Sunday Nibble #73: Simone, Kerri, and my mother


Today would have been my mother’s birthday, and I have no doubt that she’d still be around today were it not for an unfortunate autoimmune disease that took her away when she was way too young and I was very young.

I’m reminded by this not only because of the date, but because of current events, and what Olympic athletes of the female persuasion have been going through for decades but which they are only now forcefully bringing to light and making the IOC, the sports community, and the world at large face what has really been going on.

The first big to-do on this subject came when the Norwegian Women’s Beach Handball team was fined for wearing shorts instead of the officially (male) sanctioned tiny bikini bottoms during a non-Olympic competition.

There is no justifiable reason for the difference because shorts give no competitive advantage. What they don’t give is a chance for the mostly-male people running the show to ogle exposed women’s butts.

For comparison, here are the men’s and women’s teams in the official uniforms side by side. See any differences?

There have been a few iterations of the “what if male superheroes dressed like females” concept, and they are hilariously telling. But, again, too much of the modern world has been created by the male gaze, particularly in pop culture, including movies, TV, fashion, and advertising.

You very rarely see anything resembling the “female gaze.” About the closest we get would more properly be called the “gay male gaze.”

Beyond this blatant and sexist objectification, there has also been a long tradition of mental and sexual abuse of female athletes, bookended by Kerri Strug and Simone Biles.

The short version of Strug’s story was that in the 1996 Olympics, she had injured her ankle but was cajoled by her coach into performing a final vault despite this because, according to the coach, the U.S. could not win the gold otherwise.

That turned out to be mathematically wrong, but Strug made the attempt anyway, scored 9.712, and the U.S. took the gold.

She had to be carried off of the field and the man who did that was Larry Nassar, later convicted of sexually abusing a bunch of young female gymnasts, including Simone Biles.

And, as it turned out, Team USA would have won the gold even without Strug’s score. That abusive coach had screwed up the math.

Simon Biles, of course, famously withdrew from the rest of team competition, citing both physical and mental reasons for doing so and, for the most part, was applauded for it, despite some individuals trying to compare her negatively to Strug. Strug, however, doesn’t share their opinions.

The extremely misnamed 2020 Tokyo Olympics of 2021may actually lead to a change in things, and in a very positive way, with women being taken seriously as athletes and equal competitors, and men maybe finally listening to their concerns.

And all of this going on has reminded me even more of my mother and why she died, because it ultimately came down to her doctors — all male — just not listening to her.

She had definite symptoms — chest pains and periodic eczema on her forearms — and probably other things, but I was only thirteen when this all started, so I wasn’t privy to everything.

I do remember that her doctors ran some tests. She was referred to a cardiologist (she was only 41, although she did smoke) had her wear this bulky heart monitor for an entire day, although I think the extent of what they did for the eczema was to throw some ointment at it.

Heart results came back normal, the eczema came and went, but she still didn’t feel right and knew it, and that’s when her doctors started to decide that it was “all in her head” — even though she told them (and told me that she’d told them) that everything seemed to flare up around her time of the month.

Hm. 40-ish woman experiencing odd symptoms around her time of the month. Did they ever bother to check her hormone levels or, oh, I don’t know… call in a female gynecologist or endocrinologist?

No, of course not.

Instead, she became a science experiment as they started to injected her with steroids and cortisone and antibiotics. They were basically treating symptoms while ignoring causes, so creating more symptoms to treat, which just made things worse.

Eventually, she developed alopecia, meaning total hair loss, she bloated up and was retaining water like nobody’s business, became extremely sensitive to the Sun so that five minutes outside would give her severe sunburn, could barely walk, and barely resembled the woman I had known.

And all the while, her doctors continued to think that she was imagining it.

She finally wound up in the hospital with pneumonia, and on a night in October she passed away. My father had seen evidence that the nurse on duty had seen an alarm indicating that my mother had stopped breathing but didn’t do anything about it for at least ten minutes. Of course, that evidence was nowhere to be obtained when he demanded her medical records.

But the entire thing had been a very slow case of homicide by medical experiment, and I am absolutely sure that had it been my father with identical symptoms, he would have been taken seriously and listened to and not treated like a science experiment.

Oh, wait… when he got old and sick, he was taken seriously. That’s why he lived so much longer than my mother did.

Pure and simple, sexism and misogyny kills, and it has got to end. There are absolutely no good reasons that men and women should be treated differently when it comes to income, occupations open to them, medical treatment, and on and on and on.

And before you try to give me that “But it’s a woman’s job to raise the children” bullshit, let me remind you of one thing. Daddy contributed 50% to making that baby. He can contribute 50% to raising it, too — and that doesn’t refer to him earning the money while Mommy cleans the house.

Of course, this is all part of the broader conversation of how we are going to take what 2020 taught us about work and the (lack of) need to do it in person, and how we’re going to move forward to balance work and personal/family life, give more equitable roles to both parents, and pay people what they’re worth while reining in billionaires and teaching them how to be happy “only” being multi-millionaires.

And not killing people’s mothers because male doctors — or males in general, really — don’t know how to listen to and actually hear women.

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