How sports preps women for leadership and power

By Caitlin Kelly

I don’t normally look to the sober-sided Financial Times for career advice, especially on the value of sport(s) for women who aim high professionally. But here’s Gillian Tett:

English: Dilma Rousseff with her running mate ...
English: Dilma Rousseff with her running mate for the 2010 Brazilian presidential election, Michel Temer. Português do Brasil: Dilma Rousseff, candidata a Presidência da República, com o companheiro de chapa Michel Temer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In recent months Ernst & Young, the American consultancy, has been analysing sporting activity among senior female executives and leaders. And it has discovered that the higher the executive level, the more
likely it is that a woman played sport at high school or college. Most notably, some 19 out of 20 women who sit in the “C-suite” – holding the title “chief something” – were sporty as a teenager; indeed, seven out of 10 still play sport as a working adult, while six out of 10 played sport at university. One in eight C-suite executives played sport professionally. However, among the middle levels of working women, athletic skill was lower: just a third of mid-level women, for example, played sport at university..

A few examples:

IMF head Christine Lagarde (a former member of France’s synchronised swimming team), Condoleezza Rice (a keen figure skater in her youth) and Hillary Clinton (school baseball). Or Dilma Rousseff (the Brazilian president, who played volleyball to a high level), Indra Nooyi (the CEO of PepsiCo was a keen cricket player), Ellen Kullman (CEO at Dupont, who played basketball to a high level at college)…

Secretary Rice meets with newly appointed Afgh...
Secretary Rice meets with newly appointed Afghan Foreign Minister Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta. State Department photo by Hamid Hamidi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Girls who play sport at school learn at a young age that it is acceptable to compete aggressively. They also discover that success does not depend on looking good and that it can be acceptable to take pleasure in winning. ..Being an athlete is one of the few socially accepted ways for teenage girls to compete, without peer criticism.

I’m such a huge fan of girls and women being athletic!

I’ve been sporty since childhood — when I had no choice in the matter, because we did sports after school every day at boarding school and all day long at summer camp.

Some of the sports I’ve played, and some I continue to play:

softball, hiking, cycling, downhill and cross-country skiing, kayaking, canoeing, ice skating, fencing, golf, tennis, squash, badminton, volleyball, basketball, swimming (competitive), diving, snorkel, horseback riding, sailing, solo and in a racing team (12 f00t to 60 foot boats).

I also studied ballet from the age of 12 to my late 20s, jazz dance in my 20s, and I still do a jazz dance class every Monday morning.

I include yoga and any form of dance in the same  category of “sports” — requiring discipline, flexibility, training, practice, strength and determination to master them.

For all the endless paranoia/obsession about the size and shape of our bodies, what we really need is to be strong and limber, at 5, 15, 45 or 65.

If it weren’t for my athletic activities, I wouldn’t be able to control my weight, manage my stress, tap into my creativity or relate nearly as easily to the many men and women I meet who are sporty. I can always find someone to go for a hike with or play golf with my husband or take a jazz, modern or ballet class. For many years, I crewed every summer on more than a dozen racing sailboats on Long Island Sound, often trimming jib, a job requiring lightning reflexes and strong arms, shoulders and hands.

I moved to New York when I was 30, knowing no one, with no formal American education, no friends, relatives or a job. To stay busy while re-making my life, I took up saber fencing, coached by a two-time Olympian, and was nationally ranked for four years.

I learned a tremendous amount in  the salle and on that narrow strip, all of which has helped me in life, work and relationships:

How to control my temper (at least during a bout!)

How to stay focused for 20 minutes, crouched in en garde, on a minute object to the exclusion of all distractions

How to compete with confidence against opponents far bigger, stronger, taller and more experienced

How to lose (and not freak out)

How to win (and not gloat)

How to buy a bit of time, even at nationals in the direct elimination round (tie your shoe)

How to control an opponent

How to stay focused and compete effectively even when injured and in pain

How to accept criticism and feedback from my coach

How to initiate an attack quickly and decisively

There is no doubt that my strength, stamina and flexibility still help me stay fit and strong in a crazy business in a difficult economy.

On the crummiest day I know I can still shoot hoops or swing a driver with the young ‘uns. I can hit to the outfield and pop a golf ball 150 yards.

Do you play sports? Do your daughters?

How do you think it has affected them or changed their lives?

Girls With Enemies Do Better

Interesting study cited in The New York Times:

In a series of recent experiments, a group of psychologists at the University of California, Los Angeles, recorded mutual dislike among 2,003 middle school students. Unlike previous studies on the same topic, these researchers also compared children who reciprocated a fellow classmate’s dislike with those who did not. Students who were not named at all on anyone’s blacklist were excluded from this analysis.

This comparison found that the girls who returned classmates’ hostility scored significantly higher on peers’ and teachers’ ratings of social competence. They were more popular and widely admired. The boys who did the same scored highly on teachers’ ratings of classroom behavior.

“You have several options, as I see it, when you become aware of someone else’s antipathy,” said Melissa Witkow, now at Willamette University in Oregon, the psychologist who led the study. “You could be extra nice, and that might be good. But it could also be awkward or disappointing, and a waste of time. You could choose to ignore the person. Or you can engage.”

She said the study suggested that “when someone dislikes you, it may be adaptive to dislike them back.”

I’ve blogged here about being bullied and how traumatic that was for me. But being disliked — which happens to all of us — is different from being bullied.

I was sent off to boarding school at eight and summer camp at the same age. An only child, I wasn’t used to being teased or fighting with siblings, so running into haters was a new experience. And, when you share a room for many months with four or six other girls — one or more of whom are nasty — you’ve got nowhere to run or hide. The closet? The bathroom?

