Do you remember not too long ago when the term “run like a girl” was considered a slight? Well, the Rio Olympics certainly took care of that. Our daughters can now aspire to run like Christine, swim like Penny, wrestle like Erica or dive like Meaghan. In fact, our sons would do well to find inspiration in these amazing young women, too.
Comedian Bill Murray’s clever Tweet, “Every Olympic event should include one average person for reference” highlights just how elite these athletes are. Simply put, they are the best in the world. But media reporting continues to diminish the performance of female athletes by sexist commentary that has no place in 2016.
I don’t need to recount the incidences. Just Google “sexism Rio Olympics” and you will find multiple accounts of what Charlene Weaving, Associate Professor at St. Francis Xavier University refers to as the media’s “subtle trivialization” of female athletes.
What I do want to consider is the importance of role models, not just in athletics and not just for our daughters. I’d like us to reflect upon the fact that parents, teachers, community leaders – the adults that figure largely in our children’s lives – are role models that influence how children see themselves, see others, and see opportunities for their future. And the importance of our efforts is heightened in light of the media onslaught that bombards children with oftentimes stereotypical and disturbing portrayals of gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity. Simply put – their eyes are on us!
We as adults do not simply model winning (or in some cases, just giving it the ‘ol college try!). We model actions, attitudes, opinions, and courage. We model what it means to speak up when we hear language that limits or diminishes females. And we model through what my grandmother referred to as our thoughts, words and deeds. The question is not, do we want to be role models. That one’s not up for debate: We’re role models whether we like it or not. The real question is: What do we want to model? And perhaps equally important: Are we willing to put our own words and actions (and possible biases) under a reflective microscope?
Consider tennis player Andy Murray’s correction of the reporter who congratulated him for being the first Olympian to win two gold medals in tennis, obviously forgetting the incredible accomplishments of the Williams sisters who have each won four gold medals. Or Olympic kayaker Adam van Koeverden’s respectful but firm rebuke of fellow Olympian and friend Adam Kreek’s ludicrous comments about Eugenie Bouchard. Van Koeverden pointed out that female athletes certainly don’t need him to come to their defense but that the sole burden of speaking up should not fall solely on the shoulders of women. “If men don’t call out men when we are being sexist,” van Koeverden writes, “then we are not a part of the solution, and the problem persists.”
We say that Trafalgar Castle is small by design and all-girls with a purpose. Creating a school community that engenders respect, encourages healthy competition, supports risk taking, and fosters confidence must surely be a part of that all-girls’ purpose. No community is immune, however, to those less-than-perfect moments that require us to speak up and speak out. Whether it be outside influences like the media that convey negative images, or the innocent off-hand comment from family or friends that reinforces gender stereotypes – “sugar and spice” anyone? – every member in our community must model a belief in equality so that our girls learn to speak up and can assume their rightful and well-deserved place in society. So this year at Trafalgar, let’s all celebrate what it means to “run like a girl!”