Laraine Cook, the coach of the girls’ basketball team at Pocatello High School in Idaho, was fired a few weeks ago with a new season looming right around the corner.
Her offense? Posting a photo on her Facebook that showed her, in a bikini, embracing her boyfriend (and now fiancee) Tom Harrison, the football coach at Pocatello High. The uproar over the picture is because Harrison’s left hand is on top of Cook’s right breast.
(The photo, which has since been deleted from Facebook, can be seen at the New York Daily News. It’s not even worth labeling with a “NFSW” tag.)
Okay, let’s delve into the bullshit surrounding this situation.
1) Unless your standards regarding decency are quite literally Puritanical, it is unfathomable that anyone possessing an once of reason could find the picture somehow salacious, provocative, or inappropriate. Cook and Harrison are both consenting adults, and the picture is clearly meant to be playful, not sexually suggestive. It’s not a photo of Harrison lustily groping at a lingerie-clad Cook. It’s not a photo of the couple engaged in the throes of orgasmic ecstasy. It’s a goddamn picture of two grown-ups in bathing suits hugging while on vacation.
2) Harrison was only reprimanded for the photo and isn’t facing further punishment. No, this isn’t a call for Harrison to be fired. He shouldn’t be. But his fiancee shouldn’t have been fired, either. There are a couple of double standards likely at play here, and both are ugly. The first is that Cook has only been coaching at Pocatello since 2009 and has led the team to a third-place finish in the state tournament. Harrison, on the other hand, has won 10 state titles over his coaching career (at various schools in Idaho) and is a member of the Idaho High School Football Hall of Fame. In that light, it’s easy (though wrong and short-sighted) to see Cook as more “expendable” than Harrison, especially since Harrison coaches the more popular sport.
The second issue involves the gender dynamics of the situation, and it shouldn’t take a genius to recognize the double standard. If hand-on-breast is considered an act so immoral as to be a fireable offense, then Harrison should have been the one fired seeing as he is the one conducting the immoral act. It’s his hand on her breast, but she is the one actually being terminated for the photo. Yes, she was the one who chose to upload the picture onto Facebook, but if the problem was merely her decision to upload the picture back in July — and, according to this interview, the choice to upload it was the only justification given for her firing — then why wouldn’t the fact the picture was deleted within 24 hours not factor into the situation?
Oh, that’s right, because it’s sickeningly common for society to find women at fault in situations like these, and it’s considered acceptable to question them (as the interviewer in the above video does at one point) as to if they made “errors in judgment” or if they “could have avoided the situation” or if they’re afraid of “setting a bad example for young girls.” I mean, why talk about the role a man plays in a situation like this when it is far easier to just point a judgmental finger at the unfairly treated woman and ask if she feels ashamed that her oh-so-wrong actions basically forced her to be mistreated.
(For a fun activity, track down the various news articles about Laraine Cook and compare the user-posted comments to the comments on the articles about the middle school football coach in Oregon who was fired for planning a team party at Hooters. It’s a great exercise in watching how people criticize the imaginary PC police for ruining Guy Stuff and then turn around to use PC notions to shame Women Acting How We Don’t Want Them To Act.)
Cook’s alleged error in judgment was not posting an inappropriate picture onto Facebook because the picture was, simply put, not inappropriate. Yes, it is wise to be discerning about which photos you display on your profile, but Cook’s uploaded picture was nowhere near objectionable by any reasonable definition of the term. No, her mistake was believing that the situation would be handled fairly and without bias towards sex and gender.
Firing Cook doesn’t, as people are quick to claim, “protect innocent children” from inappropriate content. In fact, considering how fast the photo was originally deleted back in July, it’s rational to assume that now more of the students at the high school will be exposed to the so-called objectionable picture due to the story going from local to national. Firing Cook only reinforces some of the reprehensible ways in which our society chooses to dictate the “proper” ways in which women should act, depriving them of autonomy and fair treatment under the bullshit guise of safeguarding some vague moral standard.
Hopefully Cook is able to find a better job going forward. We wish her the best of luck.