I was in the middle of my attempted return to a nightly yoga practice and (un)comfortably contorted into a parivrtta parsvkonasana (a revolved side angle pose… ) when my cell lit up with a text message fit for the opening lines of a Camus novel:
“Today, our Japanese rabbi died.”
My best friend, a bubbly, intelligent, and kind culturally-Jewish girl from the suburbs of New York City, was getting married to a warm, thoughtful, and humorous Japanese bar owner in exactly one month. And after all the pinterest boards and dessert tastings, this was the last thing she needed.
Shocking, I know, but like unicorns, Japanese rabbis are kind of rare.
There was a few exchanges — she had a Plan B, everything was going to be fine.
The next morning I got a phone call.
I was the plan B.
When she asked me if I wouldn’t mind the promotion from bridesmaid to stand-in officiant, I flashed through the last seven years…
To the weekend she crashed at my small “efficiency” studio on the upper west side of Manhattan and I suggested we go to this fancy cocktail bar downtown. After comping us a round a drinks, the bartender made us a refreshing non-alcoholic beverage to help us make our way home. That bartender would become her boyfriend…
Flash forward a few years later, she and I were standing in an elevator she was wearing a kimono the bartender’s mother had gifted her. “He’s the one,” she said without reservation. “Women know these things”…
And now I was standing in the bathroom at work, on the phone, being asked to officiate their wedding.
“I really can’t think of a bigger honor than getting to marry you two.”
“Great! I hoped you’d say that! I think it’d be really awesome to get married by officiant in a blue jumpsuit!”
That’s right. I was the bridesmaid who was told “wear whatever you want, as long as it’s blue,” and decided on a cobalt blue jumpsuit. A Reverend in a jumpsuit. I could see the branding opportunities already…
Up until this point, my day-of wedding responsibilities were fairly simple and superficial:
Make sure the make-up artist doesn’t make the Bride orange
Make sure the Bride’s dress corset is pulled in as tight as it can go — don’t worry if she seems to be suffering from shortness of breath.
Make sure the Bride has a shoehorn so she doesn’t smash the heels of her Jimmy Choos when she’s putting them on under her dress.
I had just picked up a few more responsibilities that were significantly less superficial (Learn Japanese sake-pouring ceremony. Learn how to say “chuppah” in a way that doesn’t sound like a sneeze. Make sure Bride and Groom say “I Do” and sign marriage certificate) but I would handle them, because for her, for them, I had to. There are only a few times in your life when the people you love really ask you to step up to the plate for them. And when they do, you owe it to them to bring your A-game… to try to hit a home run… and if you don’t, at least you go down swinging.
In my hometown, girls who wanted to play in Little League played on co-ed baseball teams until the 5th grade. Despite being the generation that watched “A League of Their Own” in the theaters, there weren’t many of us who wanted to be Dottie Hinson (played by Geena Davis). We were evenly distributed across all the teams, and that meant that most of the time there were no more than two of us. I wanted to pitch, but a coach told me: “Girls don’t pitch.” But I had a good arm, so I was put in right field (well, that was the justification for it, anyway.) Girl 2 on the team was also put in the outfield… a fake position called “center right.”
Often at practice, Girl 2 and I would out-slug the guys. But when it came to setting up the order, we were always placed at the bottom. Come game time, when we’d get up to bat we were heckled by the boys on both teams — by our teammates and by the opponents. The male coaches never did anything to make the boys shut up. If I struck out, which I did a lot (and no more than the boys), I’d be met back in the dugout with “what do you expect from a girl!?”
When I was finally old enough to join the all-girls softball league, everything changed. I became a starting pitching, a top-of-the-order batter, an All-Star. When we’d play co-ed softball in gym-class, I was a first round draft because I could out-everything the boys.
There was no more heckling. There was just the game.
I remember being in pre-school and wanting to be a boy. I’d try to pee standing up (I learned after one attempt that we’re just not built for that.) I guess it’s a phase all children go through — that phase when they’re trying to understand what makes us different from the other kids on the playground, and then trying to appropriate some of those differences… because the grass is always greener on the other side.
Maybe that’s why I preferred a hammer, nails, and a block of wood to dolls when it came to toys. My school folders had cars on them instead of “My Little Pony.” As I got older and moved into sports, I always played with the boys. I’d swim in the boys’ lanes, or go to their practices in girls’ off season. I fight the boys in karate and bout with the boys at fencing practice. In college, I majored in Economics. I did my problem sets with the boys and go for morning runs with the boys.
