Athletes Role Models Society And Misogyny

I posted this video on my Facebook Wall this morning. It is, to put it simply, incredible. Kacy Catanzaro is one of the most incredible athletes I have ever seen.

Crazy, right? When she recovers from the miss on the rings at 1:56? That exact miss HAS taken out many athletes before. The warped wall is 15 feet tall - THREE TIMES TALLER THAN SHE IS.

I also posted my friend Andy Tran’s commentary:

Kacy Catanzaro has brought Ninja Warrior to the masses. I have never seen so many people posting up a run’s video before. I’ve never really seen anyone outside of the bodyweight movement community post a Ninja Warrior video before. The first athlete to become an American household name out of Ninja Warrior? Kacy Catanzaro.

Little girls watching her will grow up KNOWING that, with proper training, they can basically kick anyone’s ass. I’ve been into strength and movement sports for a long long time; I have met athletes who can lift over a thousand pounds, who can run miles on their hands, who can leap over 20 feet… and this woman is easily one of the best athletes I have ever seen.

The first comment on the thread?

A: Doesn’t hurt the cause that she’s gorgeous on top of an incredible athlete. The girl is a beast.

This comment really upset me. It completely dismissed the entire point of Andy’s commentary. Several of my friends jumped in to show A how he was wrong, and after a long back and forth, I finally posted this:

A, please do not take this as an insult or an attack on you, because I don’t mean it as that. But M was spot on when he said your first remark was, essentially, a dismissal made in passing.

The easiest test, and what really helped me understand, is to gender flip any statement. If Kacy had been a guy, would it have sounded strange if you had said “Doesn’t hurt the cause that he’s handsome on top of an incredible athlete. The guy is a beast.”?

Talking about how other people are making sexist or crude comments about her, and how that’s a shame, is totally spot on and would have been fitting. Adding to it, however polite and well intentioned, is not.

I posted this video, and Andy’s commentary, because girls don’t have a lot of positive role models that say “It’s okay for you to be strong. It’s okay for you to be an athlete. It’s okay for you to break the mold and do something different. It’s okay to have adventures and be who you want to be.”

An hour ago I was on a walk with a friend, and he told me that when he reads books to his 3 year old daughter, he flips the genders.

The protagonist, the adventurer, the main character who’s always getting into trouble but saving the day at the last moment… he makes that character female. Because he looked and looked and looked, and he could only find a few books with female protagonists that weren’t about dolls and ponies and dress up.

That’s messed up. So while his daughter is still too young to read, he tells her tales of girls and women doing amazing things.

That’s why this video is important. That’s why people like Kacy are important. And that’s why respecting someone for what they DO, rather than what they LOOK LIKE, is important.

When the first comment is “it doesn’t hurt that she’s gorgeous” - yes. Yes it does. It tells young girls that “you can be an incredible athlete, but if you aren’t also gorgeous than you shouldn’t bother.”

So the takeaway here: Next time you (the general you, not just Aaron) are going to say something… flip the gender.

Would you ever say that? If no, then don’t.

I had a bunch of work to do this afternoon, and got sucked into this instead. Worth it.

Written on January 3, 2013