Women Who Want: A Reflection On the World Cup | CBE International

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Women Who Want: A Reflection On the World Cup

On July 17, 2015

Special thanks to Autumn Whitefield-Madrano of Huff Post, whose article inspired this post.

Author’s Note: Women (and men) demonstrate their God-given abilities and desires in many different ways. The ways in which women express their want is dependent on ability, giftedness, and context. Though this article focuses on athletics as one way in which women express their inner-strength and physical ability, it in no way seeks to suggest that this is the best or only avenue for expressing female worth or capability. I celebrate the unique contributions of women of all abilities in all seasons of life.

On July 5, the world celebrated an amazing feat of strength, strategy, and athleticism. Some of the greatest athletes in the world faced down across a football (soccer) field. And these athletes were women. They were fierce. They were fast. And they wanted to win. Taut muscles, clenched fists, blood, bruises, and sweat—their bodies told of their will, their absolute resolve to win. Their tense faces held stories of hope, expectation, and confidence in training and ability. These women were equipped for their battle. They came ready to fight. And fight they did.

The sight of women fighting that hard for something, in an arena that has traditionally been designated a man’s world (sports), is stunning to the senses. In the wake of the US women’s victory, Huff Post writer Autumn Whitefield-Madrano wrote an article titled, “The Beauty in Watching Women Want.” In it, she wrote,

What moves me is the players' faces, and watching women want. It's not hard to find images of women in the public act of doing beyond what's been allotted by tired stereotypes. We see women legislating, creating, speaking, protesting—images that weren't available just a couple of generations ago. But we still don't often see women in the act of wanting. And we need to see this, because when you're in the act of wanting something badly enough, there isn't room for self-consciousness.”

Madrano goes on to explain that the act of wanting, in addition to the state of wanting—to achieve a physical victory, has not been traditionally associated with women. Madrano testifies to her own limited observation of this phenomenon—she cannot remember having seen women physically want the way she did watching the World Cup. This is not to say that women have not wanted in the past, of course. But for Madrano, seeing these female athletes kick, dodge, and run without care for their appearance, being “feminine,” or how they might be perceived—being willing to leave everything on the field—was a powerful sight. She found herself captivated by them—by the beauty of their want.

I thought to myself upon reading her article, does the sight of women wanting surprise me? Should it?

The sight of women playing sports is hardly shocking. Women have been participating in college sports in the US for decades. Title IX passed over forty years ago. Though the right to compete in sports, especially at high levels is tragically withheld from or remains taboo for women in some countries, I am not wholly unused to the world of female athletes.

Still, growing up, we (my family) rarely watched women compete. In my home, we habitually watched men’s basketball, football (American), and baseball. But every once in a while when the summer Olympics rolled around, I got to watch Misty Mae Traenor and Kerri Walsh (Jennings) compete on the sand volleyball court. I always admired the way that Kerri played—black kinesio tape holding an injured shoulder in place as she slammed spike after spike across the net. Her sheer athletic ability, her faith in her game, and the confident strength with which she delivered each strike to the ball had thirteen year-old me in awe (and also wishing my vertical was as impressive). It was powerful for me to see her want—to see her physically want to win, to see that desire etched in the lines of her face. It was formative for me to witness her put her body on the line for every small victory.

Madrano does not make the claim that many people (in the US) still object to women in athletics, even the most conservative, and neither do I.  However, I would argue that discussions about the nature of men and women do still associate strength, action, courage, and athleticism with males (throw like a girl). Softness, grace, and nurturing are still traits by and large attributed to females. These gender prescriptions are one reason why seeing women in the act of wanting with such ferocious will is still such a novelty.

And many young women are unused to the want too. I can count on my fingers the number of female athletes I was exposed to growing up. And it has affected how I see women, how I interpret my own skills, and what I believe I am capable of. I never competed competitively as an athlete, mostly because I am not gifted in that capacity. But even if I had, I never imagined sports as a career for myself as a woman. Now of course, after watching talented women prove themselves again and again in my lifetime, nothing seems more plausible.

Do I believe that women want with enough ferocity and skill to realize their dreams? Absolutely. But, knowing something theoretically, and knowing it in the deepest part of your heart are two very different things. And knowing this at a young age can change how women view themselves and their bodies.

Young girls need to see women want. They need it. I need it. I need to see women care absolutely nothing for how they look in a moment, because they are busy putting the ball in the net (or doing whatever activity, physical or mental, that they enjoy). In a world that tells young girls that their appearance and their attractiveness to men is the source of their worth, the sight of women’s bodies and faces in concentration, effort, and stress is a stark contrast.

It is my hope that when attention is granted to the athletic potential of the female body rather than how attractive it appears when women compete on the field or court, their bodies will be seen with respect and they will, hopefully, cease to be so sexualized. I want that world for young girls. And I want that world for me too. I want to know that women have great capacity for competition (of all kinds)—that they are willing and ready to fight for what they want. I want to see that God bestows gifts freely and creatively to men and women, athletic abilities included.

And this doesn’t just extend to sports. Women demonstrate the ability of their bodies and minds in so many different ways and contexts. And yet, they remain, often, on the outside looking in.

Women who want are being sidelined in the church as well. Despite God-given gifts that equip and prepare them for leadership in the church, they are benched. Despite a spiritual want so potent that they are willing to sacrifice everything for their faith, women remain on the periphery of Christianity. I believe that watching women want in a world that rejects their full gifts breaks the heart of God. And just as not seeing female athletes growing up affects female identity, so too does the exclusion of women leaders in the church inhibit the self-actualization of female leaders.

The absence of female leadership at the highest levels of the church impacts how women see their faith and worth. Women need to see other women want to lead in church. Young girls need to see their mothers want to use all of their gifts. Without this testimony to the fully capable, fully souled, fully functional humanity of women, the cycle of history, of patriarchy, of male-centricity will continue.

I don’t watch a lot of sports—I stick with hockey, volleyball, and tennis. But, when the US women’s team took home the cup, none of that mattered. Along with the world, I admired the victors’ excellence as well as the awesome skill of their competitors. I celebrated new attention brought to women’s sports and new respect for female athletes. But, most of all, I delighted in watching women want, in watching them spend their life-energy to see their dreams in reality.

Women wanting is a raw, powerful, and inspiring thing. I want to see more of it. I want it for my friends. I want it for my own children someday. I want it for my church. But mostly, I want it for myself and for every woman who has had to ask herself if she even knows what it looks like when women want.

When have you experienced the power of seeing women want? How has it affected you? 

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