Friday, August 31, 2012

A matter of choice

These are difficult times to be a feminist. Whether its members of the Republican Party or members of your own family (as it was in my case--I responded here), the news and discussion surrounding women's reproductive rights is quite maddening and dispiriting. Battles we all thought were won years ago--access to birth control, the right to end a pregnancy--are still being contested.

As I wrote last week, Judaism has a more lenient take on abortion than Christianity. Causing the death of a fetus is not a capital offense. In the Exodus 21:22, this hypothetical is presented:

When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman's husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. 

What we have here is outside forces causing the death of a fetus. Grounds for a murder charge? Hardly. Manslaughter? Not even that. If it was manslaughter, the assailant would have to flee to a City of Refuge because the family could legally kill him. All this man has to do is pay a fine to the woman's husband because the unborn baby, like the woman herself, was legally his property anyway.

The Jewish position on abortion has evolved beyond this, of course, because you can't just simply count on someone to knock you down a flight of stairs and toss some money your way. I mean, we all can't be that lucky! But this example does at least indicate that causing the death of an unborn child is not considered murder.

I suppose that as a Jewish feminist, this should please me. I am heir to a tradition that is less rigid about abortion. It has repeatedly recognized the instances in which terminating a pregnancy, whether to protect the life of the mother or her sanity or for some other rabbinically sanctioned reason, is an acceptable solution. If a woman's life is in danger, it is considered necessary to abort the fetus in order to save the woman. At least according to this math, woman > fetus. Yay?

Yet I am not tremendously comforted. This still falls devastatingly short of choice, of granting women full autonomy and control over their bodies.

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, women’s “ability to realize their full potential … is intimately connected to their ability to control their reproductive lives.” Abortion rights, Ginsburg went on, hinge “on a woman’s autonomy to determine her life’s course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature.” [The New Yorker]

I keep cycling back to the passage from Exodus I cited and how irrelevant the woman is to the proceedings. The message I get from it--the Torah doesn't seem terribly concerned with a miscarriage, even a violently induced one, when a man causes it. I think it's only galling to folks when a woman chooses to end her own pregnancy. Women being the property of others, the victims of violence--that's old hat to humanity. But a woman deciding that she doesn't want to be a mother, not now and maybe not ever--that's much more radical than a man shoving her and causing her to miscarry. That a woman could get pregnant and not want to fulfill what many consider to be her destiny on this planet--bearing and raising children--is the true crime here.

I recognize that the cited passage is not actually an abortion and that the writers of the Bible had no concept of abortion as we moderns understand it. Back in those days, if you got pregnant, you stayed pregnant (for the most part). I just bring the Exodus passage as a way of neutralizing the "abortion is murder or even manslaughter" argument. And though more lenient than Christianity, Judaism still thinks about abortions as exceptions, to be done in the worst case scenario. As Jeffrey Toobin noted in The New Yorker, "Abortion becomes something that women can only earn by hardship, rather than something they can freely choose."

And the final say in these matters is always a man (at least in the case of Orthodoxy), who has no firsthand experience in pregnancy. But practical experience (or the lack thereof) hasn't really ever mattered. I mean, it's how we got the laws pertaining to niddah or "family purity." Men with no experience of menstruation have made themselves the experts on the whens, hows, and whys of women's monthly cycles just like they're members of Congress.

I know this a macabre thought but sometimes I wonder that if all abortions actually took place as the Bible described the above miscarriage--that a man, probably known to the woman, shoved her and caused her to lose the child--would so many be up in arms about it? After all, in both instances the results would be the same. No baby, no pregnancy. The difference here seems to hinge on choice and intent.

What are people really concerned with here--a dead fetus (or child if that's how you view the matter) or the disruption to the so-called "natural order"? I'm inclined to believe it's the latter that is truly prioritized especially when you consider how resources for real, live children who can survive outside of women's wombs are being withdrawn and/or slashed.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Aly Raisman on E!

Aly Raisman was a special E! red carpet correspondent for the premiere of Bachelorette, and I gotta say, she shows so much more personality in this clip than I've seen in all of her interviews pre and post-Olympics.

Perhaps it's because she was on the other side of the mic, asking questions instead of being forced to answer the same inane ones over and over again. She did a fine job at her task and the celebrities seemed more starstruck by her than the other way around.

