Saturday, 27 October 2012

Feminist Theory and Sports Injuries. Huh?

Those that know me may be amused to hear that I never really thought of myself as feminist until recently. Looking back at what I've achieved, yeah, I find it a bit funny, too.

I feel very fortunate that my first feminist influence was my high school English teacher: a stylish, vivacious, feisty and educated woman who perfectly embodied everything that a person could be. She seemed to know exactly who she was. She was passionate about her literature and that inspired passion in her students, even the most unlikely ones.

Perhaps my next feminist influence was my boxing coach, who was a man, and a former Army officer. How odd! Yet he told me that I would achieve great things not despite the fact that I was a woman, but because of it. And I'm pretty sure he's right.

Difference is a wonderful thing. I am not the same as a man. I am not the same as another woman, either. I'm precisely, exactly like me. I've always felt that way; only recently did I learn that this is a feminist attitude.

And, now that I understand feminist texts, now that I'm finally studying some cultural theories and considering the world with new eyes, I'm starting to get it.

What I didn't expect, however, that this would be relevant for my running identity. But today, on Jezebel, I read 'One Mistake Won’t Ruin Your Life. Remember That.' The article challenges a dominant narrative fed to women (but not men) throughout their lives: that a single mistake can undo everything and you will never recover from it. Hugo Schwyzer highlights how this narrative is seeping out in stories about Amanda Todd; that she should not be used as an example to reinforce this myth.

But in the course of the article, he also made a very unexpected link to injuries in female athletes (although it was focused on college team sports):
The heartbreaking tragedy of Amanda Todd fits all too well into the larger cultural narrative that demands perfection from girls. Her "error" serves as a very public stand-in for all the other possible mistakes young women can make that will, we tell them, mess up their lives. The perfectionism that drives young female athletes to ignore warning signs of injury much more consistently than their male counterparts (a growing phenomenon documented in Michael Sokolove's Warrior Girls) reflects a belief that admitting fragility or exhaustion is a mistake that can both ruin a soccer career and reflect badly on their future chances of success. The "Supergirl crisis" is far from over-hyped, made worse by a culture where male underachievement just exacerbates the pressure ambitious and anxious girls already feel. The end result is a cruel double-bind: "you can be anything you want to be," we tell our daughters, "but you're so fragile that a single mistake can wipe out everything you've worked for." That's a recipe for exhaustion.
I've left the links included because I think the books look fascinating—I've added them to my wish list.

I have been aware of that demand for perfection; even when there is no apparent external pressure, I've felt it. I followed the path of greatest resistance simply so I had something to fight for. But at some point, in my mid-20s I think, I changed; I no longer seek the resistance, but I still feel it.

As always, please share your thoughts.