Heroes and Sheroes

Heroes and Sheroes

Since Mahopac is such a sports town, and since the Olympics just ended, I thought I would take time to write about sports! (And a little politics, because of course.)

I am a soccer mom, and a mom who plays soccer. I am a fierce competitor in business and take team work seriously. I teach my kids to leave everything on the field, whatever field they are playing. Sports have defined me in many ways.

I love that Mahopac is a sports town, and I appreciate that we show commitment to our daughters as well as our sons. I used to get weepy at the Nike ads years ago that showed the statistics on how sports help girls’ self-esteem, and now I get to live that as a mother – seeing the positive impact on both my kids.

I recently had the opportunity to take my kids to the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio. I used to be a football fan in my younger days. Despite my increasing disappointment in the sport itself and the league, I found myself really enjoying the place, caught up in the emotion of teams I used to love, childhood heroes, and new success stories. Dedication, integrity, teamwork.

As I walked through the gallery, I tried really hard to stay in the moment, and not think about how this is a league that thinks smoking pot is a bigger problem than domestic violence or rape.  I mean hey, there was one tribute to a woman in the museum, a shirt worn by the first woman coach in the NFL. Progress, right?!?

That very same weekend in the southern hemisphere, American women were scooping up medals across the Olympic Games. American men did great and we cheered them on, but the women just dominated. And that is because American girls and women are IN the game, lots of games, and they make us proud.  

It is impossible to see this success of these women and not make the connection to bold leaders who took a stand for women and girls back in the 1970s and 1980s. In addition to their individual hard work and sacrifice, we also thank Title IX and Patsy Mink and Billie Jean King and the other pioneers who paved the way that our girls and women can compete and win.

The values of those leaders mattered a lot, standing strong for equality even when it seemed inconvenient. How many Division 1 schools complained about having to divert money to GIRLS SPORTS? How many tough coaches and players disparaged female athletes as somehow taking away their piece of the pie, when really we were just trying to bake bigger pies for everyone to enjoy?

(I probably could have come up with a different analogy that didn’t involve the throwback images of ladies baking pie, but hey, I love pie, and I am a researcher, so pie is mathematical.)

So now we have these athletic powerhouse women representing our nation…but sadly sexism reared its ugly, predictable head.  Even with Olympic medals in sports like swimming, gymnastics, basketball, volleyball and even WRESTLING (that is just too cool), we got these gems from our reporters and talking heads:

•    Katie Ledecky broke a world record… but she got the subheadline under the giant headline that Phelps won silver.  And then she was characterized as swimming “like a man”.  

•    Corey Cogdell-Unrein was not even named in a Chicago Tribune article, but called “wife of a Bear’s lineman”.

•    Katinka Hosszu’s success was actually attributed to her husband/coach.

•    A women’s judo match was called a cat fight. Reporters spent way too much time discussing the gymnastics team’s lipstick choices. Plenty of body shaming to go around.

As the fabulous Lindy West wrote, “the fact that we are assessed as decoration first and athletes/politicians/musicians/accountants/CEOs/presidential candidates second has a transparent impact on women’s upward mobility.”

As we cheer on our daughters around Mahopac, in sports and in anything else, let us remember that their success is part of an arc of feminist history that was enabled by politically courageous men and women, and will be nurtured into the future so long as we hold ourselves to higher standards.  

(Yes, I went there. I said feminist. Even if you don’t vote for feminists, they have helped pave the way for your daughters.)

But we are making progress.  After all a woman’s shirt hangs in the NFL Hall of Fame. Now we just need to be able to simply say “good job” and celebrate equally the accomplishments of our Olympians and all-stars. And politicians.

Jennifer Colamonico is the chair of the Carmel Democratic Committee, a local homeowner/taxpayer and a parent to 2 children in the Mahopac schools.

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