And if I wasn't already jealous of the teenage Olympic champion, she got to interview Adam Scott. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

My Mother's D&C

The year before my mother gave birth to me, she suffered a miscarriage. She was 7 or 8 weeks pregnant, started to hemorrhage and called her doctor. After describing her symptoms to him, he didn't think it was wise to take the "wait and see" approach. She would likely lose the baby, he explained. And she might also bleed out. Or she might damage her chances of having any future children.

The hospital he was affiliated with was booked solid, so he advised her to go to a clinic that he also sometimes worked from. It was unmarked building, my mother recalls, so as to not draw attention from abortion protesters. It was an abortion clinic. (It should be noted that my mother gave her full and enthusiastic permission for me to write her story on my blog.)

My mother and father joined two other women in the waiting room. From their devastated looks, she could tell that they were all there for the same purpose and so they spoke as they waited. One of the women was there alone as her husband was out of town on business and couldn't get back in time. My mother was grateful that at least she wasn't going through this on her own.

What my mother had done that day was D&C. Her cervix was dilated and the contents of her uterus--the failing fetus, the cause of all her bleeding--were scraped out. My older sister was sent to my aunt for a few days while mother recuperated from the procedure. My mother's doctor advised my parents against trying to get pregnant again for six months.

I was prompted to write this after engaging in a debate on my Facebook wall with a cousin. Like most of my family, this cousin is much more right wing than I am. (My mother is one of the sole exceptions to this overarching conservatism in my family.) Lately, he had taken to posting snide comments in response to articles I posted, most of which I let slide. But in response to a meme about Todd Akin, the infamous congressman who stated that women's bodies have magical defenses against rape sperm and who also opposes abortion in all cases, without exception this family member wrote that Akin "misspoke" and ended his comment by saying that "abortion is murder."

This began a dialogue about whether or not he would permit abortion in the case of rape. He said he would--which is a morally problematic position if you believe that abortion is murder. But like many anti-choice advocates, he seems to think that women wantonly and thoughtlessly terminate pregnancies, using it as a primary method of birth control, which is why we need tough laws to prevent women from ending them. We must force them to carry babies to term so that we may deny these kids food stamps and proper education once they arrive.

He then went to say that he doesn't know anyone who has had an abortion and hopes to never know anyone who has had one, which I suppose frees him to support ideas and candidates that want to do away with abortion and family planning for all. (After all, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition...) Cause in his estimation, it cannot possibly happen to anyone he knows because the very need for an abortion is somehow a moral failing. It's just for women who have premarital or extra-marital sex (which I'm fairly sure my cousin has also had, but allow him to correct me if I'm wrong.) Of course in this judgey scenario, the men are noticeably absent. Where are these sperm donors? Did the women get pregnant by getting all slutty, alone in their apartments with their vibrators? Where is the judgment for them? Where are their Scarlet As?

While my cousin thinks he doesn't know anyone who has had an abortion, I'd say that's doubtful. It's not exactly like he lives in a part of the country where it would be easy to come out with this information. Also, if he openly spouts views that "abortion is murder," I doubt he'd be the first or the hundredth person a woman who had one would confide in.

And even in liberal parts of the country, it's still not the easiest thing to bring up in conversation. While I'm aware of a couple of friends who have had the procedure and told me about it, I imagine there are others out there, ones I know but I'm not close to or wish to play it close to the vest.

If indeed he doesn't know anyone who has needed to have an abortion because she was raped or birth control failed her or a condom broke or just one time she had unprotected sex, the appropriate emotional response should be gratitude. Be grateful that you don't know anyone who has gone through that ordeal and has had to make some very tough choices. Do not interpret your own narrow experience as somehow representative and then demand the rest of us be legislated accordingly. (Also if we're in the business of deciding people's options solely based on our own private experiences then the only surgeries that should be covered by insurance should be orthopedic in nature cause that's all I've ever had done.)

And does my cousin know about his aunt's procedure? I don't know. He was certainly old enough to have been told, but I imagine it was framed purely as a simple case of miscarriage. But I'm sure that every family has at least one such story if not more.

Would my mother have been able to get the care she needed in the world that Akin and Paul Ryan wish to create? I don't think so. At the very least, it would've been much more difficult, much more emotionally draining for my parents, who were both devastated enough by the loss. In the world these politicians wish to create, healthcare decisions for women (as it pertains to their reproductive organs) would not be made solely by doctors and patients.

