I’m not known for my sensitivity (college friends in particular will be laughing at the understatement just about now), but I found myself cringing at the “she was asking for it” theme of commentary in the Ines Sainz/Jets matter. (See, e.g. — CBS puts a question mark at the end of the headline forwarding the theme, so I guess that makes it o.k.) The short version is that a very attractive sports reporter was the subject of some inappropriate conduct by the New York Jets when covering them during practice. I haven’t researched it too extensively, but the reports I came across were actually fairly light on the exact nature of the alleged harassment. What I’ve gleaned is that one of the practice units was running plays in her direction to get close to her – overthrowing passes, etc., some of the Jets were throwing out catcalls in the locker room, and possibly her pigtails were dipped in an inkwell. (Frankly, I think a lot of the media attention is simply a pretext for showing her picture a lot; kind of like mainstream media about porn criticism so often seems to be an excuse to indirectly profit off of pornography. I don’t think this story would be getting much attention if she was unpleasant to look at.)
A lot of the reaction I’ve come across (sports radio, Facebook threads) are either leering – a Yahoo sports reporter being interviewed joked that he’d have to do a thorough investigation, making sure to do an extensive interview with her. (I.e. “she’s hot, I want to be close to her, I don’t give a shit about whether or not anything inappropriate happened.”) A Facebook thread had a guy saying, in effect, “she dresses like a whore, what does she expect?”
So, that type of reaction really knocked me back. But, I think maybe the communication breaks down to some degree, not because folks think women should be harassed, but because there is a tendency to ignore an elephant in the room – in this case, the woman’s sexuality is being marketed. It’s not an accident that her employer, Azteca, didn’t give the job to an ugly woman. It’s not an accident that she dresses in a manner calculated to display her attractiveness. I’m guessing that her employer gets more viewers as a result, and I’m guessing that her prospects as a sports reporter have improved as a result. Now, these factors don’t justify or excuse harassment any more than a tight dress justifies rape. But, sexual attraction is being manipulated for a commercial purpose. When that attraction manifests itself in an inappropriate manner, I think you at least have to recognize that attention from that attraction (if not the specific reaction) was a desired response.
When you’re arguing a legal case, or any other case, I would guess; it’s always a good idea to acknowledge inconvenient facts and explain them as best you can. You shouldn’t ignore them because the opposition will be sure to highlight those facts and cast them in as negative a light as possible. I think there is a similar dynamic in these sorts of discussions. Here, there might be a reluctance to come out and say that Azteca is, to one degree or another, selling sex because there is a fear that this suggests that harassment is justified. But I think that’s a mistake. I think you have to acknowledge the inconvenient fact and explain that it doesn’t matter: “The way someone is dressed is not an excuse for being impolite,” or whatever your explanation might be.
From my experience, discussions about race and drugs come to mind as other areas where inconvenient facts are glossed over or ignored. In the case of race, I recall well-meaning people telling me as a kid that it was wrong to treat people differently just because their skin color is different. Of course it is. But, even though I agreed with the premise of treating people equally and with respect, I tended to dig in my mental heels because, even (or maybe especially) as a kid, I noticed that it was not simply a matter of skin color. There were other differences — not differences that justified disparate treatment — but there were differences other than skin color. “Wait a second, if it’s just skin color that is different, why do I feel like I can make a pretty good guess that someone is black when I hear them on the radio or telephone?” And the omission can be pernicious. I recall in the early 90s there was a big brouhaha over “ebonics.” It became a punch line for disgruntled white people. And it had some resonance for me; a resonance I think could have been avoided had those well-meaning racial equality talks in my youth contained some mention along the lines of “whites and blacks frequently have different speech patterns. Here’s why. And here’s why it doesn’t matter.” Again, I think you have to acknowledge the differences but explain why they don’t affect the underlying point.
(And the underlying point in racial and gender relations is captured well, as so many things are, by some advice from the movie Road House: “Be nice . . . until it’s time not to be nice.”)
With respect to drugs, the elephant in the room that rarely gets discussed is that they make you feel good. There’s a reason people take them. I think that has to be acknowledged when you explain to kids why they should be avoided or their use should be moderated. Otherwise, they’ll figure you’re even more full of shit than they would have otherwise. I remember a health teacher who got this right, in my opinion. He told us, “I don’t take drugs, not because they’re horrible, but because I’m afraid I might like them too well.” And then he went on to tell us about the negative consequences of drug abuse.
In the Sainz matter, if people making the point that the Jets acted inappropriately would first acknowledge that Sainz and Azteca are using her appearance to make money by exploiting physical attraction, then maybe we could move past that to the more important point that Rex Ryan is a colossal asshole and his attitude infects his team, making basic politeness something of a challenge.