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An Interview

14 Dec

My Favorite Part

One of the best and most difficult aspects of journalism is the interview process. It’s a challenge because while it is up to you as a journalist to get your interviewee to speak openly, the responses the person offers back may not be what you need.

I was fortunate to interview so many amazing women while conducting my study on impressions of female athleticism in high school and college. I received so many answers, and I was surprised to find some of them did not even notice how successful female athletes are described on highly masculine terms until I asked if they noticed or if such language bothered them.

Other women believe they were not stereotyped as female athletes, nor do female athletes face oppression now, and while I disagreed with much of what they said, I was fascinated by their impressions.

Confessions of a Former Athlete

While my study does use some of the quotes from my interviewees, much of what they said did not make it in, but I would like to share the Q and A I did with Sarah Gistenson, UI senior and former lacrosse player.

Aubrey Huff (me): How did you feel about lacrosse before you started playing?

Sarah Gistenson: That women’s lacrosse was like field hockey, meaning that it wasn’t a “real sport” or that it was a sport for girls who don’t really do sports.

AH: Did those impressions change after you joined the team?

SG: Yes, my impressions changed. I realized that it is actually challenging and requires the same sort of athletic abilities and skills as other more mainstream sports

AH: Like what?

SG: It required a lot of intense practice and speed as well as strategy.

AH: How was lacrosse received at your school?

SG: As a women’s sport I felt that it was not taken seriously. It did not help that we had just started this sport at my school my freshman year of high school, and also that we had to wear skirts for our uniforms. This notion of not being a “real” sport was enforced by the fact that we rehearsed in the extra field by the parking lot instead of having a real practice space.

AH: You wore skirts to play? What was that like?

SG: Yeah we did. It was…uh…breezy. (laughs)

AH: I bet. How do you think female athletes are defined in the athletic community?

SG: I think that women athletes are put into two categories. One, they are defined as being masculine or like men or two, they are not taken seriously and the sports that they participate in. They are seen as lesser versions of men’s sports, gymnastics or softball for example, when really they require the same amount of talent and skill.

AH: Which category did you fit into?

SG: A little of both. Lacrosse was hard, and players were not delicate, but like I said, we weren’t taken seriously.

AH: Did these impressions hinder your ability to view yourself as an athlete?

SG: I felt like an athlete but I did not feel that other people viewed me this way for a lot of the reasons I said before. We were a new sport, and also, compared to men’s lacrosse, women’s lacrosse is much less aggressive and has much stricter rules about contact, and I think is therefore seen as a diluted version of the men’s sport.

AH: What are some other impressions of lacrosse that you noticed while playing?

SG: I think that this sport is an example of the two categories that women are put in. In general, I think that the players are stereotyped as being “butch” or masculine and as having anger issues. For example, at the end of mean girls they order Regina George to play lacrosse to work out her anger issues and it shows her hitting people with her stick. But at my school, like I said, it was seen as a “girl’s” sport and wasn’t really taken seriously as a legitimate sport.

AH: How did you and your team disprove these generalizations, if at all?

SG: I think that as a team we disproved these generalizations by getting people to come watch our games and by improving year after year and going to tournaments.

AH: Do you feel women are treated differently from men in the athletic community? How so?

SG: Definitely. For women I don’t think that being athletic is seen as an asset, whereas with men not only is it an asset but it’s something that they strive for. When you are a woman nobody really cares if you have a talent for a particular sport. Also, for women the prospect of continuing in the sport is not necessarily talked about or encouraged. For example, it is much more acceptable for a man to go to college to play a sport than for a woman. For women sports is not seen as a future.

Conclusion

Sarah had such a strong voice as a devoted athlete. She was the first of my interviews, and I enjoyed her passion and understood her frustration. What surprised and delighted me the most about this project was though each female athlete possessed differing opinions, their all had a desire to assert the strength and athleticism of women in the sporting community. It is women such as these that make me believe change is possible.

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Chloe Zwiacher

10 Dec

I’ve spent the last few months of this blog introducing you to some of the amazing professional female athletes from past and present. But who says fame is a necessity to be inspired by someone? My good friend and sister Chloe Zwiacher has been a huge inspiration to me this semester.

An athlete on the rowing team here at UIowa, she was injured recently, yet doesn’t give up. As well as being on the rowing team, she is a full-time student as well as a member of the executive board for Alpha Epsilon Phi. Her never-wavering positive attitude helped me through the difficult times of the semester, and her athleticism has helped get me off my ass.