In fact, Reb Moshe Feinstein, the late preeminent ultra-Orthodox arbiter of Jewish law, urged his followers not to join the pro-life movement because Judaism can be quite lenient when it comes to abortion. He didn't want abortions outlawed in instances where halacha would've permitted it. He wanted rabbis deciding from Jewish law to have the authority to rule pro or con without their hands being tied by a state or federal law. [Failed Messiah]

When the life of a mother is at risk, the fetus can be characterized as "rodef," or as a pursuer who wishes to kill the mother, which makes it permissible to terminate. (In the name of self-defense.) But abortion requests are granted in less dire situations--the emotional well-being of a mother can be used as a reason to grant permission to terminate. (I would imagine that a rape victim easily qualifies under this.)

Honestly, brandishing religious interpretations regarding abortion doesn't interest me cause then the other side can brandish theirs and then we're just going to find ourselves in a biblical/Talmudic pissing match. And since I don't wish to live an actual theocracy, I'd ideally like to leave religion out of it. The point is that even within the hallowed Judeo-Christian tradition there isn't agreement. So when we support the evangelical Christian viewpoint, we're actually prohibiting Jews from living according to their own principles in the matter. (I'm not well-versed enough in Sharia law to know its perspective.)

The point is--no matter how much my cousin wishes to shove his head in the sand, these issues touch the lives of all women, some he might meet in the future and some he has already met. And even an aunt, who according to Georgia's Terry England should've carried a dying baby to term (or at least until she bled it out) cause that's what livestock do.

I am sorry my mother had to go through her own miscarriage and D&C procedure. But I'm glad that her doctor was able to do what he thought was best in this situation. Could everything have been alright if she hadn't? Perhaps. But it also could've gone terribly wrong. My mother could've died or her capacity to have future children might've been threatened.

And if that had happened the world would've been short one blog about Judaism and gymnastics.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Review of Male Gymnasts' Hair

I was honored to be asked by Uncle Tim of Uncle Tim Talks Men's Gym to review some of the more "interesting" coifs to come out of the London 2012 gymnastics competition.

I compared one of the looks to Vanilla Ice's unfortunate look from the '90s. For those of you who don't remember and therefore would not know what I'm talking about when I compare Marcel Nguyen's to the hip hop punchline, here's a pic:

You guys tell me--is Nguyen's hair in London at least reminiscent of this iconic look?

Check out Marcel and Co.'s hair over at Uncle Tim's.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Response to Heresy on the High Beam: Dogma vs. Creativity

A friend that I roomed with for the summer in Israel, Tova (the only person I stayed in touch with from that program) started sending me her reactions to my essay collection, Heresy on the High Beam: Confessions of an Unbalanced Jewess

She and I had very similar religious upbringings with somewhat similar dispositions. We both grew up in mainstream/centrist Orthodox communities. We both were artistically and creatively inclined--me towards writing and Tova to art and design. And we both sought movement outlets that at worst were at odds with Orthodoxy and at best, were a very uneasy fit. We both experienced the cognitive dissonance that comes with being passionate about certain pursuits--gymnastics for me and ballet for Tova--and knowing full well that we weren't supposed to be doing it.

What follows is our back and forth in Facebook's chat/message system (published with her permission). Tova gets things started off:

I will forever thank my lucky stars that my mom, a Bais Yaakov girl (who got kicked out for taking the SATs) told me when I was 12 that in ballet class, Shulamis' [our school] rules didn't really hold. I suppose she thought that the ballet company I had belonged to for four years already was far away in Manhattan and that no one would see, and she probably didn't care if they did. I felt a huge internal conflict about being one person at school and a very different person for all of Sunday (especially at performances), but that comment kept me from quitting.  
I was never going to be a professional ballerina and I knew it, but I owe much of who I am today to the ballet I danced from when I was a toddler until I graduated high school. I learned some important lessons early: 
1. How to be a ruthless perfectionist. This later helped me immensely as a designer.
2. How to appreciate art, especially the ingenious beauty of the human form.
3. That physicality isn't inherently bad, no matter how much the Orthodox Jewish world claims to abhor it.
4. Creativity sets you free. Obviously this is true at any age. As a child, it made me a little bit invincible to the disapproving adult world. No one could be the boss of my mind. 
My husband doesn't totally understand why when we've started checking out elementary schools for our son, I say it's a priority for me to send him where they have a good arts program. It's already beyond obvious that our son has more of a scientist's than an artist's perspective on life. (At a magic show a few months ago, he told me magic doesn't exist, and that the tricks were being done by magnets. But anyway...) Even if he never joins a painting class or a band or a gymnastics or judo group, I think it's important that young people not be put in an environment that prizes dogma over discovery. I think you and I certainly spent a lot of time in that kind of place.
I came to Israel so that I wouldn't have to compartmentalize my being. I wanted what I still think is possible: to be Jewish but not feel singled out for it, to also be observant, to design and create things and live a life that holds meaning, to be productive and recognized for my skills, to be spiritual, and to experience wholeness. Because of an attraction to creative pursuits, most of my life, especially my childhood in the Orthodox educational system, was marked by a constant compartmentalization of skills and psyche that was deeply confusing. I don't want to pass it on to the next generation: I want my kids to have a stronger sense of who they are. 
It was also really funny/strange to remember Fayva, Kings Plaza, etc. Ah, Jewish Brooklyn of yesteryear, I do not miss you.