And then I’d throw on a pair of high heels, a bedazzled shirt and some eyeliner and drink beers with the boys. The boys would often still be in their gym clothes.
The battle of the genders begins from day one. There’s only a short, sweet time when the playing field is level and then the realizations kick in – boys and girls are not the same.
We fall from Eden.
Putting aside basic biology, what is it that makes men and women so different? To me, it’s all about experience. We fall from Eden not because we realize our nakedness, we realize we don’t have access to the same opportunities. The boys on my little league team were never told they couldn’t pitch because they were boys. As we think of what makes us strong as women, so much of what empowers us is how we learn to define ourselves in relation to the boys — even if we don’t want to admit it. What if my little league team had been 50-50 boys and girls? What if my coach had had daughters instead of sons? Would I still have been told “girls can’t?” Would someone have said “boys can’t?”
Last week I opened a new exhibition. It’s been two years in the works, and to date is my biggest curatorial achievement. People seem to like it. They’re telling all their friends and sending me nice emails. It’s bringing people together. So I’m kind of proud of it.
A friend who came to visit was kind of proud of me too, and passed my catalog onto a friend of hers who happens to be a hugely influential collector of contemporary art. He flipped through the catalog, recognized two of the significant names, and then shared his one comment on the content…
“Oh wow! She’s really pretty!”
He was referencing my head shot.
I laughed when she told me. Inside, I was rolling my eyes.
If I were a man, would he have told her I was really handsome?
There really is nothing more demeaning to a woman in a professional setting than a reference to her attractiveness. Don’t tell me I’m pretty. That’s not going to convince an artist to work with me (well, it might if that artist were Jeff Koons) or a museum to hire me. “Pretty” isn’t something I’ve worked to achieve — it’s not a professional milestone. When it comes to my job, I’d rather a criticism on the quality of my work than a compliment on the quality of my face.
Dating these days is like something out of a made-for-TV Halloween special. When we’re coupled off, we have our “boo.” And when we want to extricate ourselves from something perhaps in need of an exorcist, we ghost.
The November New York Times Modern Love piece on ghosting followed the progressing mental stages of a woman who had just been ghosted by a guy she had been seeing for two weeks. I couldn’t entirely tell to what degree the piece was satirical (two weeks? And she’s flipping out? I don’t even add a guy into my contacts until week four, let alone make an emotional investment at two… especially in this age of the disappearing boo…. jeeeez). But her piece made the point that the silence forced on us by the ghoster is a trigger. We look in the mirror and ask, “What’s wrong with me?” And then we find 1,005 answers (some valid, some hogwash) to that question.
When I was a tween, I had a crush on Casper the Friendly Ghost (well, I had a crush on Devon Sawa, to be clear.) But as an “adult,” being Caspered isn’t so friendly. Being ghosted is just like any other kind of break-up — it can lead us to believe we are unloveable.
Being ghosted by someone we’ve just started dating is highly insulting and yet, when there’s no relationship to break-up from, sometimes it really is the most humane way to end it. Like ripping off the band aid, or a single shot to the head.
When he or she just isn’t that into you, sometimes silence is the clearest and kindest message. Sometimes there just isn’t much to explain — this thing just doesn’t feel right.
“Thanks for your voice message,” Chris said to me in a text. “Most people don’t show that kind of courtesy. Maybe we can be friends?”
Chris is a guy I had a handful of working day midday dates with. I was just out of a long term relationship. He worked in a building a 5 minute jaunt from my office and lived in a rented house 15 minutes from where I lived. He liked outdoor things and to read books, real books as opposed to a Kindle. Sometimes, we ran into each other in the Wednesday Farmers Market. When we sat down to lunch or a coffee break, it was a pleasant hour or so. But when we parted ways, I just didn’t feel it. He sent me a text to plan a second “real” date. I called him to say, thanks, but I wasn’t ready to start dating again. A partial lie — had he been a little different, had things felt a little different, I would have been ready to date again.
“Yes. You can never have a shortage of good friends!”
“Great. How about friends who make-out. You have gorgeous lips.”
“Don’t push your luck, buddy.”
Chris and I never hung out again. But not because someone pulled a disappearing act. We wanted different things and paid each other the courtesy of sharing that fact.
