Last night, Michael Phelps received the "Greatest Olympian of All Time" award at the 2016 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson Of The Year Celebration. Rightly so. Even if you did not watch Michael Phelps during the Rio Olympics, you likely couldn't help hearing about him. Besides Phelps and his big wins, swimming in general won big as the darling sport of the Olympics.
The bottom line: If you want a shot at becoming the "Greatest Olympian of All Time" become a swimmer. If you don't, take up Judo.
Kayla Harrison is a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist in Women's Judo after winning one medal in London and one medal in Rio. Though much lesser known than her former roommate, Rhonda Rousey, Kayla doesn't have any less fight.
At the age of 16, Harrison confided to a friend that, "Doyle, who had been a family friend, had sexually abused her for three years, starting when she was 13". Harrison wanted to withdraw, or run away, or die, but instead she trained. Her coach told The Washington Post that he "put her through hell" but he also urged fans to "look at her now". Now she is a champion, but Kayla is not content with looking only at "now".
After fighting her way to the top, Kayla is looking at her victories as a "false peak", and has now continued her climb into The World Series of Fighting as a mixed martial arts athlete, meaning that on top of Judo, Harrison will learn how to fight full-contact, in a cage, with "...different fighting styles, including karate, boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, Vale Tudo, Muay Thai and Brazilian Ju jitsu". This sure sounds like a sport to me but is unfortunately regarded more as the show "American Gladiators" than it is as a sport.
To a woman who has literally endured hell and has fought her way through it, though, dancing around a cage to put on a pretty yet gruesome show cannot be enough. Harrison will not be in this sport for the show, but for the actual sport. Harrison told the New York Times that she hopes to join a sport with, "...real athletes who are treated like real athletes, not W.W.E. superstars. I hope to see it go more toward the professional route versus the entertainment route, but I’m not in charge".
I have no doubt that Harrison will achieve success and, with that success, will be able to take charge in turning what has been show into a legitimate sport for women. My worry for America in 2017, is that the condition of women putting on a show instead of being true contenders in the fight is spreading far beyond MMA fighting.
For example, domestic violence in our neighborhoods and in neighborhoods globally may not be at an all-time high, but it is still too high. According to UN Women, one in three women experience physical or sexual violence, usually by a partner; someone they know. Who is fighting this epidemic? Well, in the past, it would have been feminists: women fighting to keep other women getting thumped in their own homes. Unfortunately, the past is in the past and is not showing signs of resurgence. Today, "Big Feminism is a narrow, take-no-prisoners special-interest group". This special-interest group is one in which many feminists are too busy putting on show to join in the fight against domestic violence. Feminism is letting women down.
For victims of domestic abuse, feminism is not just a smart thing to talk about while at coffee with friends. For victims of domestic abuse, there is not the luxury of hope. They do not have the time to "hope" that feminists get back to business soon. As Zoe Strimpel wrote for The Telegraph,
There is actual work to be done; not idealistic work, not part-time work, not Snapchat a picture of your Nasty Woman shirt "work", not recover from your Hillary sorrow at a desert retreat "work". It is time for legal work, for journalistic work, for fundraising work, for straight up work that forges ahead in addressing issues that are affecting real - not just elite - American women.
Instead of straight-up work, what we are dealing with is, "...hearing a lot about the objectification of women or of our "oppression" – vague, shape-shifting terms that could mean anything." Yes, women are objectified and, yes, women are often oppressed, but how so? Why? Where? And what are we going to do about it? Use "oppression" as many times as possible in a paragraph? My advice would be to ask women in a shelter for battered women if that approach is helping them. This isn't a time for broad, showy words. It is time for fighting words that can deliver a strong uppercut. Fighting cannot mean hyperbolic though. Fighting must mean putting our heads back in books, back in the news, back in reality. To solve the issues facing women today, Christina Hoff Sommers, author of Who Stole Feminism, wrote for The Chicago Tribune that,
In addition to exaggerations and "myth-information" about issues such as domestic violence, sexual assault, wage gaps, and gender inequality marches and protests are adding to the noise. It is not that marches, protests, strikes or petitions are unhelpful. The issue is that many voices joining these movements do not have anything in particular say and so instead of being true voices, they are just noises. As women, we can do better than this. As Sommers wrote, if our collective voice "... is calm and judicious rather than hyperbolic and harping, people just might listen".
I think that in a world of M.M.A "gladiating", to move forward maybe feminists need to return to Harrison's Judo roots of "'...the gentle way.’ It’s about disarming your opponent or defending yourself, but never killing them".
Instead of leaving you with just my thoughts, I'll ask my fellow women:
What do you think? What do you feel? I would love if you would use my "Contact" page (Stoked.News/Contact) to let me know. What you think will inform and encourage me for future posts.
If you are a victim of domestic violence or if you know someone needs help, call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233): the National Domestic Violence Hotline.