July 28, 2021 • Impact

Just an Even Playing Field

Germany’s Pauline Schaefer-Betz during the women's gymnastic qualifications at the 2020 Summer Olympics dressed in a full-body unitard in protest of sexualization in the sport.

In a Dick’s Sporting Goods commercial, the “Miss America” song plays as images of American female Olympians fill the screen. The commercial pays tribute to the incredible strength and talent of the American women who are already dominating the Tokyo Games.

But for all the lip service praising the women competing in the Olympics, the Olympics sure are making it hard for them to compete. Sha’Carri Richardson, a Black female track star, was banned because she used marijuana. Meanwhile, Alen Hadzica, an American fencer, who is under investigation for sexual assault, is allowed to compete. The Norweigan handball team was fined for insisting on wearing shorts over the mandated bikini bottoms. And the 19th News reports that Spanish swimmer, Ona Carbonell, was forced to leave her breastfeeding son at home, because of official rules that mandated that he wouldn’t be able to stay with her in the athlete’s village.

Meanwhile, commercials and journalists praise women’s abilities to overcome the odds. But women don’t want to overcome the odds, we just want to play on an even playing field, one that doesn’t penalize us for our bodies or our motherhood.

After over a year of pandemic, where schools were closed, offices moved into the homes, and women forced out of the work at rates higher than men, our society looked around and did nothing beyond a child tax credit. Needless to say, women and mothers are exhausted of being heralded as the backbone of our society, as overcoming the odds, when the odds are just the fact that we exist.

But it’s not just about the struggle to survive as women, it’s that if we do thrive, more is expected of us. While Jeff Bezos was on his rocket to space, MacKenzie Scott was busy giving away millions of dollars to fix the problems here on earth. Problems that are exacerbated by the ways in which billionaires like Bezos make their money.

It’s an impossible standard, one that makes women responsible for fixing the very problems they didn’t cause. One that keeps asking more and more of women, until they break. As I was writing this, Simone Biles withdrew from competition stating that she needed to take care of her mental health.

Recently, Olympian and mother Allyson Felix teamed up with Athleta to give money to Olympians who are mothers for child care. It’s an amazing endeavor and one that is surely welcomed by athletes who often bear the cost of their own training, travel, and equipment. But, to be perfectly clear, it shouldn’t be Felix’s job to do this!

The reality is equality can’t be co-sponsored by a corporation, equality needs to come from systemic change. In the meantime, we keep cobbling together Rube Golbergian solutions, competing and achieving in a world that refuses to help. Celebrated for our strength and success in a game completely stacked against us. Spare us the commercials, spare us the lip service, give us an even playing field.