But had I ghosted him, would he have been surprised or hurt? Probably not. It wasn’t a relationship. It was a few public sightings, exchanges, and some dates.
Now, Ghosting a longer-term partner? That’s just cowardly.
Ghosting a friend? That should be a one-way ticket straight to hell.
Because here’s the thing: Once you have a measurable past with someone, they deserve toknow that you don’t want to have a present or future with them.
You can leave out The Why, because The Why is only important if you want to try to fix things. But tell them good-bye. Friends and girlfriends/boyfriends have earned certain rights, and one of them is the courtesy of a break-up.
Even a post-it note break-up is better than a ghosting.
The first thing I did in the New Year was pay my American Express bill (well, technically it was the second think I did, after picking up the broken champagne flute and depositing the empty bottles of Veuve in the recycling.) Next, it was on to the gym. When I got home, I baked butter tarts and cheese biscuits, then googled “Oscar Isaac relationship status.”
If these acts kicking-off my 2016 are in anyway indicative of some underlying, motivating New Year’s resolutions, those resolutions would have to be:
Continue to improve personal financial solvency.
Obtain fitness model physique.
Consume more carbohydrates.
Marry Oscar Isaac.
If I really think about it, I’m fairly confident I can achieve all of these in the next 12 months (even if Nos. 1 and 3 seem in complete competition and I didn’t get a FitBit for Christmas). #4 seems particularly obtainable…
Oscar Isaac… Swoon. (New Year’s Eve had included seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens in IMAX 3D.)
On Wednesday, the last day our offices were open in 2015, my boss called to riddle off a few final requests and bid me an enjoyable long weekend.
“2016 is going to be a great year for all of us,” she said.
“Well, I certainly hope so…” I immediately envisioned the upcoming 12 months — a long list of projects which forecasts a relentless, Sisyphean push uphill scrolled across my mental computer screen. I think I threw-up a little in my mouth. “Yes. I mean, yes. Of course it will be a fabulous year!”
The changing calendar triggers a flurry of contradictory feelings. Nostalgia — for the year closing and years past. Excitement — the chance to start afresh and the promise of new adventure. Fear — a lot of life happens in a short period of time; can I handle what lays ahead?
“Your Year Ahead” emails, complete with horoscopes, exercise plans, shopping “musts,” and travel suggestions start hitting your inbox on Boxing Day. If you hadn’t had a chance to think about what’s next, you certainly are now.
2015 was pretty fabulous year — the first 7 months were loaded with firsts, with successes, with travel, and fetes. In turned 30 and with a new decade came the summer — a slower paced season which brought changes, more travel, and a little illness. Fall was a mixed bag, highlighted by still more travel, but otherwise a slog. The year closed with the flu, but great family and friends. In general, I felt that I was always running to catch up and to get ahead. The changing calendar was the first time I had a chance to look back and enjoy, because from the moment the datebook read 2015, I’ve been looking ahead… into March 2016, September 2017, February 2018… If only I had a crystal ball.
There is a lot to look forward to in the upcoming months — exhibition openings, a wedding, arty parties, travel, an extra week of paid vacation — little exclamation points on my calendar that await sentences to fill the lines between them. Generally, I walk into the pages of this new year with excitement. Who doesn’t love the start of a new story (especially when Oscar Isaac is cast in the cinematic adaptation…) Let’s leap.
When I shared an article from the LATimes with the title “Are Fans Right to Be Upset that Serena Williams Beat American Pharoah for SI Sportsman of the Year” on Facebook, it launched an unnecessary comment-box debate with a 19-year college male. I don’t really support facebook as an appropriate space for “discussions,” but there are certain buttons you don’t press with me… like telling me to “keep your feminism in check.” Enter the dragon.
I call the debate “unnecessary” because by definition, an animal cannot embody sportsmanship. A horse is not a person and, as one of my friends pointed out, it is dehumanizing to even entertain a comparison between American Pharaoh and Serena Williams. Any back-and-forth should have ended with that simple reality.
But it didn’t. And the exchange that followed highlights a few important truths about institutionalized sexism (racism too, but I’m only going to tackle one mountain at a time) in sports (and beyond.)
Let’s start with numbers…
The Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year was created in 1954 to recognize “the athlete or team whose performance that year most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement.” 75 people have received the award since then, 10 are women, and only 3 individual women athletes have won the award outright (as in, haven’t shared it with men.)
