Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Feminine and Masculine roles at a USC Football Game

Football was not a large part of my undergraduate experience (though ice hockey was!), so I have to admit how overwhelmed I was attending a USC football game for the first time last year. Not only is the sound booming, but the action is non-stop, the heat is blazing, and the energy is palpable. Considering the history of the Coliseum in hosting the Olympic games and the traditional sports association with gender stereotypes, I thought I would dedicate this post to the gender disparities I noticed at the last game I went to.

It doesn't take a communication scholar (or any scholar for that matter) to notice the strong gender separation in the sport of football. I find the disparities highlighted at the football game because of the lack of a female equivalent to football really doesn't exist. Instead, females participate in the football game in the form of marching band members, the audience, and the USC song girls (our version of cheerleaders). The audience has the power of gaze and observation over the performing male bodies. The athleticism of the male is the activity to be cheered and booed when performance is outstanding or below expectations.

Though the audience in a sense has this gaze and some power, the ultimate power over the mood of the game relies on the performance of the masculine bodies on the field. Though the center of attention, they hold the power over the narrative of the game day.

The marching band embodies a skillful performance, precision, and musicality which reminds me of the Ancient Greek chorus that interrupts the action for some crowd appeal, break from the continuing action, and engagement with the audience. The mixed genders that make up the marching band show a skilled performance of expertise with instruments, hands, and foot coordination as opposed to expertise of physical force and dexterity. The feminine role is exemplified as a member of the team, an important, integral part of the marching band and its cohesive performance. Though the drum major is traditionally male at USC (doning the Trojan uniform and leading the marching band as would an army general), the band itself is composed of all types of people who come together, unified for a common goal.

Although the song girls are a USC tradition, I find their performances over the games I've been to a sad reinforcement of gender stereotypes that portrays the female as the unskilled observer whose only purpose is to perform the sexualized dance routine in the breaks between football plays. I do not wish to offend members of the USC family who enjoy this tradition, but I find the un-coordinated hair-flipping and hip-shaking a detriment to the capabilities of women and creates a stark contrast between the abilities of the male bodies and the sexuality of the female bodies. The male body in the game is only a success if it performs physically in terms of strength, agility, and operationalized by scoring touchdowns and running yards. The female body, on the edge of the performance arena, is only a success if it can serve as the sexualized object of the audience and football player's gaze. A step out of line, a missed tackle, an out of place hip twirl, a weak head flip all create standards of excellence that the male and female performers can meet. The clear differences are between the amount of skill for each activity, the measurement of success or physical prowess, and the power struggle that occurs between performance and audience.

I understand the history of male performers and female cheerleaders is a historic one, but I still feel that the traditional "cheerleader" shows more skill and prowess than do all of the song girls combined. Physical athleticism is achieved through advanced cheerleading techniques, formations, and gymnastic abilities.

The format and engagement of the athletic body may not ever change, but I think that engaging the more athletic abilities of females at sporting events can help to minimize gender disparities and the differences between athletic performances and the expectations of the body.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Climate Change Skepticism as a Roadblock to Progress

I have previously discussed climate change from the perspective of science and extrapolation to future consequences of global warming. Not only are the predictions highly varied, but the consequences of them range from changing in weather patterns to massive displacement, war, and global food insecurity. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is often considered the foremost authority on climate change and uses amassed scientific data to create a consensus surrounding climate change, urging countries and politicians to act.

Here is where the problems occur, because policies to limit the effects of climate change are not occurring, especially not in the United States. But why? The answer to this question lies in the polarization of politics and the divide between Republicans and Democrats on the climate change issue. Gauchat (2012) proposed the politicalization of science where over time, the issue of scientific authority has become inextricably tied to political loyalties. Consequently, Republicans and frequent church-goers have significantly lost faith and trust in science as the authority of truth. To accept science as the authority is to abandon other methods of explanation, such as faith, and become disloyal to party lines.

The evidence for this claim is seen not only in the polls that Gauchat analysed, but also from the actions of Congress and the Republicans in it. Funding for climate change research under the Republican chairs of committees and subcommittees has been debated and in some cases cut. In defense of removing National Science Foundation funding for climate change projects, Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) said, “the reluctance to engage in conversations with people who have doubts or question the veracity of climate science is at the heart of the wrong doing that undermines trust in climate change science”, thereby legitimating climate contrarians by placing them at even footing with scientists (“Witnesses Highlight Flawed Processes Used to Generate Climate Change Science, Inform Policy,” 2011).

Perhaps most shocking and incredible is the recent ruling by North Carolina that scientists are no longer allowed to use extrapolations to predict future implications of climate change, but can only use past data. This is an exemplar of politics directly interfering with scientific integrity, capabilities, and validity with no justification. Stephen Colbert mocked this bill excellently by noting that North Carolina are blocking scientific inquiry in attempts to hide data that would force them to act in favor of the scientific consensus. Literally restricting science's ability to chart and model future climate change implications further undermines science's ability to predict problems and urge political action. For without powerful, scientifically accurate, and frankly, worrisome data, how are politicians to be convinced to action?

Herein lies another complication: the urgency of climate change and in fact its very existence is wholeheartedly rejected by many politicians, making any attempt to convince them quite fruitless. Climate change skeptics or contrarians simply will not be persuaded by any scientific plea for action, no matter how urgent or convincing. The situation is remarkably quite similar to the idea of the religious apocalypse: for no matter how urgent or persuasive a prophet of the rapture is, non-religious, agnostic, or atheistic people will simply not be persuaded. Faith to them, just as science appears to be for Republicans and church-goers, does not hold any persuasive clout.

The result of this skepticism is the questioning of all scientific data to support policy ideas. Instead of taking action, politicians wait for "conclusive" scientific evidence, which threatens the world's ability to ever fully prepare for the consequences of climate change. Soon, it may be too late to act, and we will reach the tipping point, where there is no longer the opportunity for preventative measures, but only response. How serious these consequences will be revealed only through time, but we know now that the longer we wait, the worse it will be. Soon, it will be too late to act, but the world will cry out the famous words of Macbeth (Act 3, Scene 4):

"I am in blood, stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er"