Without further ado, here is a story I wrote on Chloe earlier this semester.

Chloe Zwaicher is in pain.

Zwaicher and her team are only five strokes into a 2K practice, with 1,950 meters to go.

She can hardly breath. Her muscles scream in protest, but she does not think of stopping or slowing down. Eight other women are counting on her, and letting even one of them down would be unthinkable. So she keeps going.

Zwaicher is a starboard rower on the University of Iowa Women’s Rowing Team, and every time she rows is agony.

“If you’re doing it right, it’s sheer pain,” said Zwaicher, 21, an English major in her third year at the university.

It seems masochistic considering the painfulness of the sport that Zwaicher would be a member of the rowing team for all three years of her college experience. She speaks of pain so intense; she can hardly bear it.

Still, Zwaicher never considers slowing down and tries to work through the pain.

“Chloe is very driven athletically,” said Amy Dalkoff, one of Zwaicher’s sorority sisters.

Working through the pain became a greater challenge last year, when Zwaicher was injured after a particularly grueling workout.

Zwaicher always had a tense spot on her back, but that day it seized up and has yet to entirely heal.

The injury is a big stumbling block, according to Zwaicher. The nature of it allows her to row comfortably in water but is in pain on the ergometer. That is the machine rowers are tested on.

“You know her injury brings her down, but you can never tell,” said Erin Sodawasser, an injured portside rower on the team.

Zwaicher’s injury prevented her from making it into the First 8 last year, which is the top boat. Instead, she made it into the First 4, the third best.

It was all right with Zwaicher though. The First 4 made it to the Grand Finals. They placed fourth of six teams.

“It was extremely good based on Iowa history and the teams present,” Zwaicher said.

Dedication is what Zwaicher claims to be the most important attribute of a good rower, and it is a necessary quality. The team meets six days a week at 6 a.m. to practice, with an additional hour of weight training three days a week, but Zwaicher doesn’t complain.

“She’s the one who brings the team together,” said Haylie Miller, a portside rower and one of Zwaicher’s teammates.

That love is palpable every time Chloe rows, Sodawasser said.

Unfortunately, Chloe does not row as much because of her injury. It kept her from being allowed to compete in the team’s first regatta last Saturday and may keep her from winter training in Florida.*

“Some of the injured people don’t get to go,” said Sodawasser.

Despite the setbacks, Zwaicher credits the sport with improving her outlook on school and life.

“After being on the rowing team, everything else seems a little bit easier,” Zwaicher said.

Zwaicher is eager to heal and continue devoting her body to rowing. Her goal is to make the First 8 this spring.

“Rowing has been so good to me. I wanna give back to that.”

*I was excited to learn recently that Chloe is going to be in Florida to train this winter. She too is excited for the experience and is enjoying rubbing in my face in the trip to Disney World she will take while I slip and slide on the ice in Illinois.

On the Fenc(ing team)

16 Nov

Katie Jensen is speeding. The time glows green in the darkness: 8:15. Fencing practice began 15 minutes ago, and we’re still on the wrong side of the river.

“Where the fuck are you” is the text Jensen reads aloud while turning at a yellow light. Jensen speeds, all the while chatting happily about her classes, what grad schools she’s looking at (Jensen is a psychology major) and her boyfriend. Britney Spears’ nasally tones play in the background. Amid the lively chatter, bad music and hairpin turns, I feel sure my lunch would have been lost had it not been long past dinnertime.

We finally arrive at the parking structure next to the Field House. The dim lighting, reminiscent of that of prison movies, illuminates Jensen’s car for the first time since I got in. A browning banana peel rests on Jensen’s dash. Some banana still remains. Several backpacks and bags stole my legroom on the ride over. The backseat is also crowded with bags, jackets and articles of colorful clothing.

I unfold myself from the car as Jensen steps out and promptly takes off her shirt, replacing it with a University of Iowa sweatshirt. Popping the trunk, Jensen removes her fencing bag, which overpowers her 5’1’’ frame. The bag is shaped like a guitar case. I mention that to Jensen.

“People ask me if I play in a band all the time,” said Jensen.

We hurry into the Field House. Jensen walks quickly, erect, as if the heavy fencing bag is not dwarfing her. As we enter, Jensen asks me if I remembered my university ID, otherwise, I won’t be let in. After a brief moment of panic, I find my card in the bowels of my pocket.

We show our IDs and pass through into the Field House. It’s been years since I’ve entered. It’s poorly lit, and the humidity surprises me, but Jensen is unfazed and pushes the button for the elevator.