17 winners are baseball players or teams. 12 are men’s basketball players or coaches. 10 are football players or coaches. 4 are hockey players or teams.
57.3% of the winners represent the major US domestic male pro and college sports. Is that inherently a problem? Nope. Baseball is America’s sport. Football is a multi-billion dollar industry. But none of the basketball recipients have been college or pro female athletes. Are the female athletes not posting impressive numbers? If there’s a LeBron there must be a LaBron… No one watches professional women’s basketball? Why is media attention a criterium for selection?
Do I have to ask the Linda Nochlin artist question in sports? Why have there been no great sportswomen?
In 1980, the Miracle US Men’s Hockey Team won the Sportsman of the Year award. Their legendary win over the Russian team became symbolic of the larger political-economic battles of the Cold War. It’s a great story. Meanwhile, the US Women’s Hockey Team has won 15 World Championship titles. In 1998, they won a historic gold at the Olympics… the first time Women’s Hockey was ever contested at the games. In 1998, the award was shared by Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa… both tested positive for doping.
It’s true there are more male professional sports than female professional sports, and of the 23 million who read SI, 18 million are men… so we can give the editorial board a bit of leeway… the split doesn’t have to be 50-50, men to women recipients. But let’s remember, women have been able to compete in the Olympics since 1900, and as of the 2012 London Games, represent more than 44% of the field. 191,131 women compete on NCAA teams (43% of all NCAA athletes.) If we need a model and are using the Olympics, the highest level of competition for any athlete, then 13% is just too low…
Now, let’s look at the 10 women…
In 2011, Pat Summit was the all-time winningest coach in NCAA Basketball history. She shared the award with Mike Krzyzewski, a veritable legend, but holds the most wins in Div 1 men’s basketball, only.
You might argue that men’s basketball has a longer history or more teams. Lame. Stop. Just stop.
So with the exception of Pat Summit and the 1999 US Women’s Soccer team, the remaining 8 women all won individual titles at an international, World Championship, or Olympic level (let’s be more specific — 3 are tennis players who held multiple Grand Slam titles, 2 won historic Olympic Gold medals, 1 was a golfer who held 6 major pro titles, 1 held multiple World Championship titles and records, and 1 was a Pan-Am games gold medalist.) But let’s not discount the US Women’s Soccer team — they won the World Cup in 1999, soccer’s main stage. (An aside: Do you know when the men’s team had their best performance in the World Cup? 1930. Oh, and they were 3rd.)
And what about Serena? She also held all four major titles in 2002-2003 and broke all sorts of barriers. In 2003, the award was shared by 2 male basketball players.
Do I need to highlight again the percentage of male recipients who were on teams in sports whose “World Championships” are really only domestic championships?
So these numbers beg a handful of questions…
First, are men and women held to the same standards when the editorial board sits down to make their selection? How much does readership play into selection? If readership plays a major factor, is the award a legitimate representation of the best sportsperson across sports that year? Or is primarily marketing tool for the magazine? Is the SI editorial board making a concerted effort to find viable female candidates and giving them equal consideration? Does the award represent, not the readerships’s demographics, but the sport world’s demographics? If it doesn’t, why? Is there a reason why SI doesn’t recognize both a man and a woman every year?
The question is not, well what woman athlete should have gotten it over a male athlete? The question is, is the SI Sportsmans of the Year relevant, and what does its awarding say about how we value female athletes?
The lopsided distribution of the SI Sportsman of the Year is symptomatic and representative of continued inequity and sexism in the arena of professional (and amateur) sports. Serena Williams still makes less than her male counterparts. It wasn’t until 2012 that women competed in every sport on the Olympic program… and on it goes.
The fact that a college-aged male in 2015 would think that the SI numbers and the horse vs. human question isn’t indicative of a problem indicates a pretty big problem…
Is SI a sexist publication? It’s hard to say no when it purports to be a sports magazine but it’s biggest issue features swim suit models... in the tiniest swimsuits possible…. and when the recipients of it’s biggest award don’t accurately represent the demographics of the field it claims to recognize.
All that being said, Serena Williams is an icon, a role model, a consummate professional, and a classy sportswoman. She embodies all that is great about sport. Her crown has far more than 3 jewels in it…