Thursday, May 16, 2019

What Sports Has Taught Me About Feminism

What is feminism really about? What is a feminist? Are you a feminist? Who are the feminists you know and admire? Who is a feminist that challenges you?

Feminism began long before Betty Friedan penned The Feminine Mystique and its roots are much deeper than those planted by Gloria Steinem. The history of feminism, especially in American life is rich. Though the suffragettes took action over a century prior, their work is indeed necessary today. Why? Because of what feminism calls for...because of what feminism is really about—a topic that remains provocative, timely and as important today as when it started.
I hope your life experience, education, and personal conversations have helped you develop answers to my questions. I found mine through Sports and Spirituality. In coming to terms with my understanding of feminism, I have come to believe it would behoove us in our society and local communities to continue asking these questions, and having this conversation. Here's's why.

The Winter Issue of Notre Dame Magazine focused on "A Winning Tradition." My favorite article, The Competitor focuses on the two-time national champion winning women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw. Benjamin Hochman writes
Every summer, McGraw has her players and staff read a book. In 2017 it was Admiral William H. McRaven’s Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life . . . And Maybe The World. This year, it was a slim title by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists. 
“She’s a Nigerian woman,” McGraw says, “and she talks about how women are looked at, especially over there, and how it’s still a man’s world — and what we gotta fight for. Really, all we want is opportunity. Equal opportunity, equal pay, you know, we want to be treated the same. It’s all we want. 
“So I had the girls define feminism for what they thought it was. And then we just talked about — are you a feminist? I thought the best thing was that they all defined it in a really smart way. They’re smart kids. So they would explain it in their own words, and it basically comes down to equal opportunity. 
“‘Well, are you a feminist?’ ‘I don’t know,’ some would say. And I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, you just defined it, aren’t you that?’ They’d say, ‘Well, yeah — thaaaat.’ But there’s a very negative connotation of what a feminist is, and they’re like, ‘I don’t hate men.’ I was like, ‘Well I married one! I don’t hate men either.’”
She wants her players to think critically about stereotypes.
Coach McGraw's desire is a worthy one. Stereotypes, especially around this issue loom large. They are worth unpacking and examining. 

Just last week, I played in a member guest day hosted by the Women's Golf Network at my club. As written on our website, "With more than 150 members, the Women’s Golf Network (WGN) is a dynamic organization providing a strong competitive golf program attractive to experienced women golfers, competitive opportunities for more casual golfers and development programs for the novice golfer. There are a variety of activities in which to get involved, including: lessons and clinics, travel to golf destinations, competitive tournaments, casual golf and opportunities to play at other private clubs. Participation in these events encourages improvement, as well as fostering camaraderie and positive relationships." The WGN is responsible for helping me develop into the player I am today and for fostering personal and professional relationships like no other. Golf is a wonder game in that way.

Before the tourney, I asked the WGN President if I could bring a male guest. With the green light, I invited the junior varsity girls' golf coach at Presentation High School—an all girls' Catholic high school in San Jose. Charlie and I became fast friends thanks to our love of coaching and the game. When another member was in search of a guest, Charlie and I thought to invite Dave, who served as the assistant JV girls coach. Turns out they were the only two men who played. Didn't matter to me or my WGN was a great day.

During the reception however, I was shocked by the number of women who asked me why I brought a male guest. Some said "I can't believe you brought two men to play." Others wondered who they were and what they were doing there. I didn't know this would be an issue. I still don't understand why it was perceived in that way. 
Regardless, my response to those who asked was: I know Charlie and Dave because we coach together. Let me tell you something. In terms of high school sports, junior varsity girls' golf is the lowest man or woman on the totem pole. The fact that two men want to work with young women to develop their game and grow golf is a wonderful thing. Golf is a great sport for both men and women to play—alone or together. For work or for play. Most of my players don't have moms that play; they learned from their fathers. Imagine if these players one day teach their daughters and sons to play golf, too!
No other words were necessary.

Are Charlie and Dave feminists? I won't answer that question for them (although one of them did renounce his membership at a golf club because they did not allow for female memberships...therefore I would say, yes, he is). Are the women who looked at me with suspicion and some disdain for bringing male guests feminists? I won't answer that question for them either. The real question is do we want equal opportunity and equal treatment for all? If that is what feminism is really about, let us make it a goal to shatter the stereotypes and harbor no suspicion of us vs. them. Instead, let us embrace the words of Greg Boyle, SJ who wrote:
“No daylight to separate us. Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”
I think he's a feminist too....

Photo Credits
McGraw Competitor
The Team

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