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“But you don’t hate guys, do you?”
“you’re not a radical, are you?”
These are things that I hear from friends that are more or less (some more, some less, but all a little bit) weary of my involvement with feminism. How can someone like me, meaning an athlete, a cis-heterosexual woman, supposedly uninterested in politics and insider to a predominantly male sport be a feminist?
Let’s start with the simple things. Feminism is not a political program, an ideology or a philosophy. Feminism is a perspective on the order of things concerning the relationship between sexes and genders. It is not so distant from the broader choices concerning forms of government.
Suppose you are at a restaurant. You receive the menu from the waiter and there you have the following choices: monarchy, democracy and totalitarian regimes. You hand it back saying “I’ll have democracy, please”. Holding his little notebook and pen, the waiter replies: “…on the side?” That means “within the wide perspective of a democratic regime, which broadly defines a form of government where power is shared with everyone, what do you prefer?”
Then, and only then, the answer becomes a partisan one. So you can even choose a democratic monarchy with a parliament, you can choose a pluralistic federation, you can choose from infinite combinations of the very complicated variables that define “power sharing” and “participation”.
Practically everyone you know chooses democracy. Both your republican friend and your democrat friend have done so, in spite of the fact that they hate each other. Both the guy who says he defends his right to own and use his gun and the guy who fights for gun control defend democracy. They differ immensely concerning the level of State intervention, though.
Feminism is not that different. As long as you don’t rationally defend different rights for men and women, as long as you oppose abuse and violence against women, which are widely practiced in every country today, you are a feminist.
Feminism doesn’t have an agenda (a well organized set of claims and demands). As I said, apart from opposing abuse and defending equal rights, there is very little that defines feminism. But believe me, that’s a lot already. Abuse is so widespread and inequality is so outrageous that we have a long way to go before we even need to start asking other questions and getting involved in the infamous infights.
We have atheist, catholic, protestant and muslim feminists. They obviously don’t share the same religion, but they share a common perspective on the relationship between sexes and genders.
Yes, there are irrational and dangerously anti-democratic groups that claim to be feminist. Separatist feminists actually believe men are the enemy and that a true feminist must be a lesbian. Whereas the only agreement concerning abortion is what we call “right to choose” (pro choice), there are feminists who elaborate on the acceptability of abortion way beyond what everybody else is willing to even consider. They disregard the fact that in many cases, being pro-choice is to defend the right to have the baby, as is the case in places like India where the woman may be forced to have an abortion against her will (only India? Do you really believe that?). In most cases, what is actually at stake is defending the secular State, which is the separation between church and government. That means abortion, mostly a religious debate (as a society, we never got even close to defining where human life begins without involving the concept of spirit or God), should not be legally punished by the State.
Other important items of the feminist perspective involve gender and sexuality. Gender is not equal to sex. Sex is the biological condition you were born with: female, male or, in very exceptional cases genetically hybrid or altered conditions. Between a ci-hetero-person, like myself and a trans-person (which means he or she have altered their original genetic sex) or homo-person (which means they have sex with people of the same sex), there are infinite combinations. Most democratic countries have already legally recognized special rights for trans-people. Homosexual rights have been in public debate for decades and, again, most democratic countries recognize the right to be a homosexual person and to do whatever their heterosexual counterparts do.
What does all of that have to do with sports or with me? Everything.
I have many trans-women friends (meaning they were born men and decided to alter their bodies to become women) and a couple of trans-male friends (people born female, but who decided to become male). The closest to me is a powerlifter. I am not sure he will ever be able to compete again, the reason being that he is Brazilian and Brazilian powerlifting is dominated by extremely sexist people.
I have been violently hostilized for exerting authority, defending my points in written and spoken form and exposing corruption and other delinquent behavior in powerlifting governance in Brazil. Everybody knows that, were I a man, the reaction would be completely different. They would just hate me – not attack me.
What if I were a lesbian? What if I were a trans-person? I guess my choices wouldn’t be much wider than leave the sport or shut up and get into the closet.
As in any country and any sport, there is a certain proportion of gay people in Brazilian powerlifting. They are completely clandestine: nobody knows who they are. There is gossip here and there concerning this or that and usually the person ends up dropping out. The pressure and hostility are too great.
In August 2012 I was asked to sanction a meet at a small country town in the South of Brazil. I banned a certain coach (his nickname is “Small-guy”, Miudinho, 6 feet something and over 320lbs) for every possible reason you can think of: totally disrespecting designated areas for athletes and coaches, interfering with referee judgment and finally confronting me in the most insulting manner. He verbally and physically attacked me. What did the organizers do? They shut me in a bathroom and made sure that coach controlled the meet as he usually does in that region, threatened all the witnesses and until this day, their version is that “that bossy woman got what she deserved, we don’t like women who come here full of rules”. Watch the video I recorded at the time, bellow.
Yup, they don’t like rules and nobody told them that “sport” is inherently about rules.
Before disrespecting powerlifting rulebooks, though, what they disrespected was gender equality.
Ok, I concede I was naïve and stupid to go to such an isolated place by myself and expect no such thing could happen. I learned my lesson and became even “bossier” than they hated me for.
But now you understand what sport has to do with feminism?