Analysis Sexuality

Discussing Justin Bieber (But Really Talking About How We Treat Young Mothers)

Bianca I. Laureano

A suggestion on how to discuss teen pregnancy, paternity, and young mothers that intersects with Justin Bieber's media attention.

I wrote an article last week about Justin Bieber for a youth focused website, something I didn’t think I’d ever do. However, the piece was more about how we support and discuss young mothers in the US and how that is connected to what is going on regarding Justin Bieber and Mariah Yeater, whose attorney had asked Bieber to take a paternity test. 

Many media outlets reported that the paternity test was withdrawn and one of the respondents on my last article asked if I would write a follow-up regarding the paternity test results. Here’s my response to this entire situation with Justin Bieber: I hope he takes notes from Raymond “Boots” Riley of The Coup on how to respond to a young woman who claims you were a part of creating a child with her, regardless of the situation.

The Coup are a hip-hop group from Oakland, California and Boots Riley and Pam the Funkstress, one of the few women DJs, are the main members. In their album Party Music (2001), the song Nowalaters was included. This song is Boots Riley’s open letter to a young woman who had stated he was the person who impregnated her when he was a teenager. I’ve included the song and lyrics below. I’ve bolded parts of the song lyrics that I think are extremely useful and telling when it comes to discussing teen motherhood and pregnancy and how we treat young mothers in the US. 

I hope this quick post will be useful for those of you seeking to use this story in the media in your classrooms or groups with youth to discuss abstinence, pregnancy, consent, and assault. Please note there is some profanity in these lyrics, so listening at work may not be appropriate for all readers.

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[Boots]

Well if you thrust, eventually you gonna gush

And I’m implyin’ I ain’t had no business cryin’

Cause we used the rubber twice

And we knew that shit was dyin’ to bust

Well we was only seventeen

But you was older in between

And in my fresh Adidas fits

I used to come more clean than Jeru jerkin’ off in a can of chlorine

Sophisticated with the game I was spittin’ in

A nymphomaniac was with it, that’s just a clip, more experience

V on my chest when I was put to the test

You said “Goddamn nigga, that ain’t how ya get it in”

Dashboards for the leverage, tall cans for beverage

The weed can make you courageous, make a Honda Civic seem so 

spacious Make 

five minutes seem like ages, anyway

[Chorus]

You smelled like Care-Free Curl and nowalaters baby

Said you liked high-top fades

And Jesse Johnson’s “Crazy”

Seventeen, all on you like chicken and some gravy

Learned a lot, thank you much today I’m still campaignin’

[Repeat 1]

[Boots]

The lake don’t smell so bad now, do it

Don’t trip off ya hair baby just re-glue it

The windows is fogged up, can’t nobody view it

Put down the O-E and turn up the Howard Hewett

And some more, we had things to discuss

Like how we do it, we got amniotic fluid

And a baby floatin’ though it

Hey, imagine if it look like us, it was me up in the vaginary

And I’ma love my kids whether real or imaginary

Quit school, work well depends at the mall next to Fashion Berry

Operation cash and carry

Manual labor from six to noon

Makin’ six doubloons, got a baby that’s fixin’ to bloom

And he need ‘fits to groom plus grips the spoon

So let me twist the ploom

And inhale and emit the fumes

[Chorus]

[Boots]

I was composed, I didn’t even crack a frown

I was supposed to let my pants fall down

And show my ass when I found

That the baby was four months early and around ten pounds

I heard a lot of bad things about teenage mothers

From those who don’t really give a fuck about life

They say “It ain’t so much that they startin’ out younger”

“It’s just they supposed to be more like a wife”

Meanin’ you ain’t shit without a man to guide you

If ya mama tried to feed you that she lied too

Make ya grab any motherfucker that ride through

If jobs are applied to knots can get tied too

Plus I know that you must have been scared

It made it easy when the feelings were shared

Flashback to 20/20

I know you waitin’ for the dollars cause you knew I had funny money

Yellin’ all loud like I’ma tear the whole hood up

Don’t tempt me cause the real daddy stood up

He said I was a mark for believin’ in you

Now it’s more that I’m seein’ is true

There’s a few things I’d like to say in this letter

Like I wish I would’ve seen him grow

And ask my wife I learned to fuck much better

And thank you for lettin’ me go

Yeah, thank you for lettin’ me go

For real, thank you for lettin’ me go

Commentary Media

Raymond Moore May Have Resigned, But His Comments About Women’s Tennis Betray a Broader Problem

Shireen Ahmed

What this situation makes clear is the glaring reality that women's tennis players often don't have institutionalized support or solidarity from their male colleagues.

