At first blush, this headline would seem inconceivable.
It’s a horrible headline no matter how you twist it, but this wasn’t meant as some race-baiting white supremacist slant. Exactly the opposite. Simone Manuel accomplished a magnificent feat, taking the gold medal in the women’s 100 meter freestyle. Yet, the headline writer, given whatever limits of space imposed, made the choice of including the most important, most salient piece of information. It was not her name.
Manuel, who on Friday qualified for Saturday’s 50-meter freestyle final, said she looked forward to the day when she is known simply as a champion.
She didn’t win because of her race. She won because she spent countless hours in a pool. She won because of her skill, work ethic and dedication to her sport. And yet, in this moment in social justice history, she’s been reduced to her skin color.
To the extent anyone doubted that a black swimmer could be great, you were proven wrong. But those were your doubts, not Simone Manuel’s. She was there working away, swimming hard, and you didn’t know she existed. You didn’t give a damn about her effort or dedication.
Yet, you take her for your own purposes now that she won because you want a posterswimmer for your cause? That disgraceful headline is for you, social justice warrior, because Simone Manuel has a name. She’s a person, not that you give a damn.
But if your puny self-interest is hurt by what you’ve done to this Olympic champion, reducing her to a racial cartoon character, at least you can take comfort in the fact that you weren’t nearly as bad as Chloe Angyal.
Oddly enough, a twit came across my timeline from her before I read her op-ed in the New York Times, My Gymnastics Feminism.
This offers a bit of insight to Angyal’s perspective, as it shows that she is a survivor of twitter sexual violence in her mind. Her op-ed makes more sense with this context:
In many ways, the sport made me. It molded me into a fierce and focused competitor and helped me develop a mastery of my body, an intimate mind-muscle connection.
She stopped competing at age 13. That wasn’t, apparently, all that stopped at age 13.
In gymnastics, as in life, we demand impossible perfection of girls. The closest I ever came to a flawless beam routine was a 9.8, one of my proudest moments as a gymnast. At the time, I ached for those extra two-tenths of a point.
One might stop and wonder about that first sentence. Gymnastics is a sport. It’s a sport in which both boys and girls compete. Did nobody tell Angyal? And the point of gymnastics is to excel, to “demand impossible perfection.” Except it isn’t “impossible.” Just because Angyal failed to achieve it doesn’t mean others haven’t. In fact, other women have.
And where did “as in life” come into this?
But as I grew older, I learned that the fixation on perfection and the self-flagellating level of discipline required to approach it could turn inward in destructive ways. I spent several years during my 20s falling into and pulling myself out of an eating disorder.
Of course, it’s all about Chloe Angyal and vindicating her narcissistic issues. The girl who stopped competing at 13 has seized upon the hard work, the pain, the struggle of the members of the Olympic champion United States Women’s Gymnastic Team to make it all about her.
Something I love about gymnastics is that it’s one of the few sports that is feminine by default. When we say “gymnastics,” we almost always mean “women’s gymnastics.”
Did anybody mention that to Bart Conner or Tim Daggett? I wonder if Samir Ait snapped his leg for a girl’s sport? Then again, did anybody mention to Brian Cuban that only former 13-year-old girl gymnasts have eating disorders? But then, this isn’t about Simone Biles or Aly Reisman. This isn’t about gymnastics at all, really. This is about Chloe Angyal.
In gymnastics, as in life, we demand impossible perfection of girls, and punish them when they inevitably fail to achieve it.
Had this been about gymnastics, this would be absurd. There is a reason why a person wins and another loses. The winner excelled over the loser. That’s the nature of athletics. It applies to girls. It applies to boys. It applies to everyone who competes. And except for the rumors of Russian athletes being sent to the gulag for winning only the silver, no one is “punished.” Should they hand out participation medals too?
What Chloe Angyal did here isn’t a reflection of feminism, but narcissism. Others worked hard, suffered to excel and were awarded the gold for their efforts. Angyal steals their efforts, reduces them to their genitalia, and uses it to vent her personal inadequacies. Biles’ win was turned into Angyal’s angst. Except Simone Biles earned her gold, while Angyal stole Biles’ effort for her own puny pathetic purposes.
Nobody gave Simone Manuel a gold medal because of her race. Nobody gave Simone Biles a gold medal because of her gender. And nobody gave Chloe Angyal a gold medal.
The Olympics aren’t about reducing people who put in effort of which you’re incapable, have skills you’ll never have and achieved something you never will, to their race or gender to prove whatever racist or sexist point you want to make with them. They did the work. They’re not props in your social justice agenda, and you are unworthy of using them to vent your personal failure and angst.
You want to use the Olympics to make a political point? Be like these guys:
They earned the right to make their point. You did not.