Month: February 2014

Bigotry, Bullying, and Bronies: The Effect Gender Roles Have On Our Society

Photo courtesy of: heavy.com and myfoxphoenix.com

Photo courtesy of: heavy.com and myfoxphoenix.com

As you read this, an eleven year old boy is fighting for his life. Usually after a statement like that, one follows saying “drunk driving accident,” or “donate so research may be done to cure their illness,” generally something that was an accident or out of our hands. However that is not the case here. This was not an accident, and society definitely plays a part in the outcome.  When society clings to our strict definitions of what it means to be masculine or feminine, when it becomes the norm that bullying targets our youth simply because they do not “fit in” with enforced gender roles, when a young boy is made to feel guilty enough to no longer want to live based on his preference for a TV show, that is when we need to realize that there is a huge problem in our society that needs to be addressed.

Last Tuesday I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, when I came across a story you don’t hear every day. It was one of those stories that you don’t expect to read about at all, one where you question how could something like this happen.

“Michael Morones, 11, attempts suicide after being bullied over My Little Pony.”  –ABC 7

According to ABC 7, Michael Morones was consistently bullied by his classmates, to the point where he felt the only way to escape it was to hang himself off of his bunk bed.

ABC news reported that each day he’d come home and tell his parents what he’d been through and how miserable he was feeling. They would stand by their son, telling him to not listen to the bullies and to continue being himself. But even with their words of encouragement, that did not change what Michael faced everyday upon arriving to school. When talking about a conversation he said with his step-son, Shannon Suttle said, “He felt conflicted. ‘Am I supposed to feel ashamed like how they’re trying to make me feel ashamed if I was gay? Am I supposed to not like My Little Pony? ”

My initial reaction was speechlessness, followed by confusion and anger.  How could this happen? Isn’t he too young to be thinking that way? If everyone knew he was being targeted, why didn’t his teachers, classmates, somebody stand up for him from within the very institution that was oppressing him?  I’ve heard of the expression “kids can be cruel,” but it is something beyond cruel when an 11-year old boy feels like the only way to escape constant tormenting from his peers is to end his life.

And all of this started, just because he liked a TV show. What does it mean to be a My Little Pony fan?  I needed to research this a little myself as I was not too familiar with this fandom, other than the “obvious” that the target audience is adolescent girls. However, in the past four years, the fan base for the new Friendship Is Magic series has expanded greatly to young boys and adult men, who call themselves “Bronies,” according to USA Today.

In a story by Fox news, fellow Bronies stated that their reason for loving the show was “because of its message of friendship and camaraderie.”  I decided to watch an episode of it on Netflix to try and understand why it had become so popular.  I am not a fan of the show, but I did end up watching more than one episode.  But frankly, it’s not the show that is important here.  Whether I’m a fan, you’re a fan, or if the majority of our peers are not fans is not the issue.  The issue here is that throughout history, whenever the majority of society sees something as different, odd, or dare I say wrong, the individuals who engage in that behavior or belief are targeted through a variety of forms of bullying.  As Gawker.com stated, “Brony culture might be kind of silly, but it’s not as idiotic as bullying someone for liking something you don’t, especially a cartoon that encourages kindness.”

And that is the larger issue here. According to bullying prevention expert Nancy Mullin who was interviewed by ABC news, “Eleven to 15-year-old boys are very much at risk for thinking about suicide when they’re perceived as being gay.” Socially enforced gender roles have been highly influential for generations in serving as guidelines for what is considered “right” or “wrong” for men and women to do.  Starting at birth, we tell people they can’t behave or express themselves a certain way or like a certain thing, because if they do then there is something wrong with them.  Societal pressure urges conformity, rather than celebrating and appreciating differences.  Either you change who you are so you can be who they tell you to be, or face constant torment from ignorant peers until you find a support group to help you get through. However sometimes, with or without a support group, some are pushed to a point where they feel there is only one way to end it all and never have to feel miserable again.

If we keep enforcing strict gender roles, by saying boys and girls can’t be fans of certain TV shows, by saying that skipping and dancing to class is behavior only reserved for girls or boys that identify as gay, by not stepping up and supporting, or simply just accepting, someone as who they are and not making them feel inferior, that’s when the problems continue.  That is when we leave the door open for more tragedies like this to occur. It’s time for this to stop.

