In a world that is as heavily inclined towards one gender as ours, it takes double the courage for the marginalised to accomplish even the most basic things. Imagine, then, the struggles of those who dream of making it big.
We are talking about women athletes who had to face sexism from a very young age because the idea of a girl playing sports was too repulsive for society. Here’s all the stuff they had to hear while growing up, and honestly, we couldn’t be prouder of them for giving it back to the naysayers.
1. Mithali Raj was asked to quit cricket because her relatives did not want her to get tanned. Decades later, she has established herself as a modern-day legend.
Cricket is a rough game, and I come from a Tamilian family where it was a different scenario altogether. My grandparents, aunts, or uncles were not very encouraging because they felt that my dad was pushing me into the sport. “She is a girl. Why are you putting her into a sport that is so rough? She will play with boys, will get tanned,” they used to say things like these. And initially, because I was putting so many hours into practice, I was missing many family gatherings and functions. So it didn’t go down well with the family.
2. Sania Mirza was told she can’t be a mother and a professional tennis player at the same time. She returned to court 4 months after having a child.
(People would say) If you become so dark who will marry you? How will you go for tournaments when you have to run a family? Your sporting career ends as soon as you become a mother.
So… this happened today 😌😉🤪🎾 pic.twitter.com/4J2crpSrG5— Sania Mirza (@MirzaSania) March 10, 2019
3. Saina Nehwal had to abandon her relatives because they thought girls should not participate in things meant for boys. She went on to win India’s first Olympic medal in badminton.
My grandmother did not come to see me until a month after my birth. I was born seven years after my only sister Chandranshu and my birth was a big disappointment for her. (Besides) My uncles and other relatives are against encouraging girls in every aspect and that includes sports.
4. Vinesh Phogat was told it is wrong to be wrestling in shorts. She became the first woman from the country to win gold in both Asian Games and Commonwealth Games.
People would throw us dirty looks when we wore shorts to practise. They would gossip and… say ‘this is wrong’.
5. Sakshi Malik was told she will get an injury and become so ugly that no guy would want to marry her. She is now India’s lone woman wrestler with an Olympic medal.
(People used to say) She’ll develop puffed-out cauliflower ears and become undesirable to potential husbands. It hurt a little and I wondered why people said such mean things, especially when I was so young, and it made me doubt myself.
6. Mary Kom was told boxing is a ‘man’s game’. She went on to become the only boxer, male or female, to win 8 medals at the World Championships.
My decision to take up boxing wasn’t really something my dad was excited about; he always told me that boxing is a man’s game and I will hurt myself or de-shape my face. He felt boxing would lower my chances of finding a suitable groom. Nonetheless, I pursued the sport in secret till a point when people started recognising me and my performance was covered in media. However, such resistances were stairways of determination in my life.
7. Serena Williams was told she was too confident. She currently has more Grand Slam titles than ANY active tennis player in the world.
At a very young age, I think I was 17, I stopped reading any press about me. I feel like I definitely was scrutinized because I was confident. I was black and I was confident.
8. Geeta Phogat was told that ‘wrestling like men’ will make her undesirable. Years later, she’d win India its first wrestling gold at the Commonwealth Games.
People used to already say things like, “Who is going to marry girls who wrestle like men?”.