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,
Jonathan Moss said:
Thanks for being you! Keep up the great work.
Peter Anagnostos said:
Joline, The Foundry counts among its points of pride our efforts to make the sport of rowing more diverse. Last year, we reached over 5500 youth from Northeast Ohio, many of whom had previously lacked knowledge of our river and lake, much less the sport of rowing and sailing. We are equally proud to be a boathouse (are there others?) that physically houses a Cleveland public school for high school students once at risk of dropping out before graduation. Our coaching staff, with teachers, created a daily Foundry Experience that revolves first around learning to swim (thank you YMCA); learning the fundamentals of rowing in our tanks; and finally getting onto the water. Today, these male and female students of diverse backgrounds compete in races, assist with our middle school learn to row program, and stabilize the boat whenever novices are on board. Their absenteeism all but ended, and their grades and graduation rates have climbed, as has their outlook on life! Thank you for mentioning us! Make time to visit! Peter Anagnostos, on behalf of the Foundry Team
Amanda Kraus said:
Joline, thanks so much for writing this and sharing with us all. We need more voices like yours in the rowing world!
Patricia L Tirone said:
Thank you for continuing this conversation! I was so grateful to Megan O’Leary when I first read “I want my sport to look more like my country” and the first time I heard Arshay Cooper say that a sport is not really a sport until it is truly inclusive! So now thank you, to you, Joline, to share an example of how you have been treated as “other” (and I love your acknowledgement that the feelings sparked by feeling “other” were/are “dust-mote” sized compared to what many live with constantly). But we do all know what it means to be “othered” in some way – we can all find our own examples! And I appreciate that you note: "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. Yes – more compassion than ever — that’s my prayer for 2020 . I love your action list – that will help the prayer come to fruition!