Friday, August 30, 2013

My mistake in the Kyra Gracie hullabaloo..

You've probably run across all the talk of Kyra's (not horrible, but NSFW) most recent sexy-shot and the following parody. I first want to say I'm VERY thankful for Julia's analysis of the subject. But reaction to seeing her picture went something like this

Guess I'm going to be hiding from the dude-bros of Reddit for a while.
She's got such amazing credentials, does she REALLY need to do this publicly?
Well, she is Brazilian. They view bodily exposure differently. Cultural context and whatnot. 
I should blog something.
No. I need to marinate first. 
Screw that, I gotta go train. 

Then I saw the picture with Dan Strauss and cried with laughter for a solid minute.

This brilliant
Look at his thigh!
Is he mocking her?
No...this is what parody is and he's brilliant...and his thigh.

A lot of reactions to two pictures, but only one was genuinely wrong. See that sixth one? The one about Brazilians? Yeah. I even posted something similar to Georgette's Facebook. I've said it before in discussions of other sexual images of Brazilian women in jiu jitsu. I'm a little bit ashamed of the reaction, especially considering my own experiences. I've had men yell "Hey! Moesha!" behind me in Mexico. I've had Arab men walk up and whisper strange things in my ear in Hong Kong (I was warned about this because, well, Black women in the area are usually prostitutes). I know the stereotypes of Brazilian women and what men do to navigate them. I've sat and listened to Brazilian women lament how they're "treated like meat" and how Western (well, North American) men react with sexual approval upon finding out that they're Brazilian. I've heard them express the burden that "having" to be sexy all the time, even in business situations, can carry. I've been asked if I were Brazilian by creepy guys, and I've watched the plummeting disappointment on their faces when they find out, that, well, no. I can only imagine the reaction if I'd said yes.'s REAL easy to pigeonhole people. (Do all Brazilians REALLY love the beach? Don't most of them live like, nowhere near a coast? Are we imposing the culture of Rio on an entire nation?) It's even easier when it's done in an effort to give them "permission" to do things we may be culturally inclined to condemn (like sexual photos). Talk to pretty much any BJJ guy (well, any younger one), and you'll hear a characterization of Brazilian women as always sexually available, more willing to adjust their lives and appearances according to the tastes of heterosexual men, not as "difficult" as American women...and to a degree that's true. This is where it gets tricky though. Women in BJJ are already rejecting a LOT of stereotypes about female behavior, and yet I easily fell in line with the stereotype...likely searching for a way to "liberate" Kyra's behavior from control of an other. Why didn't I take a cue from the fact that you don't see other Brazilian women in BJJ posing sexually in the gi very often? Bea Mesquita? Gezary Matuda? They stand much more to gain from sexy BJJ pics than Kyra, and you don't see it happening. I failed to look at the image and think "Maybe Kyra's doing this because Kyra's doing this."

That's the hard part about intersectionality. Things just aren't clear cut.  It takes a lot of comparison to even come to a close guess about someone's reasons for their behavior...but then, I'm in the Road-to-Hell camp when it comes to intent. Especially when talking a celebrity, especially when we're talking media in the day of social media. I don't care what you wanted to see happen or what you felt. Actual impact far outweighs that, and it's really what I'm interested in discussing. Well, that and my own reactions, which in this case, were a learning moment. 


Trudy said...

Exquisite essay. It just reveals how even as women of colour, we can absorb notions of sexuality that's constructed by hegemony and sometimes we slip and believe things about other women of colour that we ourselves as Black women face. It's a mistake but being able to recognize it and deconstruct it and evolve from it is important.

The complexity of this particular situation is: to clearly acknowledge that Kyra has the right to express her sexuality as she chooses and her athleticism as she chooses (with the sexual shoot and the athletic shoot) AND be able to critique how when she mixed those and wore the Gi in the half nude shoot, it does impact the environment that other women can face in BJJ. Sexual empowerment of one woman at the expense of other women is very dangerous. The same thing can be said of Miley Cyrus exploring her sexuality as a White woman but only being able to do so at the expense of marginalization and oppression of Black women. That's not sisterhood or empowerment. It's attention-seeking and selfishness that contributes to oppression.

So in this case, it is reasonable to assert Kyra having the power to be a sexual being in a sport (the first two shoots) without forcing that sport to be sexual by implying that with her message (with the Gi/nude shoot). People don't come to that BJJ for that. It's easily possible to recognize sexual empowerment without making a non-sexual space unsafe.