Naturally, I was tickled that she wrote such a thoughtful response. (Though not surprised--Tova is one of the most thoughtful people I know.) This is how I responded:

This was wonderful. I'm really touched that you wrote this. I don't think the balance you describe is really an option in the U.S. And I have no desire to move to Israel. It's not in line with my goals and what I want out of life. At times, I am sad that I can't try and have it all to use the fraught terminology of the moment. But when I tried to do everything, I couldn't and I was miserable. Cause the conventional wisdom has it that halacha trumps all so it never felt like a fair fight. I'm still finding my way in many regards and I feel less and less bad about leaving institutions that I find to be, at their core, based on values that I can't abide by. But it's hard at times and as much as I've gained by going my own way, I know I've lost some stuff too. 
And it's really interesting how being in touch with your physicality really creates conflict as a woman within Orthodoxy. It really gives you an appreciation of your body for what it can do, not what it looks like. I fervently believe that modesty restrictions are just as harmful as naked photo shoots, just as reductionist.
Tova again:

Totally agree about tzniut rules. Most are very damaging in my opinion. I await the day when the concept of tzniut will be taught as body awareness + self esteem development, and not as covering up the unholy. How many school teachers do you think I will have to complain to in the next 12 years for that to happen? 

And again:

I just got to the thing about "picking and choosing." OMG. Bane of my youth. Worst thing they ever taught in me in Brooklyn, and they kept on repeating it, even when I moved out to less-religiously-insane Long Island. Since then I have discovered that picking and choosing is the only goddamned way to stay connected to your life. Picking and choosing is precisely my goal now. I believe it is a pure and honest virtue: the only way to improve yourself, your society, your mind, and especially your religion. The opposite of being "picky and choosy" is "passive and apathetic."...Why is there no club for people like us? 
Me: I guess we're it. We should invite more folks. 
Tova: I will not let you give us uniforms with glitter. Please.

Too bad, Tova. This is what we'll be wearing when we start the revolution.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Something that actually made me blush

Yes, it's possible to make me blush. It just doesn't take the things that make most people uncomfortable--nudity, profanity, Vanessa Ferrari's leotards.

As I was searching for the hilarious site Gym Memes for the instructional video someone made demonstrating how to apply eye make up just like Aliya Mustafina's (don't tell me you didn't think about trying out her look), I came across a gif that made me blush and feel super flattered.

It was reblogged (or retumbled? I'm a Luddite) from What Should Gym Fans Call Me:

Titled "Thank God for the One Sensible Person" (I think anyone who has ever met me would crack up at that characterization, but I'll gladly take it), it read:

writing about gymnastics for a relatively mainstream outlet…
and not only that, but an American one!
Yet another insightful article. 
Everyone must read it and then tweet it to DTim and Hellfi! 

Thank you so much! It's been such a pleasure to get to write about gymnastics during the Olympics the way I had always wanted to see it covered for years. I think gymnastics is just as interesting as any other sport, and if only the media would take the time to appreciate the complexity and find the nuance in it just as they do other professional sports that are more popular and mainstream. Especially because the women's side is more popular, it presents so many opportunities to discuss feminism and women's general place in the culture. (I like to think of Secretary of State's Hilary Clinton badass response to an interviewers question about her favorite designers--Would you ask a man that question, she answered--as a companion to the conversation around "diva." Just as a male politician wouldn't get asked such an inane question, a male athlete wouldn't be maligned for expressing basic competitive drive and related emotions as Mustafina had been.)

If only mainstream writers would be able to get past the athletes' youth and size, we could get a much more interesting discussion going.

