Off Our Chests: Gabby Douglas

As the Bartender and the Priestess are women of chests, we just needed to get this off ours: Gabby Douglas.

Both the Bartender and the Priestess have been outraged by the treatment Gabby Douglas has received.

Ann: Perhaps it is a good sign that much of the back chat about the games has been about the rampant sexism in the coverage of the games. Go here and laugh as you weep at the long road we still have to travel. The list seems endless. But, maybe we’re just becoming more aware; I must say, I don’t remember another time that we’ve seen the pushback we have at these games about the archaic women-as-decoration notions.

The people who make it to the Olympics as commentators seem to be missing the point. S.E. Smith in “xojane” wrote: “A recent study from Cambridge took a look at the way people talk about women and men in sports, finding that men get described in terms of what they do, while women get described in terms of who they are.” There are a lot of years of not taking women seriously behind us; but it needs to come to an end. I’ve heard people saying the dinosaur is dying. Well, it’s certainly taking its sweet time. But maybe the paradigm is changing, and these are the last stupid gasps of dinosaurosity! But the Gabby Douglas story that we’re looking at takes it even farther than most of what we saw, combining sexism, racisim and flat out mean nastiness.

There has been example after example of women and particularly women of color being disrespected and sidelined. And, no. We are not just sensitive. It’s come from the crowds and the media. This is a dirty, ugly fact and it’s time for us to come to acknowledge it — and it’s time to demand it stops. How dare people diminish the very hard work, athleticism, and artistry of Gabby Douglas while they giggle at the same time over the “cute” boyish (read boorish) behavior of some men, even men who are breaking laws.

Terri: It’s particularly telling in light of the (legitimately) shameful display put on by Ryan Lochte and friends, though honestly, I don’t feel we need to talk about him too much. I really want to focus on the treatment Gabby Douglas received for no legitimate reason whatsoever.

Ann: Terri, when this all happened, I felt like we were in Middle School, or what we’re told Middle School is all about since I went to a plain ol’ Primary School.

Here’s a beautiful, talented young woman, who four years ago won a gold medal (as a 16 year old) for best all around gymnast — the first Black gymnast to medal in the Olympics, and it was gold, to boot. The entire time, she was perky and charming and oh, so talented. America’s sweetheart in the making.

Fast forward four years, she’s back at the Olympics, doing incredible work — not quite enough to be one of the two who was able to contend for individual medals but nonetheless quite wonderful. And a bunch of mean girls made up a bunch of stuff and stuck it on twitter. It was ghastly. What is up with people?

(Note from Terri: it wasn’t all mean girls. There were plenty of guys saying terrible things about her, too, though saying “mean girls” is an interesting dynamic in light of how men and women are portrayed in media, and are being discussed in this very column. But I digress.)

Ann: She won a gold; we don’t like her hair. Her teammates said she supports them; the public says they’re sure she didn’t. She had a grumpy face — hey, even you might have been disappointed if you had missed your chance to compete, but did anyone SEE Michael Phelps’ face? Did anyone criticize him? No, he might have been grumpy; he might have just been concentrating. Fact is I can’t tell you; I don’t live in his head. They? Don’t live in Gabby’s head either, but that didn’t inhibit them from talking smack.

And the last one? They savagely attack her for not being a patriot, for standing as people have often stood (well, ever since we gave up what is now known as the “heil Hitler” salute) with her hands respectfully at her sides. A friend looked up the requirements for standing at attention during the anthem. Here they are. They were passed in 1998. So if anyone on the Olympic team didn’t stand with their hand over their heart, I blame the Olympic Committee. All the money we spend sending these athletes to Rio, we might instruct them in proper ways to watch the flag rise and hear the anthem. So, if she had known, I’m sure she would have had her hand over her heart.

Terri: Here’s the thing—and I know this is going to piss people off, but—I don’t care if she had her hand over her heart or not. I don’t care what the rules say. I don’t care about any of it. Gabby Douglas spent the better part of her twenty years on this planet training to be a nearly godlike athlete, all for the greater glorification of the US in global competition. She didn’t win the gold for Exxon, or NASCAR, or any other sort of private enterprise. She went out and competed so the US, her home country, could put on their big bold bragging pants and tell the world how great we are because we can turn out the caliber of athlete like Gabby Douglas. She didn’t show respect? The hell with that, she’s been showing respect for twenty years, winning medals, working through blisters and injuries and illnesses and doubt. And she has shone, until the one time she let her guard down. And the media ate her alive.

I asked this before, and I will ask it again: she showed her respect by winning medals for her country. To her detractors: What did you do while she was busy winning?

Ann: And you know, when Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovaks (US Shot Put Gold and Silver) stood at attention, hands at side, nothing was said. Oh, they’re white men? Well, then, never mind.

She has said she was thrilled to represent her country. I’m going to believe her on that. Why would she lie? Why would you presume to know what’s going on in her brain?

Terri: I don’t know what’s going on in her brain. I just know what she’s done for the better part of her life. Which is train, and train, and win, and train some more. Where’s the joy in any of this? Where’s the love for the sport, where’s the honor that should attend upon a lovely young woman putting her heart and soul into a performance on one of the toughest stages in the world? Where’s the recognition of Gabby Douglas’s achievements, grace, relentless skill?

Ann: I am dead tired of listening to people, often other women, pick apart another woman’s body. Gabby has grown up in the public eye, and has done so on the world stage since a very young age. As with most women, her body changed. So now the public is wondering if she’s had breast augmentation.

Terri: AGGGHHH! People, people, people. It’s called puberty. I wonder more at the people who aren’t alarmed that most female gymnasts’ careers are over by the time they’re 20, because their hips and boobs develop and make balancing extra-challenging. Hey, try facing the reality that at 20, you’re done. (Note: male gymnasts don’t excel until AFTER puberty, when their upper bodies develop and they can do all those holding poses…another interesting example of the male/female dynamic in Olympic sport. And again, I digress.)

Ann: The people who make it to Olympic competition are athletes. If they delight our eyes, it’s with their astonishing prowess. Certainly some of them are beautiful; Gabby is one of those women. And you want to tell me that her hair wasn’t right as she was spinning around like a top? I don’t think they make hairspray strong enough to withstand that velocity!

Terri: What should have been her opportunity to go out as the champion she is has been robbed from her by the tsunami of negativity that burst forth when she didn’t make the “proper” gesture during two minutes of song. The haters can’t take away what she’s accomplished, but they can steal joy. For what? Because they didn’t like her hair? Because she didn’t hold her hand correctly? Because she looked disappointed when she didn’t get to compete in the individual competition? In the Olympics? Which she’s been training for her whole life? For shame, people. I’m so disappointed in the soul of the US in light of this collective social event. We think we are civilized, but we have so far to go.

Ann: There are some things I do very well. However, I’ve never spent the kind of time Gabby Douglas and her fellow teammates have, becoming proficient at anything, let alone balancing on a tiny, little beam. And you, you Gabby haters? Are you proficient at anything other than being spiteful and, well, stupid? Feh. #Love4Gabby happening right here.