I still remember a blonde girl named Stephanie and a dark-haired Kathy who were mean. Mean! But it was sort of fun to throw their energy right back at them. It’s not pleasant to discover not everyone likes you, but if they did, you’d probably be way too accommodating. Whenever Stephanie started sharpening her tongue, I was ready with a retort. I actually bit Kathy’s finger once, hard, when she was stupid enough to stick in my face and dare me to. She didn’t make that mistake twice.

Fighting for yourself — when not against a team of relentlessly toxic bullies — is a useful skill. Girls are too often taught to “be nice” when being tough, smart and ready and willing to defend yourself, verbally or even physically, is a better option. Like knowing how to cook or clean or change a tire, it’s a useful life skill.

Kill Off The Girl Babies And This Is What Happens — China's 'Gendercide'

People in imperial China - Qing dynasty
Image via Wikipedia

Chilling,  powerful report from Peter Hitchens, (brother of fellow journalist and author Christopher Hitchens, better known in the U.S.) in The Mail on Sunday. (Try to ignore his conservative, off-message digs at feminism and homosexuality because the rest of the piece is worth it):

By the year 2020, there will be 30 million more men than women of marriageable age in this giant empire, so large and so different (its current population is 1,336,410,000) that it often feels more like a separate planet than just another country. Nothing like this has ever happened to any civilisation before.

The nearest we can come to it is the sad shortage of men after the First World War in Britain, France, Russia and Germany, and the many women denied the chance of family life and motherhood as a result…

I visited several state comprehensive schools, primary and secondary, in Danzhou and in the nearby countryside.

These were not official visits, nothing had been prearranged, and European foreigners are so rare in this part of China that the children (and often their friendly teachers too) were enthralled to see that the Europeans they call ‘long-noses’ really do live up to the name.

But as the children stared and chattered and giggled  –  and pulled at their own little noses to make fun of my enormous one  –  I quietly counted them, while my colleague Richard photographed them.

And in every cheerful classroom there was a slightly sinister shortage of girls, as if we had wandered into some sort of science fiction fantasy.

We had come to this region because of rumours that it has the most startling ratio of boys to girls in the country. One academic source has suggested there could be a ratio of 168 males for every 100 girls in Danzhou.

Something is clearly out of kilter. In one class of ten-year-olds, only 20 out of 80 were girls. In another classroom, it was 25 out of 63.

It is possible that some girls were being kept away from school because their parents did not think it worth sending them, but even so, the inequality was enormous and perplexing…

What lingers in the mind, in the midst of this surging economic and political titan with its dozens of vast, ultra-modern cities, its advanced plans to land men on the Moon, its utopian schemes to control population and its unstoppable power over the rest of the world, is the inconsolable misery of the bereft parents, the pinched squalor of the places where they must try to live a happy life, the jaunty wickedness of the cheap abortion clinics and the classrooms full of the ghosts of all those girls who were never born.

I found this piece, and the cultural disposability of girls, of future women, nauseating and heartbreaking.

If you live in the United States, almost everything you buy was made in China. They own our debt. They own our future.

These are their values.

From Wikipedia:

These practices arise in areas where cultural norms value male children over female children.[1] Societies that practice sex selection in favor of males are quite common, especially in countries like the People’s Republic of China, Korea, Taiwan, and India.[1][2]

In 2005, 90 million women were estimated to be “missing” in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan, South Korea and Taiwan alone, apparently due to sex-selective abortion.[2][3] The existence of the practice appears to be determined by culture, rather than by economic conditions, because such deviations in sex ratios do not exist in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.[2]

Sex-selective abortion was rare before the late 20th century, because of the difficulty of determining the sex of the fetus before birth, but ultrasound has made such selection easier. However, prior to this, parents would alter family sex compositions through infanticide. It is believed to be responsible for at least part of the skewed birth statistics[2] in favor of males in mainland China, India, Taiwan, and South Korea. Even today, there are no scientifically proven and commercialized practices that allow gender detection during the first trimester, and ultrasound is fairly unreliable until approximately the 20th week of pregnancy. Consequently, sex selection often requires late term abortion of a fetus close to the limit of viability, making the practice frowned-upon even within the pro-choice community.

'Chicken Pills' — Jamaican Women Take Them To Get Bigger Butts; New NPR Series Looks At Girls And Women Worldwide

map of eastern jamaica
Jamaica. Big butts welcome! Image by Edu-Tourist via Flickr

Someone, somewhere loves a good, strong, curvy woman’s butt. Sure isn’t my neighborhood…

The Kitchen Sisters — two women, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva — have produced this series, The Hidden World of Girls, which began airing this week on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

How cool and refreshing to hear a Jamaican lilt on stodgy old NPR, and the story is wild — women who take pills used to fatten poultry in the hopes their own butts will get curvy and alluring to Jamaican men. Women in Jamaica, we’re told, are prized for having a shape like a Coca-Cola bottle.

Hate women taking pills to get sexy. Love hearing a story I’ve never heard before from a nation we almost never hear anything about.

The irony is that girls, and women — rant alert — are, in many cultures, not terribly hidden, unless in purdah or full chadors. We live in plain sight of journalists and writers and bloggers, but it takes a keen eye, a persuasive resume and skills, and some serious street cred to get important, quirky, offbeat and important stories told.

Women are fed a steady diet by most mainstream media (whose advertisers insist on jamming us into a tight, narrow bandwidth of what defines female interest[s] and value[s])  — much like factory farmed chickens, come to think of it — of diet/exercise/cooking/looking pretty/buying the right clothes, shoes, make-up/sex tips/parenting.

Blablablablablabla. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

I am excited to hear the rest of this series — and they’re looking for more stories.

Call them. in D.C., at 202-408-9576 with yours!