Bully Commentators

The folks at Jest have heard our complaints and compiled a clip package of some of the worst of NBC's mean commentators (though none of the "diva" comments made the cut).

H/t Gymnastics Coaching

Aly Raisman, Jewish Ambassador?

It always pleases me when I get the opportunity to recognize my blog's entire name. For the last month or so, the focus has mostly been on the gymnastics part, but today I wrote a post for Jewcy that addresses the whole thing about the Jewish community's cynical attempts to use Ms. Raisman as the newest spokeswoman for American Jewry and charge her with the task of engaging young, disinterested Jews.

I know it's tempting to sieze Raisman, a fabulous gymnast who has carried herself well throughout her career, and try to make into some sort of Jewish role model who espouses particularly Jewish values. But aside from doing a floor routine to "Hava Nagila" (something at least four other elites have done) and voicing support the moment of silence after her victory on floor exercise, the values she seems to express seem to be universal ones of sportswomanship and general "golden rule" stuff--not necessarily Jewish ones.

I'm not saying that Raisman shouldn't inspire young Jews and make them feel pride in her accomplishments. But don't put the onus of engaging young Jews on a teenager whose religious and personal beliefs haven't been clearly stated and are probably still developing.

But if you must place this responsibility on Raisman, at least do the following:

As an ardent gymnastics fan and blogger, I’d support turning Raisman into some kind of Jewish figurehead if, in turn, the Jewish world had to start caring about my beloved sport year round, instead of once every four years. It’s a two way street, folks. This means that her next competition (should she decide to compete after this year) would have to be covered by all the Jewish media outlets even if she changes her floor music—which she undoubtedly will since she’s been using “Hava” for two competitive seasons now. If we want her time and unwavering support, it’s time we gave her ours. (I’d like to nominate myself as official Jewish media correspondent to all gymnastics meets so we don’t miss an angle and opportunity for “engagement.”)

Seriously Jews--lets start an outreach project based on gymnastics and I'll quit all of my gigs and devote myself to this full time.

You can read the rest of the post here

Monday, August 13, 2012

David Rakoff's Last Dance

Last week, essayist and author David Rakoff passed away at age 47 from cancer. Since then, I've been listening to old podcasts--he was an early and frequent contributor to This American Life--and rereading his excellent writing, especially his later pieces where he dealt frankly and compassionately about aging and mortality, grounding it in his experience of his own illness.

Unlike a lot of writing about illness and overcoming, Rakoff's words never rang falsely optimistic.  He argued for the right to your negative feelings. Yet at the same time, he never railed against the unfairness of the situation. This is what he said in interviews in the months leading up to his death:

"Writer Melissa Bank said it best: 'The only proper answer to 'Why me?' is 'Why not you?' The universe is anarchic and doesn't care about us, and unfortunately, there's no greater rhyme or reason as to why it would be me. And since there is no answer as to why me, it's not a question I feel really entitled to ask. 
"And in so many other ways, I'm so far ahead of the game. I have access to great medical care. My general baseline health, aside from the general unpleasantness of the cancer, is great. And it's great because I'm privileged to have great health. And I live in a country where I'm not making sneakers for a living, and I don't live near a toxic waste dump. 
"You can't win all the contests and then lose at one contest and say, 'Why am I not winning this contest as well?' It's random. So truthfully, again, do I wish it weren't me? Absolutely. I still can't make that logistic jump to thinking there's a reason why it shouldn't be me."

In this clip from a live recording of This American Life, Rakoff discussed losing feeling in his arm, following a surgery to remove a tumor. While as always, he humorously described how doing daily chores became more annoying, he more touchingly talked about how he hadn't really been able to dance since losing feeling and motion in this arm. Except that recently, he did some exercises at a makeshift barre, and discussed this thusly: "The gestures themselves, their repetition, their slowness--it all hollows one out."

Shortly thereafter, he stopped speaking mid-sentence and starts to dance, slowly and carefully. And it was wonderful. After spending two weeks watching the athletically gifted perform at the top of their game, I can honestly say that what Rakoff pulls off is more beautiful than anything I saw at the Olympics. (Dance begins at 11:35 but you should really watch the whole thing. I guarantee you that won't regret it. Have I ever steered you wrong?)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Baby Aly Raisman

A video of a 12-year-old Aly Raisman competing at the 2007 Parkette Invitational. Interestingly, she showed a bit of sass back then as she competed to Catalina Ponor's 2004 floor music (and used the same ending pose the Romanian Olympic champion had used).

