Posted by Maya Paley
With the Olympics upon us and the message above going viral on Facebook, I figured it was high time I addressed the topic of women in sports. The Guardian posted an article a couple of weeks ago about how Saudi Arabia had finally agreed to allow women to compete at the Olympic games in London. Saudi Arabia was the last country of the final three that had not yet permitted women to compete in the Olympics.
Look How Far We’ve Come
The good news is that back in Atlanta in 1996, as many as 26 countries did not have women on their Olympic teams. Just 16 years later, we’ve dropped that number down to zero. World, let’s give ourselves a nice long pat on the back.
Honestly, what’s funny to me is how we’re celebrating this first as though it’s a gigantic accomplishment in world history. I’m sorry people, but it’s not. In my opinion, we need to stop getting so excited about these firsts or these symbolic accomplishments. One or two women competing on behalf of such oppressive countries should not make us so ecstatic. Most countries in the world still are grossly violating women’s rights.
There was an interesting article today in the Parents section of the Huffington Post about whether we should teach our daughters that they are special because of their character or because of their gender. Lisa Belkin, the author of the article, asked this question at the end: “What do you tell your children about the worth and importance of gender?” She told how she was trying to reconcile the two “contradictory goals” of teaching girls that being female should be celebrated and teaching them that their identities include so much more than just their gender.
I bring up this article because it serves as a reminder to women. We’re always going to have to reconcile these two contradictions. Of course I want to believe that if I were a man I would have the same character. It’s not true. Being a woman has played a huge role in shaping who I am. Yes, I know I might not be a great example because I work for a women’s empowerment non-profit and write a blog about women’s issues. But I also know that a lot of women who end up in stereotypically “male” career paths also have had infinite experiences that are different from their male counterparts because they are women. So we can’t just tell our young girls that they are special because of their character. We need to make sure they understand that the intersectionality of multiple identities is what makes them special and being girls is one of them.
I didn’t need any help…so neither will you.
How many powerful, successful women are out there who refuse to self-identify as feminists?
In an article referenced in one of the comments on my last post, Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo, is quoted in an interview:
“I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist. I think that I certainly believe in equal rights, I believe that women are just as capable, if not more so in a lot of different dimensions, but I don’t, I think have, sort of, the militant drive and the sort of, the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that.”
Oy vey—Mayer sees feminists as militant! Again, I’m proud of her for moving up the professional ladder, but why is her perception of feminism so negative that she’s adamant about not being associated with that word? Does she not realize the insane amount of oppression women are still facing worldwide?
Similar to my feelings about Mayer, I am proud of all women firsts, including the Saudi women for being the first females from their country to compete in the Olympics. Yet, I cannot be too thrilled about it while knowing that women in Saudi Arabia have little to no rights.
My Country Tis of Thee Sweet Land of Liberty
It is a favorite pastime of mine to accuse other countries of sexism. However, we noble Americans sometimes forget the inequalities that exist in our own country—and there are plenty. Let’s look at women in sports in the United States. A 20-year study conducted by USC and Purdue Sociologists and released in 2009 found that while there are more women in sports than ever before (from 294,000 girls in high school sports in 1971 to 3.1 million in 2009), only 1.6% of media coverage on sports in 2009was on women’s sports.
Mike Messner, one of the sociologists who published the report, wrote that this “reinforces the historical stereotype that sports proves men are superior to women, that the women’s product isn’t the same quality or would not have mass appeal.” Along with their inferiority, women are not being paid nearly as much as men in pro sports. I’m shocked! The Women’s Sports Foundation gives a bunch of examples of this, but I’ll give you one—professional basketball. The minimum salary for an NBA player in 2004-2005 was $385,277 and the maximum salary was $15.355 million for one season. In the WNBA, the numbers were $31,200 and $89,000, respectively. Seriously? $31,000?
Moral of the story—let us raise our glasses to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Brunei for finally allowing women to compete in the Olympic Games, but let’s also take a deep breath and not get ahead of ourselves with excitement. We still have a long way to go both abroad and at home.
Your comments are always welcome.
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July 23, 2012 | 5:26 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
Women in the US are stuck on an incessant seesaw. We bounce up then we sink down. While we have taken tremendous steps, particularly on issues of voting rights, reproductive rights, education, and professional achievement, I sometimes worry that we already reached a climactic point in women’s rights and we’ve now hit our era of plateau.
Here’s what stood out to me these past few weeks in domestic news:
I’m not saying that we’re stuck in a “Mad Men” universe, but we may be stuck somewhere else along our timeline.
Are Women Still Fighting the Good Fight?
