I’ve been putting this off for a while, and people are starting to ask, so it’s time to get it out there: I’m not going to be writing a List this year. There have been a lot of things that I’ve had to consider for this year’s List, and initially I thought it would be business-as-usual for 2014. However, the experiences I had this summer made it clear to me that it wasn’t something that I wanted to do anymore; though there isn’t just one event or circumstance that helped me to reach this conclusion.
In my mind, the List has always been a project that was meant to foster friendship and community with other rowers and athletes all over the world. And I think that most of the time, the List and its reception have been positive in that respect. However, the opportunities for criticizing it as an act of objectification or even sexism have always been there, and this year I am less comfortable with my role in navigating these murky waters than I have been in the past. This is something I have always taken seriously; though this year I felt that I was more sensitive to the ways that objectification and marginalization of athletes is continuing to happen all around me, and also how my actions may or may not be perpetuating it.
I took a moment to look around me when I was on the medals dock this summer. To take it all in. Remember the moment. And what I couldn’t help but notice was that I was significantly outnumbered on the dock by young women in tiny sleeveless dresses and high heels. Granted, I haven’t spent a lot of time on the medals docks in my career, but I can say with some authority that this is a normal part of a FISA medals ceremony. A flock of “Kiss Misses”, often costumed in “traditional” local or regional costume lead the parade out on to the awards dock carrying the medals and award bouquets on trays, while the medalist athletes file in behind them. These tray-bearing women do not speak or actually present the medals; they simply hold the trays on which the medals are arranged, while FISA officials (who are only occasionally women) present the medals to the athletes. These prettily-dresssed, perpetually-smiling women are, in effect, ornaments. And while all this was going on, I had a thought that I have had many times over the years while watching medals ceremonies: “God, how do these women stay balanced on this stupid dock in those tottery-ass pumps?” This year, I also noted, “Shit, they must be cold in those tiny dresses.” And then finally, “Wait a minute… why aren’t there any men up here in equivalently revealing clothing with pageant-quality hair and make up giving out medals?”
We were in Amsterdam. You can’t tell me there was a dearth of tall, attractive men with nice smiles to be brought on for the role of “Decorative Medal Mister”.
It’s tradition, it’s easy, it’s expected, and it’s also blatantly sexist. And if I’m ever going to be qualified to criticize it, I probably can’t go around publishing the List acting like there aren’t parallels that people will immediately want to draw. The fact is that even though I am incredibly lucky to be a 21st century American female athlete that has reaped huge benefits from Title IX and who is arguably closer to receiving equal treatment than any generation of female athletes in history: we still aren’t there yet. I admit that while I was competing, and enjoying the ceremony after my racing, I wasn’t really focused on the social issues at hand because I was up there with my teammates and my competitors doing what athletes who have just competed at their World Championships should be doing — I was enjoying our moment. But the more I have thought back on it, the more awkward it becomes and the more it seems painfully obvious that we might need to consider modernizing this element of our sport. And, if that’s how I feel about it, it has to start with me.
Sexism in sport and the marginalization of female athletes is an absolutely huge subject. The “Kiss Miss” experience this summer is just a single example of how I have personally experienced sexism hanging on in sport; there are many many other incidents and issues that are bigger and more glaring, but they warrant careful discussion and dialogue that are outside the scope of this particular entry. I don’t mean to imply that the 2014 Kiss Misses were so unbelievably offensive that they forced me to have a major life revelation this summer; more that it has taken me this long to become sensitive enough to the constructs of the community around me to say something, do something–or in this case, not do something. The Kiss Misses were just a turning point. Honestly, I don’t know if I even fully understand my role in all of this, and in particular, my role in it as the author of a counter- or anti-sexism tongue-in-cheek blogging entity that has, for many years, celebrated men in what is still largely a sporting community dominated by “the old boys”. But I do know that even with this change, I don’t regret any of the Lists to this point, and I am confident that the List has always stood for more and meant more than making male athletes feel like they are small, or second-class.
The List has been a ton of fun over the past six years. It’s been fun making new friends; it’s been fun working with the awesome sponsors; it’s been fun watching it grow from nothing in to something. I love that people have enjoyed it, and that it has brought happiness to others. It has been fun to shake up the rowing world and do something different. But I do think it’s time that I take a step back from this particular project and make it very clear which side of this argument I’m on.
I’m disappointed. I wish that I was still excited about the List and that I still wanted to write it. The tradition and sentiment of the List are very special to me and I will be sad not to experience it this year. And like every year, there were standout individuals I met and watched race at the 2014 World Championships who would have been great additions to the List family, had there been one this year. Not recognizing them and saluting their awesome efforts in our amazing sport in MK fashion feels like a letdown. For some people, writing this much about not writing something probably seems a little odd. But I hope you can understand it’s because I have cared about this project for many years and have cared just as much about the people involved in it.
So, it’s time to move on. I have a voice, and this year I can use it to say that I’m not going to support marginalizing male or female athletes anywhere in sport, whether it’s on a FISA medals dock, or on my blog. Sexism doesn’t have a place in rowing, or anywhere else. Lucky for us, it’s never too late to make a change. Here’s mine. Looking forward to seeing some Medal Misters alongside the Kiss Misses on the docks in Aiguebelette next year, FISA.
Long Live the Dream,