It’s been a rough few days in the Iverson-Deming household, what with this whole the-Internet-thinks-my-husband-hates-women thing. If you’re not up on the fray, while Ethan and I were on the dumb jazz cruise and I was laid up with a torn calf muscle – and if you take only one thing from this post, let it be this: DON’T JUMP ROPE ON A BOAT – in between waiting on me hand and foot, bugging me about finishing my novel, and composing a suite of dance music, Ethan interviewed three musicians for his blog, including Robert Glasper.
Glasper told my husband:
I’ve seen what that does to the audience, playing that groove. I love making the audience feel that way. Getting back to women: women love that. They don’t love a whole lot of soloing. When you hit that one groove and stay there, it’s like musical clitoris. You’re there, you stay on that groove, and the women’s eyes close and they start to sway, going into a trance.
The Internet exploded with outrage, calling this “vile sexism.” At first, people weren’t so much blaming Ethan, because he hadn’t said it himself, although some suggested he should have cut it from the interview. But what blogger in her right mind would cut a money quote like that? It’s not hate speech. The only reason to censor something like that is if you have a vested interest in keeping Glasper out of hot water or if you’re writing for kids.
Boxer Emile Griffith (Getty Images)
I had a nice conversation on the jazz boat with Robert Glasper and Terrence Blanchard, who were lounging poolside apres-gig, about the tragic life of the gay boxing champion Emile Griffith. I can tell a misogynist the same way I can tell a professional escort: their eyes glaze over during conversation because they have no use for me. Glasper wasn’t like that. I see his comments as a window into the erotic impulse in a male performer.
Obviously it’s sexist to contend that women are uncritical listeners who just want to groove out and don’t appreciate esoteric art. Woman=matter. Man=mind. An age-old equation every female intellectual needs to stare down at some point. I tried to explain that to Ethan right after the shit hit the fan, but he was already in defense mode and couldn’t take it in.
I watched with mild alarm as he posted successive updates, entrenching his position. I agreed with him that people were overreacting, and that this kind of thing led to Trump's rise. But I also recognize that this argument can lead to dangerous places. We do need to pay attention to how we speak.
I think Ethan would have apologized immediately if the critique came in the first instance from women with a stake in the music or men who were civil. But that’s not what happened. The quote was pulled out of context by jazz boys fighting for turf. It was batted back and forth with sporting glee until people he’d never met were Tweeting asking if he thought women should even be allowed to play jazz.
If you’ve never been subject to an Internet shitstorm, you can’t understand just how fucked up and deeply personal things get. I got trolled by the nation of Ireland during the Summer Olympics, because I fired off a dumb Tweet about boxer Michael Conlan. By the time the two hundredth Irishman has called you a stupid cunt who knows nothing about boxing, you’re not in the mood to apologize.
A few days into the pile-on, Ethan really started to unravel. He came home from a gig on the verge of tears because he was getting lost in the forms. The idea that he had hurt so many women he didn’t even know was really painful to him. Real feminism isn’t about tokenism or irreproachable usage: It’s about valuing female power and intellect. It’s about the way Ethan treats me, my mother, his teacher Sophia, his female students and collaborators, and the great women musicians, writers, and dancers he reveres.
Let me tell you how we met. On New Year’s Eve 2001, the saxophonist Bill McHenry threw a costume party. I went in my (extremely unflattering) amateur boxing gear, including my mouthpiece and abdominal protector. It was like that scene in Buffy where Willow wears an Inuit snowsuit because she doesn’t understand that Halloween is a free pass to dress like a slut.
When I got to the floor with the booze, I saw this bald guy, deep in his cups, whose nasal Midwestern voice floated to me across the brownstone.
“I have no patience,” he was saying, “for these narcissistic male writers like Updike and Mailer and Roth who have no use for women.”
I was astonished. It would have been love at first sight, except that I didn’t think anyone who got drunk and complained about misogyny in literature could possibly be heterosexual. Instead, I thought, “We are going to be best friends.”
He is still my best friend, and he turned out to be straight!
I was very glad he ended up apologizing about the interview, and Ethan was, too. I think it humbled and strengthened him. At the gig the other night, he soloed with a freedom and sadness I hadn’t heard in a long time. If you wanna play the blues, you gotta pay the dues. And we don’t get to choose what they are.
photo: Sue Johnson
The other day at the Barclays Center, I watched featherweight champion Heather Hardy improve to 19-0 to an empty stadium. Hers was the only woman’s bout on the card, and they made her go first, off TV, so that she took her ring walk while the doors of the venue were still closed and her sponsors waited outside in the cold. This despite the fact that she sold $37,000 worth of tickets, far more than anyone on the card. They put the kid from my gym who was having his very first pro fight – and who was not, as a male prospect, required to sell any tickets – in a favorable position near the main event. That is misogyny.
I watched the fights from the nosebleed seats, because I’ve quit trying to get press credentialed. The only time in my twenty years of involvement with boxing that I’ve consistently gotten great access was when I was fucking this male media executive who knew nothing about boxing. A couple years ago, my membership application was rejected by the Boxing Writer’s Association of America. I wasn’t trying to win an award or anything; I was just trying to be a member of the only trade association in my craft.
Check out the condescending rejection note they sent me, and bear in mind that I’ve published three novels, won a Pushcart Prize and McDowell Fellowship, got cited in Best American Essays and Best American Sportswriting, won the NYC Golden Gloves, assisted in the coaching of multiple national champions, and wrote for NBC’s boxing coverage of the London Games:
I’m sorry to report that the membership committee has voted against admitting you to the BWAA at the present time. No one person was responsible for this decision. It was a consensus reached after discussion among all committee members.
The act of writing a hundred or more articles about boxing does not necessarily qualify an applicant for membership. We look for articles that are full journalistic work. We look for variety. And we look for articles that evince a full understanding of what goes on behind the scenes as well as on-camera.
Your love for the sport came through in your application and you have plenty of background. I encourage you to look at some examples of what the BWAA considers to be exemplary writing about boxing and absorb the ways in which the authors try to go above and beyond in their fact-finding, their analysis, and their use of language. Links to many award-winning boxing articles from the past several years are here: http://www.bwaa.org/writingawards.htm
Best of luck with your continued writing about boxing. Just like it works in the ring, the best way to move up the ladder is to keep working at it. Applicants may reapply for admission after one year.
You can bet I will not be reapplying, if only because I’m scared of what I might do to Cliff Rold if I run into him at the yearly banquet. The BWAA has four women out of 115 members and they’re all in the non-voting category. That is misogyny. And when I’m crying with impotent rage over some bullshit like this, Ethan is the one who holds me and talks about Virginia Woolf. I would have thrown in the towel years ago if not for him.
My tenth anniversary tattoo
Is it misogyny when one of my male colleagues tells our fighters, “Don’t punch like a girl”? I guess. He’s using “girl” to signify “weak person who doesn’t understand how to generate power from the lower body.” It’s sexist language, but I know what he means, and I know he’s not talking about me. I’ve seen the respect he accords his wife and daughters and the few serious women boxers who have come through our doors to train. So I pick my battles.
When his language is particularly egregious – or when there are actual girls present – I pipe up, but I avoid direct attack. It is very hard to change someone, and (as I wrote in the following post on the Women’s March) nobody learns when they feel shamed and backed into a corner. People learn when they are calm enough to take in new information.
My husband blogs for free, even though we’re being priced out of our apartment and I am a financial albatross. He pays for his interview transcriptions himself and spends hundreds of hours every year researching and editing. He does what he does out of love, so I think people will forgive him.
Haters gonna hate. If even one more person learned where the clitoris is, my team won.