I'm surprised there are professional women athletes at all. It's shocking, really, given the way we treat little girls.
Like most of America, I am enraptured by the USA women's soccer team's run for the World Cup. On game days, I plan my schedule around them (a benefit of staying home to manage the house and having a soccer-obsessed little girl to watch the games with). On Sunday, for the final match, the kid is planning a soccer ball/American flag face-painting party, just like crazed fans she's seen on TV over the past few weeks, and I have these visions of her kicking the ball around the house during the game and smearing sticky smudges of red, white and blue paint all over the walls and couches. But whatever, she's having a good time and I'm loving the ability to show her some of the most courageous and hard-working women role models out there.
Which is why I keep coming back to the notion that it's amazing these women have become pros.
From a young age, even 40 years after Title IX opened doors for equality in education, including sports opportunities, girls are still faced with this weird, sexist dichotomy in America. We laud professional women athletes every now and then, but we still treat young girl athletes like outcasts, freak show contestants in athletic arenas made "for boys." No, seriously. That's why you can find hand-wringing coverage of the 8-year-old girl who kickboxes.
As this site mentioned earlier this week, The Today Show covered the apparent "controversy" of an Australian dad who let his 8-year-old daughter enter a kickboxing fight. It was a sanctioned event, with pads, a referee, a like-sized opponent and some serious training involved before the kid ever stepped into the ring. As a father of a young girl, I'd have appreciated it if they covered this story with the angle of "Geez, can you believe Australia is all aflame over the idea of girls fighting in an organized, sanctioned event? It's the 21st century Australia, get over it."
Instead, the clip is filled with allusions to make-up, ballet, and being the "gentler" sex — things young girls should be focused on instead apparently. Matt Lauer and Ann Curry even chime in at the end (not shown in this clip), mumbling something about how they'd never let their girls do that. Great message, morons.
From the looks of this video, the girl is having a great time training with her dad. She's bonding with a positive role model and learning to defend herself. Don't boys do this all the time? Every day? All over the world? What's so wrong about a girl doing it?
I was thinking about how awesome it was to watch some amazing women athletes grab the world stage this week, but I couldn't shake the coverage of this kickboxing controversy. I kept thinking: How do professional women athletes ever become so badass — and how will future generations of girls embrace what makes them happy — if every time they want to do something a little dangerous, the media goes into a Victorian-era fainting spell? Girls! Not sitting there, watching the boys!? Oh heavens!
We sometimes want to watch women play at dangerous games, but we want them to get there Athena-like, fully formed and laced with armor. Well no more. Please. Get over it. It's time to turn the page on covering girls — and women — in sports. It's time to realize that girls — and women — kicking ass is not a new thing.
A rudimentary Google search reveals:
- Diana Crump was the first female jockey in a major race in 1969.
- Billy Jean King won the battle of the sexes in 1973.
- Women's boxing first appeared in 1902. Granted, most countries banned then banned the sport, but it made a resurgence in the '80s — thirty years ago.
- Women's freestyle wrestling became a full-fledged Olympic sport in 2004. It shouldn't be controversial to see women, or girls, wrestling. (As a high school freshman nearly 20 years ago, I wrestled against a girl teammate every day. Twenty years ago. Girls wrestling is not new and shouldn't be a big deal.)
- Gina Carano first fought in mixed martial arts in 2007, after she'd already racked up a vicious Muay Thai record.
- When people think of women in baseball, they probably go straight to A League of their Own. But women have been playing organized baseball since 1866. Granted, the first game with paying fans happened more than ten years later and was played between the Blondes and Brunettes, the point remains: It's no longer a big deal.
These are just a few examples of how long women have been participating in professional sports. I wish the media would take note. I wish reporters would run down a quick checklist before they decided to run a story on young girls in sports. Where will they find this checklist? Glad you asked.
1. If you're covering a story about a girl in sports, ask yourself: Is it a story because she's about to break a record or do something really interesting? Or is it a story because she has a vagina?
2. Google. It's not difficult. If you're doing a story about a girl in a dangerous sport, try googling how many other stories have already been done about girls in the same sport. Likely you'll find it ain't new.
3. Think about whether you'd want your own daughter watching a news clips that makes it sound like girls can't do anything they want or that they might be better suited for ballet and makeup. (Thanks again, Today Show. Morons.)
I'd love to make this checklist longer, so feel free to add your own in the comments.
I don't want to see my daughter injured, but I never want her to feel like I'm not in her corner 100 percent. If she wants to try her hand at some dangerous sport when she's older, I'll be the first to help her train. I know she'll be able to handle it.
But it pains me to think that the most dangerous thing she'll face as she grows up probably won't be in the ring or on the field, but in the family room, as she watches insanely archaic news coverage that might make her question doing the things that make her happy. You have to hand it to professional women athletes. They have overcome more hurdles than any guy.
Mike Adamick writes at Cry It Out! Bees, bonnets, you get the idea.