Older women I know have proclaimed to me that they just don’t see young women these days standing up for their rights and that they don’t think we (as in the women of my generation) have a deep understanding of how hard they all fought for the privileges we have today.
Younger women I know have proclaimed to me that they don’t see themselves as feminists and would definitely not call themselves that word in public. Why not? Because in their minds a feminist is a woman who does not wear a bra or use make up and hates all men.
Why I Love Saying the F-word
I remember when I first started calling myself a feminist. I had a limited understanding of what the word meant. My uncle was visiting from Israel and staying with us for a couple of months. I was 11 years old and apparently quite the annoying and overly sensitive child.
He said “Maya, make me an omelet,” and instantly I was fuming with anger, yelling back at him “What do I look like to you? Make yourself an omelet.”
I’m not sure where this anger came from.
Actually, I am sure.
It came from hearing stories from my mother about how for years she had to lie that she had a boyfriend because her father was against. It came from women in my family telling me about how they wanted to get divorces in Israel but could not obtain the get from their husbands, the divorce agreement through the Rabbinate that controls marriage and divorce in Israel. And it came from living in a completely different universe—attending a private Jewish elementary school in Encino where we often discussed equality and human rights and even highlighted women role models in our school plays. We also used to go to family camp where we sang “We Shall Overcome” and other anti-oppression tunes.
Either way, I never had a problem calling myself a feminist. And I never had a problem evolving the word into a definition of it that was right for me. I never saw it as the man-busting, bra-burning, angry stereotype that many of my peers have suggested it is.
I saw, and still see, feminism as a quest for equal rights for women. But I also include the following in my definition:
Have we hit our women’s rights climax?
I am dying to hear your thoughts on this. Bring it!
July 17, 2012 | 1:48 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
Is there a war on women? Is this an exaggeration or is it reality? I wonder if I’ll ever know considering that most of the reporting about women in this world is conducted by men.
Look at our US election coverage this year, for example. When it comes to print media (as published by The Atlantic), when discussing women’s issues the Wall Street Journal, the NY Times, and the Washington Post only quoted women 15% of the time. It’s the same statistic for top media TV news shows. 81% of those quoted on abortion are men.
Are you asking yourself what the hell is going on here, or is it just me?
First off, as a mainstream-radical-feminist-post-feminist-Jewish-Iraqi-Ashkenazi-Israeli- American- hyper-educated-woman, I think it’s pretty critical that this information is accurately reported and I’m not sure how I can figure that all out if I keep getting information about my body, my health, and my rights from men.
The Power of a Woman’s Voice
They keep telling us we’re holding up ‘half the sky’, so why are we being heard much less than half the time? And why is it even important? It’s scary for us women to use words like expert, powerful, and smart when describing ourselves. We’re more comfortable describing ourselves as giving, sensitive, and caring. Last I checked none of these adjectives were mutually exclusive.
In a recent seminar I took on op-ed writing workshop with the OpEd Project, I watched the 25 women in the room struggle to say they were experts in anything, many of them having PhDs and awards for their years of work in their fields. In contrast, the two men there eloquently expressed their expertise with confidence and ease. I was once one of those women—never thinking I was good enough and shying away from expressing myself in public. But I’m over it. I know that I can legitimately say that
I am an expert in some things
—not in many things, but in some things. I have the knowledge, credibility, and experience to talk to you about women’s rights, sexuality rights, human trafficking policy, and international refugee and asylum seeker policy. I call myself an expert because, by all means, I’m just as much an expert on these topics as many of the men being quoted on these topics are, if not more. And I’m 100% positive that there is an abundance of women who are experts on the topics discussed in the US election coverage. I know this because I am privileged enough to know many of you woman experts out there.
More than Just a “Girl”?
Let’s discuss what it even means to be a feminist today before we start judging others or ourselves for using the F-word. Let’s use our words wisely, and really delve into their real meaning and purpose. That’s why I’m writing this blog—to get my voice, as well as the voices of women and our allies, out into public view.
Gwen Stefani’s song, “Just a Girl,” is popping into my head right now among other ridiculous old school jams like ‘Whatta Man’ and ‘You’re so Vain’ (I know…there’s an interesting theme going on here, huh?).
“I’m just a girl in the world/That’s all that you’ll let me be.”
People—is Gwen speaking the truth? Are our minds, our thoughts, our words, our actions, our levels of power still being controlled? Or is it we who are holding ourselves back?
I’m not so sure, but let’s explore this question among many others in this blog together. I hope you’ll join me for a weekly conversation on women’s issues, women’s rights, gender, activism, world affairs, and sometimes the “sillier” things in life like work, family, balance, and karaoke choices. I welcome your comments, your questions, and your expertise. We’re all experts in something, so let your voices be heard!