Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Jimi Izrael: Epic Disappointment

This post is a part of my “Out of the Kitchen” weekly column at The Progressive Playbook in which various news and pop culture items will be examined through a feminist lens.

I love NPR's Tell Me More. I listen to it almost every day that I drive to work. I've written many times about the numerous interesting topics it has brought to my attention. I think Michel Martin is perhaps the most compelling interviewer on NPR's nationally broadcasted programs.

One of the show's regular Friday segments is the "barbershop" where Martin checks in with an ever rotating line up of diverse men. They chat about current news topics, politics, and sports. The regular leader of the pack is Jimi Izrael. I've always found Izrael's contributions to the discussions to be insightful. So I was, at first, pretty excited when I saw that a piece he wrote had been picked up on Jezebel today.

Izrael's piece is about a 14 year old girl, Amber Cole. Cole is making news because a video of her performing oral sex has gone viral. The story is a big deal, because it is obviously extremely disturbing. Izrael's narrative is told as the metaphorical father of the girl. The crushing reality hit me as I saw that Izrael's piece, while rightfully highlighting some of the racial implications of the tragedy, amounts to not much more than misogyny. Here are some excerpts:

She would listen to her mother, if her mother was not busy. Doing something, anything that is not parenting. I want her mother to spend less time being "empowered" and more time being aware and engaged with our daughter. I want her mother to be a better role model, not a BFF.
I am Amber Cole's father, and I am not raising a slut. White feminists can teach their own little girls to find empowerment through their crotches – my brown little girl cannot afford to be that carefree and cavalier with her life choices. Slutlife is the hard, lonely vocation of rich, educated, privileged white women who will fuck The World, contract social diseases and still, somehow find a husband. No black woman ever got far being a slut. I want to know what kind of women "slutwalk," while young impressionable girls of all kinds look on with wonder and admiration. I want to know why these same women run to protect Miley Cyrus but just shrugged, nonplussed for my little brown girl. I want to know what the fuck those dumb bunnies are thinking. Most of them do not have daughters. I want my daughter, the woman, to have healthy, vibrant sexuality. My little girl should have other priorities. I am her father. I will protect her and every woman in my life with my life.

If you want a really great run down of the problem's with Izrael's piece, I suggest the comment section over at Jezebel, because the community there take down every line in his piece much better than I can. However, I would like to note a couple of things. First of all, this piece is written as the metaphorical father of Amber Cole and girls like her, but it squarely places the blame back on mothers (and later the media). It doesn't say very much about how fathers (or the absence thereof) can actually play such a critical role in the sexual values and self-esteem formation of young girls. Instead, his piece goes on to emphasize the fact that as a father, he was probably at work while this happened "doing the best I can."

So the mother is at fault because her absence is her being "empowered" but the dad is blameless because his absence is him "doing the best he can?" I just...I don't even know what to say. This idea is so deeply tied to traditional gender roles and sexism that it sickens me. It's the age old idea that mothers are ultimately responsible for kids. It's tired.

Secondly, I take his point that "sluttiness" has different implications for a white girl than it does a brown one. All too often, brown women's bodies are hypersexualized and behaviors/clothing choices seen as slutty to them are seen as acceptable to white women. This is a fair point and we can discuss this. We can also discuss how women of color have been traditionally excluded from the feminist movement, which has for too much of its history, been concerned about the issues which affect priviledged white women.

However, to place the blame for the situation with Amber Cole, who is the victim of child pornography and cyberbullying, on feminists is ludicrous. As is his slut-shaming. Izrael is obviously very uncomfortable with female owned sexuality. As commenter Gavagirl pointed out at Jezebel:

Of course little brown girls who get their freak on frequently and with gusto can't find husbands. Because only nice brown guys like Jimi Izrael want to get married to brown girls, and nice brown guys don't like filthy brown whores. And of course that's not due to any kind of fault on the part of the nice brown guys. It's up to the brown girls to make sure they've lived up to the expectations of the brown guys so that they shall be rewarded.

Lastly, to put the icing on the misogynistic cake, when the shitstorm of comment starts, Izrael jumped on Jezebel and left a gem of a reply including this:

It is easy for you to cosign some little black girl giving head, to suggest that little girls embrace the ideas behind a "Slutwalk" –which sounds too close to "Hoe Stroll" for my taste—when you are not a stake-holder. I have a daughter. I am a stakeholder, and this shit is real to me. It’s my every-day, my every-week. And it’s hard.

Now, surely this is just a joke. We, the women who find his assessment offensive, are not "stakeholders" because we do not have daughters? Your opinion of girls only counts if you are a father of a girl? Honestly, despite all the hateful stuff spewed above, this is the part I find most offensive. To suggest that the most important stakeholder in this case is the MALE relation of the girl is so absolutely mind-numbingly foolish that I can almost not even continue.

How are we, women who lived the very experience of growing up female, not stakeholders in the development of the next generation of young women?

Look, I get it. It's hard raising kids. I can appreciate that it is no easy task because all too often I could tell that my parents had no idea what they were doing. Additionally, I work in girl services. While I do not know the first hand experience of parenting, I do work with dozens of moms and dads raising girls who are the same age as Amber Cole.  I know that parents of both genders are always looking for resources to help them navigate raising daughters. But how dare he say that it's easy for childfree feminists to participate in SlutWalk because we are not "stakeholders" in the girl world. In the discussion of female sexuality, no perspective is more important than women's. (Never mind the fact that Izrael has totally missed the point behind SlutWalk.)

All around, I am deeply disappointed at Izrael's reaction to Amber Cole's story. I feel like he brought up a couple of really great things that the feminist blogosphere could have read, discussed, and learned from, but he put together a highly offensive anti-woman rant. As HeliosHyperion said, "How am I suppose to take him seriously, respect his opinion whether or not I agree with it, when he so obviously hates women?"

And selfishlessly, I'm disappointed that my Friday morning "Tell Me More" segments will come with a little more spite and a little less respect, on my part.

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