Growing up in the 80’s & 90’s, I looked up to idols like Geraldine Ferraro and Steffi Graf. Women were becoming “The First” all around me and I was aware of it. Many times I found myself as the only girl in various sports and I thrived under the challenge to be just as good as the boys. I believed that I could do anything if I worked hard enough and that with that hard work, I would move forward in life proportionately, as if life were a perfect algebraic equation. In many ways, it was what we as young girls were told in a culture falsely empowered by MTV and shoulder pads, floating between wanting to be the Princess Bride or Madonna.
As the role of women and equality has become increasingly a central topic of social conversations in America during our 2016 presidential election, it has caused me to examine my own “normal”. Being a woman in the sports business industries I have become accustomed to often being the only female and a “boys clubs” type atmosphere where critical comments about women’s bodies are frequent. While the presidential campaigns have sparked increasingly heated debates on sexism in America, I have become more aware of my own complacency and acceptance of this “normal”. I began to see my “normal” differently.
This fall, I began working on a project that featured a line up of 90% male performers. When I pointed this out to the creator his admittedly embarrassed response was “I hadn’t even noticed!”. I watch men hire male friends without considering a woman who was twice as qualified. I see roundtables of men plan the production of events which featured 100% female athletes. This has all been very normal for me but I began to see it differently, no longer blindly accepting that this is “…just the way things are in our industry.”
Instead of seeing what I have always seen since I was 14, when I began working in the sports industry at a local bike and ski shop, I watched my friends, fathers to daughters, and saw them not only impervious to the sexism they were perpetuating but saw them doing nothing to change the status quo. I began to see the complacency and false notion that their daughters would grow up in a different world than the one I know.
When I was the same age as my friend’s daughters, around 8–10 years old, slowly my dreams became not possible or “realistic”. I was told I didn’t come from the right family, it would be too difficult, or that I didn’t have the right body. They were just words but they shaped my path and sense of self. As I got older I often didn’t have the support for my dreams or goals, my dreams didn’t fit what others believed was my possible. As a girl, I also had to learn how to handle the cat calls, the groping from strangers, the uncomfortably long hugs from coaches, all which began when I was 11, nothing prepared me for that. I began from that young age to believe that my worth and whether I was “loveable” was largely attached to my physical appearance. Society stoked that fire and there was little to balance it.
You see the thing is, words do matter, especially to your children. Whether the messaging is coming from the home, a coach or teacher, the media, or a leader of your nation, words can hurt. Without healthy body image and self-esteem messaging at home the likelihood of your daughter believing her worth is only in her physical appearance is high.
Unless there is a supportive empowering coach to balance a negative pessimistic parent the probability of your naturally gifted daughter quitting a sport she loves is high. Unless you are supporting, including, and recognizing women in your own workplace and treating them equally, the probability of your daughter ever hoping to reach equal pay or not be dismissed for positions she is more than qualified for is near nil.
Unless you are doing something to counter what our society accepts as the norm, unless you are actively including women, bringing more women into the workplace, you can NOT expect your daughters will live in a world any different than this one. This world, the one I live in, I am told I should expect my ass to be groped as I walk through a crowded bar. I’m told by women 25 years my senior to accept being excluded, to accept, “…this is how it is…it will only get worse…just don’t let it bother you.”
No. I do not accept this “normal” anymore.
The question is, do you?