I never cared what they thought, until...
There we were, around the table. Adults with a purpose and each of us contributing. I punctuated a concept with a wave of my hands and there it is...the man across the table--his eyes shift perceptively as he registers that this woman has furry pits.
And this woman always has had. When I started training with my then-track and field star husband in the early 80s, his teammates would tease Ken that he would get his butt kicked since I had more underarm hair than he did, a nod to the typically masculine association of body hair to power. While JL simmered on the back burner and I worked a “real job” at a commercial real estate company, I wore only sleeved professional tops—until I was entrenched…then off came the protective cloak and the (mostly male) floor had to just deal with it.
Being furry has somehow worked as a barometer professionally —it has been illuminating to witness the inner strife that this grooming choice causes in people as I pass through their line of sight. Despite my own self-confidence, the questions still linger: Am I instantaneously being judged or defined? More likely, am I a threat? In our age of “othering” as a debate strategy, am I one of a dreaded THEM?
People’s reactions infuriate my husband, but decades of furriness and bold display have provided quite the education. A seemingly-benign flicker of surprise is one small example (dust-mote size) of what many in our world experience on a regular basis. When we “other”, we add bricks to walls.
For so many, rowing provides a safe, challenging, rewarding, exhilarating…you fill in the blanks here. Even though I no longer row in boats, I still enjoy (by osmosis and by memory) benefits. When I am immersed in personal and business challenges, I am constantly moved by the efforts of those who are working to broaden our community to embrace all comers. While I have actively chosen my differences, there are many more who are born into boxes we never even knew existed. Boxes we are only now coming to understand or unpack - requiring more active compassion than ever.
My challenge to you is this: Look around you. Until your boathouse, your club, your boat - looks like our country, we have work to do to be able to call ourselves a sport that doesn’t discriminate and is actively in pursuit of inclusion. Please see Meghan O’Leary’s recent article so appropriately named... “I want my sport to look more like my country”
First, challenge those who relish the belief that the sport is just one more privileged gate to enter…those who still think that “Those People” should be grateful for our help. The ones who actually say…”Those People”.
Then, for inspiration on going forward, look at and reach out to the dedicated individuals hopefully at your boathouse, and certainly at programs like Pocock Foundation; Pioneer Valley Rowing Assn, Philadelphia City Rowing, GLRF, Row New York, Seize the Oar Foundation, CRI, Delta Sculling Center, Dallas United, Wabash Valley Crew, and The Foundry...just to name a few.
On a larger scale, the conversation about privilege rumbles (or rages) all around us.
Rowing may seem like it exists in a bubble, but we all know what happens to bubbles.
YOUR ACTION LIST
- Invite someone who is different from you to a Learn to Row session. Or into your boat!
- Sign the Rowers Pledge - a global initiative to promote inclusion and acceptance.
- Contribute your time, expertise, or financial support to one of the outreach programs in the link list above.
- Embrace what is different in you, and practice acceptance of the spectrum all around you.
Myself flawed and yet hopeful,