la course by le tour de france

Please STOP comparing female athletes to men like it’s a compliment

To sports commentators, but in truth, the general public itself: Please STOP comparing female athletes to men like it’s a compliment!

I’ve been the tallest in my class for the entirety of elementary school by at least an inch. Not just the tallest girl, period, the tallest over all. In P.E., people often told me this: ‘’You’re good for a girl.’’

That hurt. I wasn’t just ‘’good’’. I was only considered good as long as the ‘’girl’’ part was included- even if I beat my male classmates by a mile. But what was worse, way worse, was watching sports with my family. My family are huge fans of cycle sports and ice-skating competition. The tour de France? The Olympics? You betcha we were watching.

I disliked it immensely. Not because I was a girl, whatever some opinions of it may be, but because watching women sports was awful to me. I put my hopes and dreams in those women, saw them go, strive for the finish line. I was WITH them.

The moment one pulled ahead, I heard: ‘’Look at her go like a man!’’

It was a cheery comment, meant as a compliment. I could hear it in the commentator’s voice. But I will never forget what it did to me. It was like a door slamming shut in my face. No matter what you ever do, the best you can do will only be called as good as a man. Not the best. What you’re striving for is impossible.

By now I’m not an eight-year-old girl anymore, obviously. I stopped growing at twelve, but still was one of the tallest five in my class for years. I didn’t do great in sports. I’d given up on that a long time ago. What I did do was grow mentally. I’ve been through hardships, felt pain, and have talked. Opened my mouth a whole hell lot. I haven’t been silent, I’ve tried to be kind, and believe I generally am. But I’m also angry.

Angry because yesterday Annemiek van Vleuten became first in the women’s La Course by Le Tour de France. And again, I cheered. I was about nose-to-screen in those last five minutes, when I heard the commentator. ‘’She’s biking like a man!’’

And all I could think of were all those eight-year-old girls watching right now, who heard that comment. Who might decide to just give up because of it. Because the girls who did NOT give up would face so much more of these comments. Because the others might receive less of them, but still would find the same prejudice in other places.  Because my brother cycles, and the girls in his training group kick ASS, and the thought that anyone would make such a comment about them, no matter how well-meant, makes me furious.

Yes, men have a natural advantage. But don’t you dare use that as an excuse to compare women to men. Because those girls lift me up. I cheer for them, feel for them, and know many others do too.

It makes me wonder what I might have achieved if I hadn’t given up. If I’d spit in their faces and done it my own way. I don’t think I would have done well in competition, mainly because I just don’t like competition unless it’s in a team, but who knows? Maybe I would have liked it better. And how many other women ask themselves that question?

So please, don’t disrespect female athletes, or any women at all, by comparing them to men. It’s not a compliment. It’s not.