided) feelings of victimhood that may fuel a feeling of entitlement or an alienation from seeing women as people rather than a desire to change one’s way of thinking? What can be done that is productive rather than destructive?