Just before the final match of the BNP Paribas Open Tournament in Indian Wells, California, on March 20, tournament director Raymond Moore stunned the tennis world with misguided, sexist comments regarding women’s tennis. The aftermath is somewhat reminiscent of a shoddy political campaigncomplete with inappropriate gaffes, a deluge of critiques, apologies, and then a resignation.

Sexism in sports is quite prevalent, so women are accustomed to seeing reports of asinine commentary. The frequency of such attitudes does not mean that such remarks are not harmful to women’s sports or that they ought to be taken lightly. What this situation makes clear, however, is the glaring reality that women’s tennis players often don’t have institutionalized support or solidarity from their male colleagues. This is discouraging, as tennis is widely regarded by members of the media as the sport that other federations should look to as an example of pay equity and camaraderie. Women consistently fight battles on their own with little backup from male players, men’s tennis associations, and other athletes. This is part of the problem in a system that allows sexism to flourish in women’s sports.

Moore chose to make mind-bogglingly misplaced comments to the usual media scrum that precedes the final match. His comments were unprovoked and unrelated to any specific issue. Instead, he simply offered his observations on female players: “I think the WTA [Women’s Tennis Association] … you know, in my next life when I come back I want to be someone in the WTA, because they ride on the coattails of the men,” Moore said. “They don’t make any decisions and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky. If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport. They really have.”

To add insult to injury, Moore proceeded to comment on—wait for itthe level of physical beauty of specific players. Moore named Eugenie Bouchard of Canada and Garbine Muguruza of Spain as being among the “attractive prospects” on the tour. When asked to clarify about what he meant by attractive. Moore replied, “They are physically attractive and competitively attractive,” he said. “They can assume the mantle of leadership once Serena [Williams] decides to stop. They really have quite a few very, very attractive players.”

As a fan of tennis, I was aghast. And as a feminist sports writer, I was horrified.

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In addition to being inappropriate and insulting, Moore’s comments were factually incorrect. When I think of this sport, I think of a legendary history of advocacy coupled with enthralling athleticism displayed by female tennis superstars. In 1956, Althea Gibson became the first Black woman to win a major international tournament after years of being shut out by the all-white U.S. Lawn Tennis Association. She battled racist systems and even against hotels who would refuse to book a space in their establishments for a luncheon to honor her and her accomplishments. Gibson certainly helped to elevate the standards of the game.

Perhaps Moore also forgot about Billie Jean King. King engulfed herself in advocating for women’s rights after realizing that a woman’s place in tennis was economically restricted. When King won Wimbledon in 1968, she received £750, but her male counterpart Rod Laver won £2000. In 1973, she famously accepted a challenge from self-proclaimed “male chauvinist” Bobby Riggs and won in three straight sets. Not only did an estimated 50 million people across 37 countries watch the epic “Battle of the Sexes,” but King drew much-needed attention to financial inequality and created the WTA. Former professional tennis player Chris Evert has said of King’s contributions: “Everybody should thank her and shake her hand. She put money in our pockets and provided a living for hundreds and hundreds of female athletes.”

And then there is Serena Williams, who was competing at the tournament in question and who has been hailed by tennis pundits as the best player the United States has ever produced of all time. The 21-time Grand Slam winner is not only a champion of women’s sports; she is a one of the female athletes who routinely speaks up about issues that affect them. Williams has been the target of ruthless and racist sports media. She has been maligned, yet still uses her platform to connect with important organizations such as Equal Justice Initiative and has boycotted major tournaments because of her convictions. And Williams enthralls and inspires million of people with her grace, strength, and top form.

