Time for Women to Win

Yesterday, this tweet appeared in my twitter feed “Um, does she have a name? For God’s sake — she just won a bronze medal in the @Olympics. Who approved this headline?”

The tweet referred to the Chicago Tribune’s headline: “Wife of a Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics.” (The headline has since been updated to at least include the woman’s name: Corey Cogdell.)

I was outraged that — in 2016 — at a woman’s moment of victory her husband was named instead of her. Yet, I should not have been surprised. Because, just hours earlier, another woman Olympian was denied her rightful credit when NBC announced that swimmer Hungarian Katinka Hosszu’s husband was responsible for her world record in the 400-meter individual medley.

As the CEO of Win, the largest homeless shelter and provider for women and families — many of whom have experienced trauma or challenges that resulted in their “giving up” — I spend a great deal of time talking about the importance of women’s self-worth and empowerment. It breaks my heart to think what message women and girls take from seeing powerful, successful women minimized this way.

For our girls and women, who are struggling to succeed and excel despite tremendous and often overwhelming odds, the stories of the women Olympians should be incredibly inspiring. Hailing from all over the world, and representing women of different races, ethnicities, sizes, shapes and ages, many Olympic contestants overcame incredible odds to become the successes they are.

18-year-old swimmer Yusra Mardini is a Syrian refugee and a member of the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team. Escaping from Syria she helped push a boat for three hours to lead it to shore.

Oksana Chusovitina, from Uzbekistan, is a gymnast competing at 41-years-old against teenagers.

Ibtihaj Muhammad, a fencer, is the first American woman to wear a hijab at the Olympics.

Laurie Hernandez is the first U.S.-born Hispanic athlete to make a U.S. women’s gymnastics Olympic team since 1984.

And of course there is Serena Williams who, along with her sister Venus, has opened the sport of tennis to Black girls.

These women embrace their strength and power — just as we encourage our Win girls and women to do. Often our clients come to us discouraged, unable to change their situation on their own. Win caseworkers work with moms to set goals and encourage them to feel proud of the progress they make while in our shelters. We provide classes in self-advocacy, personal discipline, accountability, time management, and business conduct. Ultimately we support areas of personal development that have tremendous impact on a woman’s ability to build confidence and achieve independence.

We cannot underestimate the importance of role models for girls and women, particularly those who have very few. The Olympics provide a unique opportunity for all of us to watch strong, proud women succeed at the top of their game and those successes should be celebrated — and attributed solely to the women who earned them.

It’s important to see women win.