Sunday, January 21, 2018

Larry Nassar, rape culture, and blogging in 2018

This post is going to be a little more personal than others--or perhaps more accurately it will acknowledge the personal aspects of doing this blog and work; something I have been thinking about for a few months.

This past week the case of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar dominated sports and non-sports news. We have not covered this case, in part, because it initially was outside our purview given the focus on Nassar's role as a doctor for a national governing body, USA Gymnastics. Most of the coverage this week has continued that focus, but there have also been mentions of the role of Michigan State University in allowing the abuse to continue as they ignored complaints about Nassar that began in the early 1990s. Journalists and activists, including some of our colleagues, have done and continue to do an excellent job covering all the aspects of this case. *

In terms of MSU's role, I see this as a pivotal moment in how seriously we as a culture and intercollegiate sport as an institution are going to take the sexual abuse of young women. This situation is not entirely dissimilar to what happened at Penn State but to date I have not heard the Nassar case discussed in the same way despite the fact that the abuse was ongoing, systemic, occurred in campus facilities, and was made known to people who could have stopped it. (See the column by Jessica Luther linked below as the one exception I found as I was editing this post.) Is the NCAA going to step in? Are administrators going to be fired? This is abuse and cover-up on a massive scale; I will not say it is "worse" than Penn State (playing that game helps no one) but certainly farther-reaching because of Nassar's role with USA Gymnastics. Who will be held responsible and in what ways? This case should not be over when sentencing ends. (A link I posted below addresses some of these issues.)

My own attention to the case has been admittedly a little distant. I have been following it but not closely. I have mentioned it in my classes but not assigned readings or had in-depth discussions. That is likely to change this semester, but I am still working out the details. I saw snippets of the hearings in the gym, channel surfing, and on videos FB friends have posted. I finally, last night, sat down to watch all of Aly Raisman's statement to the court.

This is all to say that these stories--the flood of stories--have created so many different responses and reactions; the range of which I will not attempt to articulate here but certainly include empowerment and awareness. My own responses have varied, and I am speaking of over the years not just the last few months. We have been writing about sexual assault for years now. There are cases to which I have become very invested for one reason or another. Stories which have stuck with me. Injustices--so many injustices--which anger, and frustrate, and sadden me. These feelings remain even after I hit the publish button.

They are with me when I go to the liquor store and see young college men filling carts with pails of margarita mix, boxes of pink wine, and handles of liquor. I wonder and worry what is going to happen that night just up the hill from where I live. They are with me when I look at my students, whose lives are so very different than mine. I wonder what they have been through, what negotiations they engage in every weekend. In the former situation I feel mostly helpless. In the latter, I make sure everyone knows whether because of a sticker on my door or my words in class, that I am there. Unfortunately being there usually means being there after the fact.

Sexual assault is not new and the activism to address and prevent it is not either, which likely means that the frustration and weariness is also not new. While I am not one for catchphrases, the concept of persistence is certainly at the forefront of my thinking these days. I also realize that it is not something everyone is capable of and certainly not all the time. And I am grateful for everyone who is writing and protesting and testifying and doing this work.

I am saying this now and here not to detract from the Nassar case; I believe it is all related. Rather I am using it to explain in part why I blog and what my intentions are going forward. In the past year plus, the blogging has not been so prolific and while there are a number of reasons for this, one is that these posts are more difficult to write.

I am not going to share the entire Title IX Blog origin story, but when we started this in 2006 (!!) it all felt easier--and simpler. Teams getting cut, facilities, game times, practice schedules that all favored men's teams--these things were clear cut. Even my cultural contextualization of the inequities was not especially difficult. As we saw more and more retaliation cases and former female coaches suing their institutions, things got slightly more complicated but more so because of the evidence available, not the law.

How the law is being interpreted is changing. This makes things more difficult. Also, cases are more complicated which makes trying to interpret and then write about them difficult; and this takes time because I aim to do more than just report the facts as they have been presented in other media sources.

I will continue to write about the "easy" things, but my focus for 2018 is to engage thoughtfully and critically with the harder things, primarily college sexual assault and the intersections with athletics, and the protection of transgender students. These issues are personal for me. While I am an educator and scholar (things perceived as professional though also personal for me), I am also a queer woman who knows many survivors and who loves people who cannot always use bathrooms and other spaces safely.

I applaud Nassar's victims who have been able to achieve a feeling of empowerment, and I feel for and sympathize with others who are not there and may never be and hope they know that everyone's process is different and valid.

Finally, I want to extend this virtual thank you to all the activists, scholars, lawyers, administrators, and others who are doing work on Title IX, gender and sexual orientation discrimination, and sexual assault. While at times it may not seem necessary for me personally to write another piece about the case that everyone else is talking and writing about, the larger movement and the people who comprise it remind me that every word is important.

* Nancy Hogshead-Makar: How to Stop Sexual Abuse in Sports; law professor, Michael McCann on legal ramifications; Jessica Luther on Sandusky vs Nassar;