Thanks in part to the work of Gibson, King, Williams, and others, gender inequity is not as stark in tennis as it is in other sports. Tennis associations are reputed to be the most even-salaried for women and their male counterparts. However, if Moore’s comment and others are any indication, it seems as if ingrained sexist ideologies simmer under the lid.

The reactions to Moore’s comments, from King, Evert, and Martina Navratilova, to name a few players, were swift and appropriately angry:

Williams, meanwhile, was very eloquent in her reaction to Moore’s comments: “You know, there’s only one way to interpret that. Get on your knees, which is offensive enough, and thank a man, which is not—we, as women, have come a long way. We shouldn’t have to drop to our knees at any point.”

Williams reiterated the point that the 2015 U.S. Open women’s finals sold out before the men’s. It is not the case that men shoulder more responsibility or interest in tennis more so than women. And, as Jane McManus of espnW noted, Moore’s comments call into question his ability to be an effective tournament director for a co-ed event that relies on the celebrity of the women’s game. “You can’t have a tournament director for a men’s and women’s tournament who doesn’t believe the women carry their weight,” McManus wrote.

In the midst of this criticism, Moore issued an eager apology.

While Moore was trying to navigate through the mess he created, sports media outlets asked other prominent players what they thought of his comments. Very unfortunately, the world’s number-one ranked male player, Novak Djokovic, used the opportunity to lecture awkwardly about how pay inequality would be justified because men garner more income than women on the tennis circuit.

“I think that our men’s tennis world … should fight for more, because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches,” Djokovic said. “I think that’s one of the, you know, reasons why maybe we should get awarded more.”

Djokovic also added in some inexplicable comments about women’s bodies and their hormones—yes, hormones—going through “different things.” He ended his obtuse statement with the very subtle: “Ladies know what I am talking about.”

The stream of off-the-cuff sexist remarks and subsequent apologies is very popular, apparently. After being counseled by fellow tennis player Andy Murray, Djokovic insisted in a Facebook post that he never meant any offense or “negative connotations.”

But his knee-jerk reaction was also to insist that his comments were taken out of context. Instead of stating that he was wrong and will not repeat the same mistake, he placed the burden on others who might have been offended for taking his comments “the wrong way.”

I don’t believe his comments were interpreted incorrectly; I believe he, like many male sports stars, was simply unwilling to own up to his comments.

Sports writer and tennis enthusiast Lindsay Gibbs reported for ThinkProgress that when the Association of Tennis Professionals was asked to comment on Moore or Djokovic’s remarks, its statement was a baffling argument against equal prize money.

“That’s right—given a very obvious opportunity to take a strong stand against sexism and promote equality, men’s tennis instead decided to make the argument against equal prize money,” Gibbs wrote. “This cycle is as exhausting as it is self-defeating.”

There are those who avoid these messes by educating themselves and properly articulating their support of women’s tennis. Former pro tennis player Patrick McEnroe said he was “livid” at Moore’s comments and publicly called for him to resign.

WTA Tour Chief Executive Steve Simon also declared his unwavering endorsement of equal pay for female players before the start of the Miami Open. And Murray was quick to denounce Djokovic’s position and insisted that his words “do not stack up.” He mentioned that quite often, tennis fans come to watch Williams specifically.

Overall, though, the advocacy offered to women is unstable and inconsistent. While discussing how women mobilized to earn a proper salary, King told espnW during an interview at Wimbledon last year, “The men will never give us credit.”

The dim silver lining of all this seems to be that wider discussions of gender inequality in pay and institutionalized sexism have been prevalent in mainstream, male-dominated sports media, which would otherwise seldom address such topics. But so long as there are men in positions of power asked to comment on issues in women’s sports—as is the case with tennis—they also need to participate in vocalizing their support for female athletes. Solidarity with women, which includes not maligning the efforts of female athletes, is important to ensuring consistent growth of the sport. For men at all levels to reiterate that women’s sports are powerful and exciting goes a long way in dismantling sexist ideology suggesting women’s sports do not hold broad appeal, that they are somehow less “interesting” than men’s sports, or that, like Moore suggested, they are piggybacking off male athletes’ success.

