Sports

Margaret Wente thinks your girlish figure can’t handle ski jumping

Margaret Wente thinks your girlish figure can’t handle ski jumping.

In last Sunday’s Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente wrote:

“As more girls and young women flood into athletics, knee injuries have become an epidemic. But people – especially coaches – don’t want to talk about it. And parents often have no idea of the risk until their own daughter winds up on crutches. After all, girls are equal. Aren’t they?  There’s no doubt that girls are equal in competitive spirit and mental toughness. What’s not equal is their bodies.”

So much for the womenz capturing the spirit of the Olympic motto: “Faster, Higher, Stronger.”

women's ski jump 2014

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon yesterday set foot in the feminist arena, declaring, “I will be rooting for women athletes to jump as high and leap as far.”

Ski jumping, Ban continues, “showcases a very good future for women’s power.”

Wente and Ban are, of course, referring to the fact that women will be participating in Olympic ski jumping for the first time (for a great list of sports where women are still banned, read this piece by The Huffington Post’s Amanda Duberman).

Men, on the other hand, have been jumping since the 1924 Chamonix, France, Olympics.

Elle Beaver readers might remember that women’s ski jumping issue was brought before the Supreme Court of Canada prior to the Vancouver Games.  And though the IOC never formally gave a reason for excluding women’s ski jumping, IOC president Jacque Rogge said that there just weren’t enough women ski jumpers to make it an Olympic sport.

It was thought, for years, that ski jumping – among a number of athletic activities – would cause damage to the ovaries. Because, you know, “women should engage in “restrained and non-violent” exercise to protect their “peculiar function of multiplying the species.

Won’t someone please think of the children?!  And by children, we of course do not mean those girls who badly want to strap on those skis and defy gravity on the slopes.

sochi 2014 women's ski jump sexism olympics

But getting back to the central premise of Wente’s argument: “The Achilles heel of female ski racers and jumpers is the anterior cruciate ligament.”

Get it?  The Achilles heel.  (Rolls eyes)

Wente continues, “We need to be more honest with ourselves – and our daughters – about the limitations of the female body. Of course the girls can jump – there’s no doubt of that. Whether they should jump is another matter.”

Should girls also do ballet?  Or figure skating? Because let’s face it: Olympic athletes are constantly in rehab, surgery, and suffering from injury. And for that matter, what about hockey and football concussions and brain injuries – which some have argued lead to depression, addiction, and suicide – in countless professional athletes?

Consider the case of the brilliant, talented ice-dancer Tessa Virtue.

For years, Virtue dealt with a condition called chronic exertional compartment syndrome, “an exercise-induced muscle and nerve condition that causes pain, swelling and sometimes even disability in affected muscles of your legs or arms.”  During the 2009 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships at the Pacific Coliseum, Virtue had to be “hustled to the medic for treatment after every skate.

By the Vancouver Games rolled around in 2010, Virtue was spending five hours a day in physiotherapy to keep her on the ice, which Maclean’s Jonathon Gatehouse writes was “a sacrifice that was at the top of (partner Scott) Moir’s mind when he whispered, “Thank you so much,” in the moments after they clinched gold.”

W’s Tessa and Scott has chronicled Moir’s own agonizing back injury, casting Virtue in the role of supportive partner.

Ballet dancers are equally under strain.  It is not uncommon for dancers’ feet to be bloodied by performance, and Dance Teacher Magazine lists the top ten injuries, each one more horrific than the next: impingement, Snapping hip syndrome, Meniscus Knee Tear.

canadian ski jump olympics

Yes, by all means, let’s be honest with our girls (and boys) about injury.  But denying our girls the chance to jump, to compete, to go ‘faster, higher, and stronger,’ we are denying them the opportunity to make choices about their bodies, their minds, and their futures.

I, for one, cannot wait to see Atsuko Tanaka and Taylor Henrich jump and reach for the sky.

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