She already has some serious chops as a young kid, including a double pike and an Arabian double front she competed at the Olympics in an incredible combination. Check it out. (H/t Brigid McCarthy)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Men's Rhythmic Gymnastics?

Today's New York Times has an article about the lack of men's participation in rhythmic gymnastics due its gendered associations:

The stigma of the term rhythmic gymnastics poses “a huge marketing challenge,” said Mario Lam, a martial arts and gymnastics instructor in Canada. Lam uses the term “martialgym” to help avoid the connotation that it is a female-only sport, he said.

Anyway, here's a clip from another sport that men have historically not participated in at the Olympic level (or any level? I haven't looked into it)--men's synchronized swimming. 

Unfortunately it's impossible to find the whole SNL skit online (another NBC crime against the Olympics). Here's a snippet from it. It's amazing.

Alexandrov on Mustafina

The Russian coaches, like the athletes, are far more interesting than their American/Western counterparts in interviews. Here is a translation of one conducted with Alexander Alexandrov, who speaks openly--a reporter's dream.

When asked about Aliya Mustafina's supposedly difficult nature, Alexandrov has this to say about the so-called "diva":

Bilozerchev was also difficult. I had to work with Boginskaya, a pain! Do you think Komova is easy to work with? I don’t know why there’s the idea that Mustafina is the “bad guy". Grishina seems the ideal girl. She’s not easy at all. And it’s very difficult to work with Komova, but no one mentions that! Аliya came to see me after she’d won the bronze medal in the All Around and she told me: "Do you know what the journalists said to me? That Valentina Rodionenko had said that I only had a chance on bars".  What could I answer? The interview took place before the Olympics. If I were her, I would have apologized.

Go Alexandrov!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A tribute to a caring coach

Today is my former gymnastics coach's birthday. In honor of the occasion, I'm going to write about a little anecdote that illustrates, contrary to popular opinion, how being tough on an athlete does not mean that the coach doesn't care deeply for her as a person.

In my book (more shameless plugging--Heresy on the High Beam can be purchased here), I wrote about how I learned about embodied feminism from my coach "Nina." But she was also the first to spot my scoliosis and alert my mother, which set into motion the whole chain of events leading to my spinal fusion surgery in Boston.

Needless to say, I was despondent. Not only was I scared about undergoing risky surgery on my spine, the sort that carries a small risk of paralysis. I was also devastated that I would no longer be able to arch my back anymore. This would rob me of many basic moves including back handsprings.

My mom and I spent over a week in the hospital in Boston so I didn't get many visitors. (I'm from Brooklyn but we went to Boston Children's because that's where one of the best surgeons was at the time.) On Saturday, at the time known as Shabbos in my life, a nurse poked her head in to let us know about a visitor calling up from the reception area since we didn't pick up our phone. My mom and I looked at one another, confused. Who could be visiting us on Shabbos of all days, we wondered. The nurse informed us that it was someone named "Nina."

Instantly, I perked up. And Nina didn't come alone. She brought her friend with her, not merely to keep her company during the five hour drive from New York in July heat in a car with broken A/C. Her friend was a dancer who had also undergone fusion, but was happy, healthy, and a dancer. This woman tried to lift my spirits that the surgery hadn't sapped her of all of her physical talents and abilities. She had learned how to adapt and move on. I didn't take her advice immediately--I still tried to return to gymnastics--but eventually, I started dancing and found the experience to be a healing one.

Years later, if you bring up Nina's name in front of my mother, she immediately recalls this incident and asks how she is. (Weirdly enough, we ended up living near one another in Brooklyn.) She may have been tough on me and everyone else she coached, we all knew that she cared about us deeply regardless of whether or not we could flips on demand.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A defense of Russian divas

I consider myself a fairly nationalistic gymnastics fan--I root pretty hard for the Americans (even if I can appreciate the fine qualities of other countries' gymnast.) But recently, I've found myself defending the U.S.' chief rival a lot.

So why am I suddenly defending the Russians from detractors? Because if there is one thing I hate more than American gymnasts not winning medals, it's misogyny.

Specifically, I'm talking about the misogyny implied in the "diva" label. The term can be positive, but the way that it's used by Americans in general and NBC in particular was decidedly negative. It was only leveled at the Russians and generally for relatively innocuous behavior that was deemed "dramatic" in a feminine way. It was their coded way of calling the Russian women bitches for the sin of expressing their true emotional reactions.