As of now Michael is still in the hospital. Doctors initially reported the possibility that he suffered brain damage.  According to the Chicago Now, Michael is beginning to show signs of improvement.  Funds are being raised to help the family in covering the medical costs and go towards bullying prevention agencies.  Money can be donated at any State Employees Credit Union under the Michael Morones Recovery Fund or through PayPal csuttle3@gmail.com. Checks can also be mailed to:

The Michael Morones Recovery Fund,
c/o Team Trivia Inc.,
1380 Woodvine Way
Alpharetta, GA 30005

For more information on Michael’s condition, visit: http://www.michaelmorones.org

Written by: Amanda Aldama, Diversity Advocate Intern, Web/Promotional

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Entertainment Industry: The Perpetuator of Power, Privilege, & Oppression

kendrick-macklemore

Image from allhiphop.com

When I heard that as a Diversity Advocate Intern at MOSAIC we’ll be given a chance to write an opinion piece on current events that showcase systems of privilege and oppression, I couldn’t help but think of the recent Grammys and conversations that have been arising on privilege and allyship (I know it’s already ancient history in pop culture world). Of course I was one of the hip hop fans getting a cramp in my neck (from smh-ing too hard) after hearing Macklemore won best hip hop song and album. I’m not here to debate about how deserving Kendrick Lamar’s album was over Macklemore’s, because Macklemore’s confession of robbing Kendrick speaks for itself. It’s something well known in the hip hop community, and there is really no need for anybody to wait for Macklemore to affirm the fact. There are many aspects and layers to this situation, and since this isn’t a thesis, I’m just going to tackle a few points.

First off, I’d like to share a quote from bell hooks that has been re-directing my thoughts on the topic.

“Is rap authentic? Because once you become part of the machinery of an advance technological capitalism system of production that is all out for the most profit, questions of authenticity become to me totally stupid and meaningless. Because it’s already not anything that you can speak of any more as indigenous, it doesn’t have a marginal location any more. So you can’t talk about it as authentic to that marginal location because it’s simply not there. It is “authentic” then to what it is.”

The above bell hooks quote, which is from an older documentary Cultural Criticism & Transformation, reminds me that while impact of privilege and oppression on an individual level is important, much focus needs to be placed on the systemic forces that create and maintain those oppressions and privileges. Before going into the topic of institutional and systemic racism/white supremacy, I’d like to speak on Macklemore in this situation. Macklemore is no stranger to acknowledging his white privilege. He actually has an old track entitled “White Privilege”(2005) that has some good insight into what it means to culturally appropriate and take advantage of a culture he does not share struggles with and so on. This is where I want to address allyship, merely acknowledging your own privilege (while a necessary step) does not do anything to separate you from the oppression your privileged group is doing on to others. To be an ally is to want to destroy the system that is privileging you at the cost of oppressing others. As I was thinking about this topic Mia McKenzie wrote a great blog on ways to push back on privilege that I highly recommend checking out. In Macklemore’s case it could have played out by him refusing the Grammy for best hip hop album/song, or at the very least, he could have spoken about on how he was privileged over a more deserving artist.

As I mentioned earlier, it is crucial to examinate the systemic roots of the problem. One aspect of the industry that perpetuates oppression is the specific narratives and stories it promotes and those that it intentionally does not. The bell hooks video linked above explains how mainstream white male consumers of hip hop get excited over hip hop that portrays misogyny and violence, and so that is then the narrative of black life that gets pushed by the industry. The documentary Hip Hop Beyond Beats & Rhymes delves into how the industry dictates the narrative. One example given by former Def Jam president Carmen Ashurst-Watson is the rise of gangster rap when major labels started coming into hip hop music. Lyrical content became less and less diverse and the fifth element of hip hop, “knowledge”, started fading away as mainstream hip hop transitioned into a narrow depiction of black life that white audience enthusiastically enjoyed.

Many parallels can be seen between the music and film industry and how they choose to sell the narratives of black people (Gangster Rap Vs. Blaxploitation Era). Music and film are two strong vehicles for creating and perpetuating culture and worldviews. The entertainment industry as gatekeepers of what narratives are produced and shared play a huge role in upholding systems of oppression and privilege.

Bijan Bahmani is a Mosaic Diversity Advocate Intern and senior Social Work student at SJSU.

Welcome!

Hello out there!

To those of you new to the MOSAIC Cross-Cultural Center, we are the official social justice and diversity center on campus.  Since its establishment at San Jose State University in the late 1990’s, MOSAIC has served as a safe space for discussion, learning, and personal growth.  MOSAIC collaborates with student organizations, academic departments, staff, residence halls, and members of the surrounding community whose purpose is concurrent with MOSAIC’s mission, philosophies, and goals. We offer peer education programs and events on a weekly basis throughout the school year.  For more information on what we do, please visit our website: www.sjsu.edu/mosaic/ or visit us in person in MOD A located on 8th and San Salvador Street in San Jose, CA.

Each week our Diversity Advocate Interns (DAIs) will be creating weekly blog posts to engage the campus community in conversation on a variety of current event topics.  Check out our blog weekly, and link to our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/SJSUMosaic  to join in the conversation!

Thanks!

Amanda Aldama
Diversity Advocate Intern, Web/Promotional
Mosaic Cross Cultural Center
amanda.aldama@sjsu.edu