Michelle Carter reminds athleticism and femininity are not mutually exclusive

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United States' Michelle Carter celebrates winning the gold medal in the women's shot put during the athletics competitions of the 2016 Summer Olympics at the Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/ Kirsty Wigglesworth

Michelle Carter, an Olympic gold medalist in women’s shot put, confidently and lovingly refers to herself as the “Shot Diva.” Carter, a UT graduate, won the first gold medal in history for team USA in women’s shot put. She also is the creator of a “sports confidence camp” called You Throw Girl and is a professional makeup artist. Possibly even more spectacular than her professional resume is Carter’s social activism: She is an ardent believer in the importance of eliminating harmful stereotypes about women athletes. 

Women athletes in particular face a unique collection of criticisms that must be overcome, reflective of the archaic ideas still present regarding the exclusiveness of femininity and masculinity. Carter particularly focuses on the fact that femininity and athleticism are not mutually exclusive and seeks to dispel the idea that playing sports depletes femininity.

Carter has commented on how shot put is not a sport that people typically see as feminine. She has said she wants to “encourage young girls to be true to themselves,” which includes understanding one’s likes and dislikes and ignoring stereotypes. In short: You can play sports, be strong and still enjoy wearing a dress and makeup. 

It is vital for young girls to soak up this message, live it, breathe it and block out those saying otherwise. It would be short-sighted to say that progress has not been made in traditional ideas about femininity and sports, but to say women in sports don’t still face intense and superfluous criticisms and discrimination would be erroneous. The US Soccer Federation has been the most recent public example of this. By paying the Women’s National Team significantly less money for a better record and more ticket sales, the USSF propagates the message that women’s sports don’t matter as much.

While the circumstances are discouraging, the silver lining in the situation is that out of these hardships have emerged strong female athletes who are willing to speak out. Carter accompanies other prominent athletes such as Abby Wambach and Brandi Chastain in the fight for gender equality in sports. This comes at a time where more and more girls are playing sports in high school: In 2015, 3,287,735 girls participated in high school sports nationwide, 20,071 more than 2014. 

This growth has also prompted young girls and women to participate in sports not traditionally considered feminine, abandoning the stereotypes Michelle Carter abhors. This transition has occurred on a local level as well. 

Lily Messina, coach and former player for the Austin Outlaws women’s football team, pointed out that there has been a shift in the way society specifically views women who play football. 

“When I was growing up there were not any outlets for girls to play football unless it was the annual powder puff football game,” Messina said. The reactions she received when she first started playing football in the early 2000s ranged from, “No you don’t, what do you mean, women don’t play football,” to the occasional “oh, that’s cool.” Fortunately, as time has progressed so has people’s ideas, and she does not receive as many snide comments today. 

Playing sports teaches valuable life lessons that benefit both boys and girls. For this reason, activism like Michelle Carter’s is vita, as it promotes the idea that girls do not have to abandon their femininity to fit in the sports world and that they do in fact belong there. Sports are not synonymous with masculinity and should not be treated as such. You throw, girl.

Vernon is a rhetoric and writing sophomore from Houston. She is an associate editor. Follow her on Twitter @_emilyvernon_.