And ultimately, any men DECIDING to react to her image with either shaming her sexuality itself (versus critiquing how with the Gi it's an issue, not just her nudity itself) or in very patriarchal and misogynist ways disregarding her ability solely because the shoot is semi-nude is the issue. They make the environment the way it is, not just her image itself.

Megan said...

"It's easily possible to recognize sexual empowerment without making a non-sexual space unsafe."

I'm starting to wonder how easy this is based on some of the reactions I'm seeing...or people are just choosing to think reflexively and simplistically about it so they won't have to consider their own actions in life.

I REALLY wish it would go without saying that 1) Kyra has a right to do what she does and 2) Men who train and use images like Kyra's as an excuse to behave badly are responsible for their actions and the repercussions, but I don't know if we can get past that.

Shark Girl said...

Nice. Thanks for this, Megan.

Jiu Jiu said...

Two comments!

Comment #1
I'm going to be writing a post because I feel at a loss. How do we talk about this without engaging in slut-shaming or being negative about self expression or shutting down women's sexuality? I'm at a bit of a loss.

I agree with that idea of self-expression, but I've been trying to figure out how to word this idea:

Who are your favorite "wholesome" BJJ role models? Who are your favorite BJJ role models for young girls? Who are your favorite g-rated BJJ role models?

By saying "Sorry, but anyone who has modeled nude is totally out" it definitely casts a judgment, but the idea is to pick positive, healthy role models. Gah - there I go - is it NOT positive or NOT healthy for women to decide to show their bodies?

You can see my problem. Help please! How do I word this in a positive manner?

Jiu Jiu said...

Two comments!

Comment #2
I also see what you're saying. I've lived in now 3 very distinct cultures - my own, Ukraine, and Korea. And yet I was talking to a former student in Ukraine. I told her I was sad that so many of them felt the need to pose so sexily - and that it was unfortunate because to many in the world, Ukraine is synonymous with sex trafficking and mail-order brides and that the situation made me sad.

It's easy to claim "oh that's the culture" and use that as an excuse to exploit it. I wonder if Brazilian guys are having the same reaction to her photos as American guys. I wonder if they're posting the really over-the-line comments about her the way that the American guys are. I don't know. But just to say "Oh, well it's fine because she's Brazilian, therefore our comments are totally fine because she's objectifying herself but not really because that's her culture."

Overall what's missing is the MINDFUL aspect. It may suck, but women black belts in our sport are, for better or worse, role models. Heck, even purple and brown women ARE by default role models. This means that whatever you do - just be aware that people ARE watching you. You ARE in a snow-globe. That means it's on you to act responsibly. Not like a robot, but to be aware that young women are watching and learning from you.

I had the same issue when I was in Peace Corps. That balance between being "me" and being a "representation of the United States!" It's a fuzzy line but one that I still was always aware of.

A.D. McClish said...

That's a really good point, Megan. I have noticed that stereotype as well. Has Kyra made any public statements about her photo?

Megan said...

Nothing that I've heard Allie...which is even more disturbing to me. I get the feeling the photos were done just for fun and to push her personal brand.

Re: what Julia was saying, I think it's important to define slut-shaming within context. Nobody (that I've seen) has critiqued Kyra for being sexual or taking revealing pictures...which is to be expected since she's taken much more revealing. even sexual photos. In this case, the critique is 1, of her using a gi and 2, done out of concern for other women.

If Kyra exercising her agency then means other women potentially lose out, then anyone critiquing her isn't doing to to stop her behavior, they're doing it for the well-being of other women. For example, let's say I want to wear long weave made of human hair because I think it's sexy. That's my right. However, if women in poor countries are being exploited or having their hair stolen to support me maintaining my look, then what am I really doing?

I think it could be safe to ask "Whose personal brand best exemplifies the values of BJJ". I'm sorry, but sexual expression isn't one of them. I'd feel the same way about someone, say, engaging in competitive eating contests while wearing a gi. That treatment of the body just doesn't fit in our world.

Megan said...

Response #2!

How did your friend respond?

That right there, is why I don't identify as Feminist. There is simply too little regard for intersectionality in both theory and behavior.

Some women may choose to wear a niqab...should they be coerced into showing more skin because the manifestation of their choice results in something different than what some women expect or because an oppressive community approves of it?

" It may suck, but women black belts in our sport are, for better or worse, role models. Heck, even purple and brown women ARE by default role models."

Dude...this. It's called reality. You get little girls running up and hugging you...women gushing to tell you how you inspired them AND the responsibility of your image and choices meaning more than other people. You don't get one without the other.