Being an (Female) Athlete

The recent outcry over the NCAA’s unequal treatment of the men’s and women’s March Madness tournaments did not surprise me in one bit.

Female athletes grow up knowing that despite equal amounts of hard work and dedication to their sports, the worth of their performance or level of respect they receive is fair less than that of male athletes.

I started playing year round sports in 4th grade, started lifting weights in gyms at age 16, and spent years pursuing my goal of playing Division I water polo at a Top 20 ranked program. 

From an early age, I looked up to athletes like Olympic swimmers Janet Evans and Summer Sanders.  In elementary and middle school, I watched the Portland Pilots women’s soccer team, where athletes like future Olympians Tiffany Milbrett and Shannon MacMillan helped me realize the potential of playing college sports.  In high school, I watched Team USA play in the first ever Olympics for women’s water polo, despite the men’s version being one of the longest standing Olympic team sports.

I am not surprised that my two favorite national teams (women’s soccer and water polo) routinely out-perform their male counterparts, yet have to fight to be seen as athletes worth watching, supporting, and paying equally. 

Female athletes grow up learning what it feels like to have our bodies objectified, to be called “manly” because of our muscles, all while fighting to have our athletic skill not be overlooked because of biological sex. 

I am not surprised that the Title IX law that saw to it that my sport and athletic scholarship exist at the university level is the very same anti-discrimination law that works to protect sexual assault victims on college campuses.  

We witness gender based violence continually be ignored and thus emboldened time and time again.   The world watched when Serena Williams got penalized by the referee for being too angry, despite male players being allowed to bang rackets on the ground without coincidence. The world watched as gymnast after gymnast came forward with stories of being both assaulted by a trusted doctor and unprotected by the institutions that benefited from their winning athletic performances.

I was 17 years old, a junior in high school, the first time an adult man said something objectifying to me in a gym setting.  Same year a male coach told me for the first time that I weighed too much for college coaches to take me seriously, despite my continued hard work and  recent successes in the pool.

How we treat future generations of athletes matters, as does inclusive representation of both cisgender and trans women in sports.  

I am grateful for the strong female role models that motivated me to work hard towards my athletic goals.   I am grateful for current athletes like Sedona Prince for speaking up about NCAA inequalities and for paving the way for younger girls. And I dream for a safe and equitable future, free from gender based discrimination, for all women.

This microblog post was a featured post in #slowchathealth’s #microblogmonth event. You can search for all of the featured posts here. Please do follow each of the outstanding contributors on social media (including Emily Zien, the author of this post) and consider writing a microblog post of your own to be shared with the global audience of slowchathealth.com

Pair this blog post with the following:

One Life by Megan Rapinoe

Tigerbelle: The Wyomia Tyus Story by Wyomia Tyus

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