While men remain in the roles of executive directors, administrators, and decision makers, it is crucial for them to back up female playersparticularly because that recognition is well deserved.

So many women’s tennis players have brought issues of social justice to the forefront. They are addressing pressing issues of sexism but also of race, class, and gender identity. These feats go far beyond only winning trophies. These women are fostering change in society through sports.

How unjust and ignorant of Moore to erase these accomplishments.

On March 21, Moore resigned as tournament director of Indian Wells. I sincerely hope that the next tournament director is far more enlightened of the enormous contributions to tennis and sports that female players have had.

Moore’s initial comments ballooned into an issue involving other men and highlighted the recurring sexism that plagues sports. Their mea culpas ring hollow at a time when women’s tennis features brilliant female players. The point is certainly not to avoid making sexist comments in front of the cameras. It is to understand that sexist comments are doing a disservice to the sport and are incorrect and unjust, and must be addressed and corrected by everyone, not just the women they affect directly.

It was not only Title IX nor the “coattails of men” that created the genius and success of women’s tennis; it was the women themselves.

Analysis Politics

How Many ‘Helpful’ Questions Can We Expect From Thursday’s GOP Debate Moderator Hugh Hewitt?

Ally Boguhn

Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s “focus” on getting answers from the GOP has been undermined by his own statements and failure to hold candidates accountable.

On Thursday night, the remaining GOP contenders for president will take the stage for their tenth debate. One of the moderators, a noted conservative, claims to care about getting real answers from candidates, but his history suggests otherwise.

Hosted by CNN, Telemundo, and the Salem Media Group at the University of Houston, the debate will be moderated by a representative from each of the three networks. For CNN, Wolf Blitzer will take the stage; Maria Celeste Arraras will represent Telemundo; and talk radio host Hugh Hewitt will be there for Salem Media Group.

This isn’t Hewitt’s first trip to the debate stage: The conservative radio personality participated as a panelist in the second GOP debate in September and moderated another on CNN in December.

“I am excited by the opportunity to continue to help shape the conversation about which of the candidates ought to be the GOP nominee in 2016,” Hewitt said in an October statement regarding his future participation in debates. “My focus remains on posing questions that elicit answers GOP primary voters will find helpful in casting their ballots …. I’ve done over 50 in-depth interviews with the candidates who remain in the field and will continue to invite them onto my radio show between now and March to pose tough, straightforward questions. There’s no better way for me or for them to prepare.”

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But Hewitt’s “focus” on getting answers from the GOP has been undermined by his own statements and failure to hold candidates accountable.

In September, Hewitt faced heavy criticism from conservative media figures after the radio host asked candidate Donald Trump a question about foreign policy during an interview on his program, The Hugh Hewitt Show, seemingly hoping to test his knowledge of terrorist organizations. When Trump was unable to come up with an answer, he lashed out against Hewitt, accusing him of posing a “gotcha question” and claiming it was a “ridiculous” one for Hewitt to have asked. Hewitt initially defended his questions; eventually, however, he backtracked amid backlash from fellow conservatives, saying that Trump “legitimately misunderstood” the question and taking responsibility himself for the candidate’s inability to muster an answer. “I framed the question wrong,” he told MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

The Washington Post in December chalked Hewitt’s repeated inclusion in the GOP debates up to “Republican carping,” after candidates repeatedly claimed they were treated unfairly by CNBC moderators during the third debate.

That same month, in an episode of NPR’s All Things Considered, the show’s hosts discussed the matter with the chief strategist of the Republican National Committee (RNC), Sean Spicer, who explained that Hewitt was included in the debates as part of the party’s push to gain more control over what occurs during the events.

“The media controls all aspects of the debate—when they were going to debate, how many there were, where they were. And really, what this came down to was the Party recognizing that while the media has a huge role to play, that ultimately, people are seeking our nomination and that we should have the responsibility to make sure that that process is a little bit more orderly,” Spicer said.

Hewitt’s own commentary also raises confusion about the kinds of answers he’ll be seeking. In January during an appearance on CNN’s New Day, Hewitt concluded that even when candidates are wrong, “fact-checking doesn’t matter,” and that “personality and aura” mattered more.