How should they have handled the disappointment of silver and a poor team performance on the floor exercise? If tears are held up as diva-like behavior then what of Jordyn Wieber's tears after failing to qualify to the individual all around? Personally, I think her tears were a perfectly expected reaction to disappointment. But why are hers acceptable and Komova's a problem?

There are two problems. First, there is the narrow spectrum of emotions that are allotted to female gymnasts--basically, they can be only happy or sad. Certainly not angry. Never angry. Cause you can't be adorable if you're angry and if you're not adorable, then why are people paying attention? (This is not to denigrate gymnasts who are bubbly and adorable on the competition floor--if that's how you're feeling and you're being true to who you are then I'm pleased to share in your enthusiasm.)

But in general, there's an unwillingness to accept emotional reactions that make us uncomfortable, no matter how valid those reactions are. We don't like being around angry people and so when we see someone reacting with anger, we are quick to disqualify this reaction as uncalled for. I personally think that being angry with oneself after falling at the Olympic Games is a perfectly reasonable reaction. I can't fault Aliya Mustafina for not wanting to be coddled afterwards. That's not how she wanted to handle the situation. Why must she concern herself with our preferences when her coach seems to get over it?

Read the rest of my rant here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Who Killed the Radio Star? I Did.

Today, I appeared on the CBC's arts & culture program, Q to discuss my article in the Atlantic about Olga Korbut's 40th anniversary and the role of girls and women in the sport. You can listen to my thoughts and New York-ish accent here.

One caveat: This was my first radio/recording opportunity and I was quite nervous. As a result, I misspoke early on before settling in, saying "Helsinki" when I meant to say "Melbourne." Please forgive me for this. And may God have mercy on my soul.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Comedic Gymnastics Commentary from the Aussies

Coach Rick has posted a hilarious video of (deliberately) comedic gymnastics commentary from the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

Check out the insightful commentary from Aussie comedians Roy & H.G. Like Rick pointed out, it's better than anything the NBC trio could come up with.

"It was a compost bucket hurled on the kitchen floor!" is much more entertaining way of saying, to borrow Tim's language, "That was a disaster."

Friday, August 3, 2012

Do the Douglas

The ever hilarious and talented Spanny Tampson created the perfect tribute to just crowned Olympic all-around champion, Gabby Douglas.

Check it out and bask in her Dougie-ness.

In which I criticize NBC's coverage of gymnastics and state the obvious

Another day, another Deadspin story. Well, actually it went up yesterday but I'm only getting around to blogging it today because after writing two stories a day, I'm burned out. Today is my first "off" day since Saturday. Someone else has got trampoline covered.

This time I write about the awfulness that is NBC's Olympic gymnastics coverage. Easy target, you're probably thinking. Yes it is. The degree of difficulty on this one was low but the fun was high. (I guess in this setup fun=execution.)

NBC, by contrast, produced fluff pieces that made Deva and Round Lake, the Romanian and Russian team training centers, look like Dickensian orphanages where families abandoned their athletically gifted children—while showing America's Dominique Moceanu playing on a seesaw. (Seriously, what 14-year-old do you know that still plays on a seesaw?)

A friend asked Moceanu on Twitter about that seesaw moment and she responded that she was asked to. Of course it was NBC orchestrated cuteness. No 14-year-old would've thought to do this without some guidance.

Also on Twitter, someone suggested that I commentate alongside Olympic spectator and Tweet-extraordinaire Samuel L. Jackson, who's been expressing his enthusiasm and insight all week on social media.

It would seriously be a dream come true to talk gymnastics with Jackson. A dream I didn't even know I had until two hours ago.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

An Olympic article round-up

Sorry that this post won't include any new insights. My brain is starting to short circuit and we're only four days into the competition.

I'm blogging a TON over at Deadspin so check out that site every day for my stuff. I will try to post links here when I can.

Here are some of the better/bigger pieces I've written over the course of the week. I did a review of Shawn Johnson and Dominique Moceanu's memoirs and how they are emblematic of how female gymnasts are represented in the media. I also wondered (in print) as to why men's gymnastics isn't as popular as it should be.

I also wrote a short guide to watching the women's events--read it and you won't have to pester your nerdy gymnastics fans to ask how the scoring system works.

Finally, I've been recapping every day of the competition. You can read my meet reports here, here, here, here, and here