What’s in a twirl? That which by any other twirl would be so sweet…. Okay so I am taking poetic license with a classic work by William Shakespeare. Yet we should as a society be asking the question “why ask a professional female athlete to twirl and show off her outfit?” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzOeJs0Sh-c )
We should also question whether we should just blow it off by calling it “entertainment news” or harmless? Just for the record, I am a 40 to almost 50 something female who grew up in the US. I grew up loving sports, playing sports, and not fully understanding why girls had limited options for types of sports to participant in as well as progression into higher levels of sporting competitions. I was by no means an outstanding female athlete; but to participate in sports is not about how good you are, it’s about what you learn about yourself, competition, strategies, and even what you can learn about others.
Title IX policy and advocacy came about when I was in elementary school. At the age of 6, I loved football. After all, I came from a state that recognizes football as part of its cultural heritage. My dad played football, so naturally I developed a love for the sport and wanted to play the game. I was told at that time, that a girl would get hurt playing football and my mom should check into dance lessons because maybe someday I could be a cheerleader for the football team. Although my mom was pretty progressive for the 70s, she none-the-less could not see the vision a 6 year old girl had of equality. So, I was enrolled in ballet; told I was not graceful enough. I was enrolled in tap; told that I stomped like a linebacker. My dance career ended in about two lessons, although both the instructors said I had great confidence; they could tell from my twirl. Please understand I consider dance both a sport and an art. It just wasn’t for me.
In middle school, Title IX took effect. I played basketball and softball. At my middle school there was only one other sport open to girls, track. I excelled in half-court basketball. Oh, did I forget to mention girls played half court basketball because many a community leader, educator, parent, and even some doctors (Nationwide not just my state) thought that girls were not physically fit enough, had skill, or enough endurance to run the full court. I thrived in basketball and softball. I became what is called a strategic player. I had finesse. I had power. I had physicality. I had game. I developed self-esteem, confidence, skills in leadership, teamwork, and much more. I went on to play high school basketball. My Freshman and Sophomore years were good. I pushed myself to be more, get better, earn, work and strive for excellence. My Junior and Senior years were not spent racking up points or making all-conference teams. As a matter of fact, I mostly sat on the bench where I learned even more. If I had been a great athlete in high school, there would have been very few options for me to move up and become a college athlete; and forget about the potential of a professional career. I played sports because I loved sports and I continued to play in recreation leagues throughout college. I loved sports and competition so much that in my first job where I was a teacher at a high school in the Republic of South Korea, I taught the girls to play basketball. The court was outside and dirt. There was a boy’s school close by; they would heckle from the school windows. After a year, my students were fed up and they challenged the boys to a game of pick-up basketball. Guess who won? In full disclosure, you should also know that I taught them the Cotton-Eyed Joe and swing dancing and yes, to twirl.
My point is this, sports whether it be for boys or girls, men or women, teaches valuable skills. Those skills aren’t exclusive to one gender or the other, but for girls it can be empowering. So why do we devalue female athletes and their accomplishments by asking them to do things or say things that have absolutely no bearing on the outcome of their performance? In much of the Western world, societies have been pushing for equality in the boardroom, in the marketplace, and yes, in the athletic arena. They are all intertwined. More importantly, what happens in much of the Western world with regards to women and girls rights impacts other places on the globe where girls and women are invisible. You cannot see advocacy for equal pay for equal work come to fruition if societal norms devalue a female’s contribution in a winning match to a twirl.
In the world of diversity education, asking someone to twirl is considered a “microagression” or subtle, cumulative, and repetitive act of marginalization and stereotyping. It happens at all levels of society against many races, ethnicities, the female gender, sexual identity, socio-economic classes and religions. And as we have witnessed via the media coverage of the twirl, in all parts of the globe. This form of “quiet” or “subtle” discrimination has accumulative affects on the vision of a society and the potential a 6 year old girl could realize for her future.
“We” have come such a long way in female athletics in the US and internationally. We now have more female athletes participating in international completion, than ever before and from a more diverse representation. The US Department of State has an initiative to empower girls and women through athletic competition. We have the WNBA; we have a female member of the NBA coaching staff. There are girls playing football and ice hockey. Don’t marginalize a female in any field by asking what she is wearing or to show off the outfit. Equality means respectful and dignified evaluation of accomplishments and outcomes based off of the attributes and skills that actually contributed to the success or failure of the event. More importantly, and I’m speaking to the world now, let’s make an impact through social change and not accept those quiet, subtle forms of discrimination anymore.