Changing the Rules

When I was young and trying to break into places that were marked “no girls allowed” (like practicing law and training in martial arts), I used to say, “Women don’t want to change things in [insert male-dominated space here]; we just want to be allowed to play.”

That was a lie. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was. First of all, bringing women into those spaces inevitably changes things. Secondly, as demonstrated by the recent decisions by people like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka to refuse to participate on other people’s terms, it leads to changes in the underlying rules.

Playing hurt isn’t a good idea, even at the Olympics. Putting up with abuse should never be necessary.

Add in the women refusing to compete in uncomfortable clothing — a proxy for all the stupid dress codes that dictate to women just how they’re supposed to cover or uncover their bodies — and you’ve got women changing the rules of the game.

What a wonderful thing.

I don’t teach self defense just to give women and other people who’ve been told they’re too weak to take care of themselves the ability to protect themselves against sexual assault and other violence. That’s important, to be sure, but what I discovered from years of martial arts training was that realizing that I could protect myself against men — that I did not have to be afraid of men physically — gave me the strength to stand up against men in the many more areas of my life where the threat wasn’t physical.

This is important, because one of the things that needs to happen for women (and all the others who’ve been told they’re not good enough) is that we must step up and demand things.

This sounds a little like Sheryl Sandberg and “Lean In.” It does have some elements of that, but Sandberg conveniently forgot the pushback that most of us are going to run into. Sandberg managed to attract the attention of powerful men and use that to get ahead. She doesn’t acknowledge that most of us don’t have that kind of support and therefore run into a brick wall when we make our demands.

But hitting that wall doesn’t mean we need to stop fighting. It sometimes means we need to step back for our own protection. It may also mean we need to file a lawsuit and hold a press conference. Or set up a sit-in, a la Rep. Cori Bush’s recent efforts that led to a new eviction moratoriam. Being physically confident helps when you hit those walls, gives you the clear thinking that allows you to figure out what you need to do.

What I want is not just for women and others who’ve been marginalized to feel safe because they know they can take care of themselves, but for all of us to feel powerful.

And then I want us to go and change the world.

A world in which people aren’t forced to harm themselves for the sake of a damn game or even for a job that needs doing. A world in which people don’t have to tolerate abusive behavior to get ahead. A world in which everyone gets a shot at doing the work that matters to them. A world in which real change can get made.

Apparently this is still revolutionary. Vive la révolution.

4 thoughts on “Changing the Rules

  1. Part of the flurry of Things on the internet that flew by in response to Biles’ withdrawing from the team portion of the Games were videos of Kerri Strug and Dominique Moceanu, both of whom were–at least by the appearance of the thing–bullied into competing when they were hurt. Strug was celebrated for completing a vault–brilliantly–with a broken ankle, and you can see her coach telling her to suck it up because they need the points. There are triumphant photos of Karolyi carrying his injured champion -after- she wins those points, but before? Get out there and win one for the Gipper, kid, or I’ll turn my back on you. And Moceanu, who fell during a beam routine and hit her head… and got no support (not even an exam) for what could have been a terrible injury.

    We call these people heroes, and we make them our representatives. The least we can do is treat them like human beings too. Good for Osaka, Good for Biles. If they stand up for themselves, maybe we’ll start to stand up for them too.

    1. It’s stories like this that are making me rethink the underlying mythology that has been layered into us our whole lives. I remember the awe of Kerri Strug’s vault, and now I shudder to think about someone doing that for the sake of a game.

  2. And Sandberg hasn’t used her power to help the world — she works to enable Facebook to continue the American patriarchal system of putting money and growth above moral and ethical behavior. After the Rohingya massacres and the 2016 election, just to name two events, she could have spoken up, used her position to demand that FB change its practices. Instead, she has defended her company’s right to what Zuckerberg wants.

    1. Yes. I doubt she even sees the connection with taking stands like that. All she wanted was in, and she got in. She doesn’t care what the power structure does so long as she can be in it.

      It seems women in sports are doing a better job of rocking the boat than women in capitalist enterprises. Sigh.

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