It isn’t just Hewitt’s ability to fact-check others that is in question, but also whether he has his own facts straight. In the wake of the deadly shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood late last year, the conservative radio host invited Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on his program to discuss the matter. Dismissing those who tied the clinic violence to increasingly threatening rhetoric, Hewitt claimed that he had never met an anti-choice activist who favored violence.

“I have never met, not once, a single pro-life activist who is in favor of violence of any sort. Have you, Senator Cruz?” Hewitt asked the Republican presidential candidate.

Cruz agreed, “I have not.”

As Cruz himself stated in 2015, however, “Rhetoric and language do indeed have consequences.” The rhetoric about abortion employed by conservatives and GOP politicians, especially in the wake of the deceptively edited videos released by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), is no exception. The FBI has found that it has led to an increase in clinic violence; according to reports, the alleged Planned Parenthood shooter used the same language invoked by conservatives discussing the videos to justify his acts.

And Cruz does in fact know of anti-choice proponents who favor violence—he has even been endorsed by one. In November, prior to his interview with Hewitt, Cruz welcomed the endorsement of Troy Newman, the head of the extreme anti-choice group Operation Rescue, who harassed Dr. George Tiller for years prior to the abortion provider’s assassination. Although Newman later condemned Tiller’s killer, the group nonetheless continued to associate with other extremists.

Hewitt’s assertion in November comes as no surprise, however, as he has consistently defended the CMP videos since their release. During an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press in September, Hewitt stood up for then-presidential candidate Carly Fiorina after she falsely claimed the anti-choice videos depicted a “fully-formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking.” Although numerous fact-checkers debunked Fiorina’s claim, Hewitt stood by it, claiming that Fiorina simply misspoke and that the media had taken her comments out of context.

“I don’t agree that [the CMP videos] are highly edited. This is highly edited. The debate the other day was highly edited,” Hewitt claimed according to the program’s transcripts, before suggesting that Planned Parenthood should be defunded.

The month before, during an interview with Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) on his radio program, Hewitt had referred to the CMP videos while questioning whether the presidential candidate would “push back against the war on women tag” he suggested Republicans would face in this election cycle. “No one can defend this,” Hewitt said, referring to the claims made against Planned Parenthood in the debunked videos.

Perhaps even more alarming is Hewitt’s assertion that he will not address reproductive rights and health at all in the debates, having criticized previous moderators who did so.

During an interview with Bloomberg Politics in early 2015, Hewitt discussed how he came to have a role in the debates. “This is really all Reince Priebus’ doing,” Hewitt claimed, referring to the head of the RNC. “Of all the things he’s done, getting conservative journalists on the panels is probably his lasting legacy. Our issues are not the standard issues people hear about. The conservative primary voter has been frustrated with Republican debates for as long as I remember. They don’t hear the questions asked that they want answered by people who want their votes.”

When asked what questions he had objected to during the 2012 election cycle, Hewitt pointed back to a moment when George Stephanopoulos asked Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney about whether states had the right to ban contraception. The question came just days after Republican candidate Rick Santorum asserted that he did believe states had that right.

“There wasn’t one conservative in 2012 who wanted to make birth control inaccessible to women. Not one. Zero,” Hewitt claimed. “And so when George Stephanopoulos asked about birth control in New Hampshire, I thought it summed up very nicely the problem with using even good journalists like him, a former Clinton operative. That question would never come from a conservative journalist. It’s not a debate. It doesn’t exist.”

When asked whether he would ask questions about birth control or abortion during a debate, Hewitt replied that “it does not seem to be on my top shelf,” because all of the candidates are anti-choice. “I can’t imagine I’d be asking questions from the mindset that those questions are important,” he concluded.

Now in 2016, Republicans such as Ted Cruz are again falsely claiming that no members of the GOP are trying to ban birth control. This ignores a years-long crusade by members of the party to do just that, through attempts to pass “personhood” measures, which could outlaw many forms of contraception, attacks on the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, and other restrictions.

Can Hewitt be trusted to ask about these topics, let alone push back on Republicans’ misinformation about them, given his own admissions that he doesn’t believe fact-checking matters or that reproductive health is worth discussing?