Exiting at the fourth floor, we turn the corner. Buzzers sporadically sound. The clank of metal on metal grows louder. We finally enter a room bright enough to briefly make my eyes unfocused, which is filled with over 20 men and women, all in white uniforms, all wearing brightly colored socks.

“Tournaments are like crazy sock competitions,” Jensen says when I point this out.

Jensen leaves to once again change clothes, leaving me alone with her teammates. I feel flashes of guilt when her fencing comrades approach me, declaring their excitement for finally getting a story in the Daily Iowan.

Finally, Jensen returns, and I trail behind her towards where the foil-wielding fencers practice. As Jensen waits her turn to fence, she talks and makes jokes with her teammates. I’m surprised to hear that most conversation has little to do with fencing.

“We talk about food, sex and winning,” said Christie Boxer, a third year fencer. “But not so much about winning.”

Turning from the conversation, I focus on the actual fencing. Surprised to find little weapon contact, the grace of the competitors’ movements entrances me.

Finally it’s Jensen’s turn to fence. She faces a beginner with whom she hopes to share her four years’ experience with the sport. When the fencer supervising the practice match shouts “fence,” Jensen and the beginner start their dance. Jensen uses her foil far more than her teammates. Her opponent receives a blow to the torso, and the buzzer sounds. This continues for four more rounds.

When she’s finished, Jensen and I retreat to the hallway, where several teammates chatted animatedly, their conversation again lacking any reference to fencing or food or winning.

“Our sex drives are all pretty high on the team,” Jensen laughed.

I turn the conversation back to vertical athleticism and ask Jensen her favorite part about fencing. Her darkly lined eyes light up as she describes creating a rhythm with an opponent and then breaking it. She loves the look on their faces when she succeeds in surprising them.

I’m surprised that facial expressions can be seen through the regulation helmets.

“It’s just mesh,” Jensen said and handed me her helmet to try for myself.

I squeeze it on, but I pay less attention to my visibility and more attention to the fact my chin is sticking out the bottom of a helmet which typically almost reaches the clavicle. I manage to yank it off while Jensen laughs. She later mentions she wears a child’s size helmet.

As it gets later, less and less fencing takes place. Rather, it is a whirlwind of conversation and insults delivered so efficiently these fencers must be family.

The clock speeds up, and soon Jensen and I are the only ones left. We’re both talking openly about our lives, classes and other topics I’ve learned are typical at fencing practice.

My notebook has long since been put away.

Jensen has long since stopped feeling like a source.

When we realize the time and make our way back to Jensen’s car, I admire the closeness so evident with the team and recall what one of Jensen’s teammates said to me while Jensen was fencing.

“Fencing seems like an individual sport, but we come together and offer lots of support,” said Steven Ewart, a fencer for four years.

Jensen agrees, and the conversation does not stilt on the way back to my dorm. As I get out of her car, I politely express my appreciation for letting me into her circle. Jensen laughs and jokingly calls me a ”fencing groupie.”

As she drives away, I smile. Because though I’m no groupie, this was definitely not my last fencing practice.

 

 

 

Workouts of the Weak

6 Oct

You know that super cliched phrase “Put your money where your mouth is?” Well, I’m about to tell you to do it.

It’s no secret of our culture that women are perceived as weaker, less capable of intense athleticism. Well, I found a site that talks about the workouts of six Olympians, and guess what? They’re all women.

Did you know gymnast Alicia Sacramone often spends seven hours in the gym? Triathlete Sarah Haskins five hours? And when was the last time you did that?

So check out these workouts; try their tips, and see how “weak” women really are.

Fair Fighting

6 Oct

I was walking down my hallway in the wee hours the other night. As usual, a campus police officer/security officer was patrolling. It was a woman. My first thought was that a woman would be little help protecting the members of my floor if need be.

Wow, bad right?

The expectations and beliefs of ideal femininity are so deeply ingrained into my system that I mentally bet against my own gender. It’s horrifying that women have been so deeply conditioned to believe women are lesser in every way. Hell, this blog is about feminism and I find myself believing some of the baser stereotypes. Needless to say, I’m completely disgusted with myself and cultural norms. To help change my way of thinking and maybe yours too, here’s a list of women I’d bet on it a fight.

  • Erin Toughill
  • Roxanne Modafferi
  • Laila Ali
  • Sarah Kaufman
  • Cristiane Santos
  • Ziyi Zhang-Yes, technically she’s an actress, but did you see her in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon? She kicks ass.
  • Megumi Fujii
  • Hisae Watanabe