Hank Nuwer-On Not Judging By Appearances

mn7njw6ir0u0rtfjz1laThe following post for StopHazing was written by author and anti-hazing activist Hank Nuwer. For more information on Hank, check out his website at www.hanknuwer.com.

Can I be the only reader of the Statehouse File taken aback and disappointed upon reading the lead to the October 1 commentary “Trump: the coyote ugly candidate” by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz?

Here it is in case you missed it.

“Back in my college days, it was not uncommon for a guy to have a “coyote ugly” moment. A “coyote ugly” moment is when the guy spent the early part of the evening over-indulging in alcoholic beverages and then spent the night with someone who, shall we say, had questionable physical attributes, or, to put it plainly, she had a face that could make a train take a dirt road. But when your options are limited and it’s the last call, you take what you can get. The problem with that was eventually daylight came and sobriety kicked in and the guy would literally try gnaw his own arm off in order to escape back to the apartment than look his bad decision in the face.”

There is so much wrong here it is hard to know where to start. Having read other pieces by Abdul I know he revels in gigging readers with politically incorrect columns, but perhaps, writing with all due respect, I might convince him to reconsider his views on alcohol and women.

First, my Indiana University Press book titled “Wrongs of Passage: Fraternities, Sororities, Hazing and Binge Drinking” is all about the young men who spent a night “over-indulging in alcoholic beverages” and spent their remaining minutes and hours in horrific pain and confusion before emergency-room personnel pronounced them dead. Therefore, I take exception to Abdul’s apparent contention that all college guys at some time and another will find themselves so drunk that all inhibitions and responsibilities will cavalierly fly out the window. Instead, my colleagues and I at Franklin College and on the Hazing Battlefront urge young men under 21 not to drink, and we caution older males that “real men” who do drink need to know it is ok to stop after one or two.

Second, the column does a disservice to young women who don’t have to look much past the latest “Cosmo” magazine to develop insecurities about their appearance. Even the most attractive young women in broadcast journalism and multimedia classes blurt out all the time about how they hate their appearances on camera. My colleagues and I try hard to convince young women and men alike that what is important is what’s inside their heads and not how they look. How is a young woman to feel when she knows a distinguished lawyer like Abdul thinks there are women whose “questionable physical attributes…could make a train take a dirt road”?

Next does Abdul really want to influence and to convince his younger male readers that it is ok to have sex with a young woman starving for a little affection or attention and then dismissing and mocking her after he’s demonstrated his stud status with other hard-drinking young men? To cavalierly joke about gnawing off your arm rather than look a new lover in the face upon sobering up is reprehensible and cruel.

Abdul is trying hard to make a political analogy with his “coyote ugly” references to Donald Trump. They don’t work for me. Like other men reaching their sixth or seventh decade, I had to be educated and convinced that to be a woman was to be equal to a man in every way, and Donald Trump himself has written that many of his female staffers proved to be not only equal but superior to men in the business world.

My life-changing career moment came when co-writing a book on the topic of large-sized women from 1980 to 1982. Part of my job was interviewing plus-size models, singers such as Della Reese, and ordinary housewives and professional women. The interviews were lengthy and, for the interviewees, deeply emotional. They told how issues with weight made them lose job promotions, lose husbands and lovers, and most of all, lose confidence in themselves as people of worth and value.

The book was reviewed favorably by Ms. Magazine, which termed our book a way of looking at “fat as a feminist issue.”

The last thing I want or would do is to make a personal attack on Abdul. So as much as I disagree with his words, it is only his manner of expression that I hope to convince him to change.

But I also hope I’ve convinced any women who were offended by Abdul’s commentary that not all men see women in that way, and/or we have grown up since college and cherish the women who have entered our lives romantically and/our intellectually.

Returning to that book I co-wrote, the most common and crushing thing a large-sized woman could be told is that “she has such a pretty face.” Implicit in that expression is the speaker’s assumption that the rest of her body is unattractive, and if only she would “dump the plump” all of the world would see her as attractive.

Abdul’s comments remind me that people can be so cruel to those they judge alone by appearances.

Hank Nuwer is a professor in the Pulliam School of Journalism.