Thursday, April 25, 2013

Gabrielle Reece Is My Kind of Feminist

Gabrielle Reece is my kind of feminist. Not because of the business about being submissive to your husband (about which I think she has been misunderstood), but because of this bit from her April 12th Today Show interview:

 “There is no having it all, …We don’t worry about (men) having it all, so I don’t know where we got this idea to have it all. I think it’s very challenging to think, ‘Oh, I can have it all.’ My children know they can’t have it all…. You have to make choices.’’

It’s not about figuring out how to have it all, but figuring out what the “all” is for you. I am sick and tired of people I have nothing in common with framing the debate on feminism. Anne Marie Slaughter and Sheryl Sandberg make me feel like a failure. Who doesn’t make me feel like a failure? Gabrielle Reece. Not that she and I appear to have much in common. I am a short-ish, childless, slightly unkempt freelance writer and occasional lawyer for the ignored. But I could swim a couple of miles in the ocean with her, and it is that physical strength, coupled with her willingness to buck the system, that makes me think more women should listen to her and other female athletes.

I used to aspire to the halls of power. In 1969, when I was four-ish, my parents were called to the principal’s office. My teacher was trying to get us kids to finish sentences comparing things. When she got to the line: “A man can be King and a woman can be_______,” it was my turn. I answered “President” instead of the expected “Queen.” When I was told that was incorrect and to try again, I allegedly balled up my little proto-feminist fists and hollered: “President, president, president.”

While as a teen I certainly envisioned myself as a briefcase carrying, suit-wearing something, the reality of what it took to live that life was not something I could handle. It wasn’t just the control-top pantyhose and heels, but those were certainly factors, I must not lie. I just didn’t like the other people I would have to hang out with in that world. That is something they don’t tell you in school. You have to look around and figure it out for yourself. I just found there were other interesting women at the pool and on the field and in art class and at the dog park.

My 80 year old mother would probably call herself a feminist, if pressed. She never wanted to be financially dependent on a man. Now, she is frail and sick, her body withered by a lifetime of being chauffeured and no exercise. Physical strength wasn’t important to her; financial strength was. It never occurred to her that being physically strong was a component of power and freedom. Yet, the benefit from being physically strong translates into every aspect of life. It’s funny, though; a certain class of intelligent people has always looked down on “jocks,” thinking that they must be dumb if they use their bodies. That same style of categorical thinking leads the Sandberg/Slaughter feminist to believe that any relationship not defined by splitting the household chores equally is demeaning to women. It is not.

As a writer for U.S. Masters Swimming, I have interviewed dozens of female swimmers in their 50s and 60s who are dominating pool and open water races. To a person, they wonder what they might have accomplished had Title IX been around to help them, and they are both proud of and happy for the younger generation of female athletes. I know Title IX did a lot of damage to men’s teams, especially sports other than football and basketball. But we made a choice as a society that women needed a level playing field. That’s what we need in the boardroom; access driven by legislation. 

We need laws for the workplace that do what Title IX did for sports. Women need equal rights and opportunities, not more advice about how to conduct themselves in order to make friends, fit in and get ahead. We need quotas for corporate boards and yes, daycare for all working families. (Although I do hate the way that feminism has been hijacked by mothers. Women need not have given birth to feel the pull of home and hearth.)

So long as feminism in the 21st century is about having and getting rather than doing and being, I worry. In the meantime, I bet I’d enjoy having lunch more with Gabby Reece more than Sheryl Sandberg. And I bet you would too.


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