Women of Valor

Every day, the war wages. In television commercials and in pop music. In movie theaters and on magazine covers. On the sidelines at professional sporting events and on the runways of the fashion industry. In formal expositions and in our everyday vernacular. On the streets in broad daylight. In dark parking lots.

In elevators. 

If I told you how many times I started this column only to trash what I had written, how many words I typed only to hit backspace, you would seriously question my qualifications as a writer. My heart is so full and distraught by the violence and scandals and misrepresentation of femininity that has proliferated in the media over the past few weeks, I am almost physically unable to address the topic with anything more than flailing arms and ineloquent ramblings. The more passionately I feel about something, the more tongue-tied I become. My words are inadequate, inferior to the topic at hand. 

But I do have a voice, and when you possess something that has been wrongfully repressed and stripped from so many women around the world, something to which every human being is entitled and so few can exercise, you have a responsibility to use it. A voice is precious indeed. There is no excuse for silence.

And the truth is I am angry.

I am saddened.

I am hurt.

I am offended.

But I am not fooled.

The NFL isn’t fooling me. They can wear pink gloves and pink shoes, they can wipe the sweat off their faces with pink towels and wrap their ankles with pink tape, they can sing the praises of “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” and pat themselves on the back for their annual effort to trick the country into thinking that they actually care about the well-being of women, but they’re not fooling me. From the line of scrimmage to the owner’s suites, they have flaunted their objectification of women—brazenly, unapologetically, and with impressive systematization. Women are cheerleaders at which to leer, props for pornographic hamburger commercials, and necessary hindrances for their precious players. Because when “unnecessary roughness” on the field mandates a six game suspension but beating your girlfriend unconscious calls for a two-game slap on the wrist and a pitiful series of cover-ups, it’s not difficult to decipher priorities. Winning covers a multitude of sins, and a multitude of sins will be covered in order to win. 

The pop music industry isn’t fooling me. They may try to hide the consequences of sexual objectification and misogyny in catchy hooks and addictive beats, but I’m not falling for it. I’m not buying it when obnoxious and obscene artists like Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus hustle themselves to society, all while waving a banner of women’s empowerment and sexual liberation. Showing young girls that nothing is sacred-- not even their own bodies-- isn’t empowering. It’s a simple message of aggrandized prostitution: Present yourself as an object to ogle, and if you catch the eye of enough people, you can make it in this world. No, with every vulgar gesture and lyric they’re setting back feminism a hundred years. And I’m not buying it.

Magazine covers aren’t fooling me. I don’t need three hundred guaranteed ways to lose weight, erase cellulite, improve my skin, dress better, eat less, hide my imperfections (or better yet, eliminate them) look hotter, act sexier, or attract men. I don’t need advice from magazines that photoshop to impossible proportions their own cover models. You can’t run a Fortune 500 company in a bikini. You can’t run for Congress in a bikini. You can’t become President in a bikini. As Mark Twain said, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.” One of the most effective ways to keep women from leadership roles in society is to keep them unclothed. One of the best ways to keep them from being respected and taken seriously is to objectify them. And I’m not buying it.

No, I am not fooled by society’s misrepresentations of women—revered one moment and degraded the next, told to be one thing and then another thing and condemned either way—because I know what a strong woman is. I know what a beautiful woman is. I know what a wise woman is.

Because I know my mom.

C.S. Lewis said that a man cannot recognize a crooked line unless he has some idea of a straight line. Throughout my life, my mom has been that straight line. She taught me what it means to be strong. She taught me what it means to be beautiful. She taught me that true beauty lies deep within us and emanates outward. She taught me what it means to be healthy, to care for my body and my environment. She taught me how to speak my mind truthfully but not cruelly. She taught me to respect myself and to respect others. She taught me what it means to be respected. She taught me that my mind and body are capable of more than I realize. She taught me that my mind and body belong to me. She taught me to be bold and courageous and passionate, and that grace and strength are at their best when circumstances are at their worst. She taught me that being a woman is a powerful thing. She taught me that being a woman is fun.

One of the greatest treasures the sport of running has given me is a community of strong women. Women who are adventuresome and bold and healthy and honest and real. I have had the privilege of running with women who are wives and moms and sisters and friends and entrepreneurs and chefs and pilots and artists and doctors and nuclear radiologists. Women who are smart. Women who are beautiful. Women who are strong.

There is a rumbling amidst the exploitation. There are voices that won't remain silent. Yes, every day the war wages on. But every day we are fighting back. 

And we are not fooled.

Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story.  Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.

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