From what I can gather in perusing the headlines, the big news on the women’s side of the French Open this year is the tennis outfit donned by Venus Williams.
While fashion and the French seem to go together and the outfit has created some attention for the opening rounds of the second grand slam of the year, part of me lets out a big sigh. Not that we’re talking about what she’s wearing, but that we’re not talking about how she’s playing. It’s that catch-22 that female athletes find themselves in — act too girly and we dismiss your athletic ability; act too much like an “athlete” and we question your sexuality.
And then we have the case of the Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan who was shown in a photo playing softball 17-years ago eliciting a round of thinly veiled “is she gay?” talk. Because, as a superbly written piece on Salon.com points out, “I mean, what else could anyone possibly assume from the fact that you played a softball game in 1993?”
Here, however, lies one of the hidden strengths for women who play sports — we don’t care. We’ve heard it all before. Call us names. Doubt us. Because we’re not in this for you, we’re in it for what we can prove to ourselves. We build our own confidence to go after the jobs we want, to wear what we want, to become the kind of person we want to become.
That may not fit neatly into traditional definitions of “girl” or “athlete.” And that’s just fine. Because I’ll go about creating my own definitions, thank you very much, and more importantly, I’ll express my own unique identity in a way that’s authentic to me. That’s where the real power lies. Not in what we wear, what sport we play or what position we ascend to — but in embracing, and celebrating, that which is true for us.