Amy Donaldson: Allow women to compete and be who they are
Julie Jacobson, AP
SALT LAKE CITY — Lolo Jones' talent apparently doesn't equal her beauty.
Gabby Douglas' hairdo is apparently unworthy of a gold medalist.
And be careful when you dance for joy ladies, because like Serena Williams, someone who doesn't know you might decide you are secretly expressing camaradarie with a violent gang.
The London Olympics were dubbed "The Year of the Woman" by press and commentators because of the historic numbers of women participating. And then that same press corps went to work proving that women can play all we want, but just remember, the rules for women in society really haven't changed.
If you're competitive, you're too aggressive.
If you're beautiful, we may not take you seriously. (Oh, and please be aware, you can't be virtuous and sexy.)
And while we're on the topic of exterior beauty, you will be judged by what you look like, what you wear and whether or not we believe you're capitalizing on your assets — or lack thereof.
If you're opinionated, you're not graceful. (Although being attractive does give you some leeway.)
And if you're disappointed, critical or do anything that remotely resembles what your male counterparts do, never fear, your not-so-adoring public will put you back in your place so fast you won't know what hit you. We can't, after all, have women acting like men now, can we?
This year's Olympics saw women winning more medals than ever. The record number of American women in these games were not just participating, they were brilliant, athletic competitors. Sometimes they won — women's basketball, eight-person crew and both beach volleyball teams were dominant. Gabby Douglas was spectacular in her all-around gymnastics victory and the women's 4 x 100 silenced doubters with their thrilling gold-medal, world-record run. And Serena Williams was just about as impressive as an athlete can be in both singles and doubles.
Some came up just shy of their own goals, and yes, the expectations of us media folks and fans. Jones finished fourth, while her two American teammates finished on the podium.
The women's volleyball team was undefeated until the final match and in a heart-breaker, lost to Brazil, a team they defeated six times leading up to the games.
Still, it was, for a woman, the best of times. To see strong, confident, athletic women rowing, riding bikes, and boxing thrilled and delighted those of us who know women belong in this world of sports.
It was the commentary after these feats that was disheartening.
Consider these paragraphs from an article in the New York Times that ran the morning before Jones competed in the 100-meter hurdles:
"Still, Jones has received far greater publicity than any other American track and field athlete competing in the London Games. This was based not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign. Essentially, Jones has decided she will be whatever anyone wants her to be — vixen, virgin, victim — to draw attention to herself and the many products she endorses."
Jones is a complicated, real person. She received attention from the very people who criticize her for getting too much attention. The reason? She's an inspiring story. She overcame abject poverty, injuries (including spinal surgery last year) and extremely long odds to become a very accomplished U..S. track star. She was an All-American at LSU, a two-time national champion and she still hold the U.S. record in her event, among others.
She is also a woman who has opinions, which, when asked, she shares. She's a proud Christian who told reporters she was a 30-year-old virgin and would remain so until marriage. But she also posed nude for ESPN's Body Issue and has graced the cover of a number of magazines, because she is stunningly beautiful.
She does have loads of endorsements, but as we know from decades of watching men's athleteics, it's up to private companies to decide who they want selling their products. Her decision to make money from her talent, whether it's judged to be a little or a lot, is no different from any of her male counterparts.
It is what athletes have to do to survive — especially track athletes. And the reality is there are far fewer opportunities for women to make money just playing sports than there are for men. Sponsorships are almost the only opportunity female athletes have to make a decent living.
Jones is simply doing what athletes do. She's working hard, competing her best and sometimes she wins (four times in the past year) and many times she loses.
I know it's asking a lot, but maybe we could take a look at what women do and not worry about their hair, their facial features or the little dance they do when they're feeling so much joy they can't contain it.
Remember when the U.S. women's soccer team won the 1999 World Cup on U.S. soil and Brandi Chastain ripped her shirt off, fell to her knees and screamed with joy after kicking the game-winning goal? That caused a ridiculous brouhaha among commentators and writers, as well. What was she trying to say? Why would she do such a thing?
How about this theory: We women, like men, love to compete. We love to play hard, and sometimes we're overcome by a moment. It could be massive disappointment that causes us to act in a way that seems unfriendly. It could be uncontrollable joy that moves us to dance, scream and even swing an item of clothing around because we can't contain ourselves. It may seem un-lady like, even manly.
Let us be. Let us have our moments — good and bad. You don't have to buy the shoes we represent, and you don't have to agree with how we handle the extremes of international or professional athletic competition. But you should let us be who we are — beautiful, homely, fit, fat, fast, slow, sexy, inarticulate, disappointing and remarkable — without reminding us that we aren't what you want us to be.
Women are proving that they're physically capable of a lot of things some never thought possible. The rules of analysis need to evolve too. Women should be judged, and more importantly valued, in the same complex, multi-faceted way that male athletes are. They have earned at least that much on and off the field of play.
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