Boxer Esther Phiri is a role model to Zambian girls. Not because she's lithe and blonde and poses in a bikini and shills for Lycos, but because Esther (the slugger on the left) actually kicks major ass. She's a former street vendor with almost zero education who is currently the Global Boxing Union super featherweight champion. Esther is also a familiar face to most Zambians: she appears on billboards all over the capital city, Lusaka, and her fights are carried on the government run TV channel. According to the Christian Science Monitor, Esther even talks to young Zambian women about "the importance of sports as a way to boost confidence... and help them avoid the pitfalls of sexually transmitted infections and early pregnancy." You know what playing sports also helps with? Body image!
But seriously. I started playing soccer at age five, and spent much of my adolescence viciously chasing after other girls on the field hockey pitch, wielding a wooden stick. And through all of that time I was mostly focusing on what my body could do — not what it looked like.
There is nothing in adult life that quite equals the pure elation of scoring a goal, which in itself is a kind of weightlessness. If only American men could support women in sports as the Zambian men are apparently supporting Esther (From the Christian Science Monitor article: "One young Zambian man shouted with a smile upon seeing an American leave Phiri's Saturday night victory - 'Zambia is strong!'")
This is not to claim that Zambia is some hotbed of enlightenment, Esther definitely experienced a lot of road blocks as a female athlete, but American men are particularly dismissive of women in sports. The University of Iowa painted the locker room for visiting teams pink, allegedly to make their opponents "feel like sissies." Meanwhile, the number of female coaches in college sports has reached an all-time low. The WNBA has never had a profitable season, and dudes all over the interwebs deride the league because its members can't slam dunk.
So what's the solution? If women start watching sports in droves, then the advertising dollars would follow, and with the ad $$ comes the power. But fuck, as much as I love playing sports, I hate watching sports. Um, maybe we should just get Venus and Serena Williams to buy us a stadium or something.
In Zambia, Woman Boxer Emerges As A New Role Model [Christian Science Monitor]
Number of female coaches in women's sports shrinks to all-time low [LA Times]