An Olympic Tragedy: A Clarification

The opening ceremony in Beijing was to feature one solo dance, performed by one of China’s top classical dances, Liu Yan.  According to the NY Times:  

But on July 27, during an evening rehearsal at Beijing’s National Stadium, the so-called Bird’s Nest, she leaped toward a platform that malfunctioned and plunged about 10 feet into a shaft, landing on her back, according to family members.

She was rushed to a local military hospital and underwent six hours of surgery but suffers from nerve and spinal damage.

Doctors have told her family it is unlikely she will ever walk again.

There are some tapes of her performances on youtube:

Does calling this accident a tragedy mean  that somehow her life  is over or worthless?  I hope no one would advance that interpretation, but since one disability theorist reads it that way, let me clarify.  Liu Yan reached a high stage of professional accomplishment.  That is the sort of achievement many of us strive for, and others certainly admire.  Her achievement took many years of extremely dedicated effort.  She deserved to have the career she was engaged in, and she now cannot have it, at least as she imagined it before her accident, the indications  are. That is tragic. It does not mean her life is over or worthless.

I haven’t read Dan Gilbert’s book Stumbling on Happiness, but I’ve read some of his academic papers and invited him to my university for a talk and workshop.  If you are tempted to think something like “if you can’t walk your life is over,” or “if someone dedicated to ballet can’t dance her life is over,” then I strongly recommend reading his  work.  This also goes for “I can’t live without her/him” (just in case someone might think that).  In general, Gilbert convincingly argues, we have little idea of actual human resiliency. 

Liu Yan has to be a remarkable person, and there are many futures open to her.  Obviously.

(Gilbert, perhaps I should add, is a serious Harvard psych prof, not a self-help guru.)

Olympic contender? Make sure your lipstick’s straight.

The Olympics are well underway. How refreshing, Kira Cochrane writes here, to see women being celebrated for their hard won acheivements – their strength and grit and skill – rather than just being evaluated on the basis of their appearance.

Nicole Cooke wins gold.

She writes: ”we have become used to seeing that strange category – celebrity women – pictured constantly, relentlessly, their image before us for no other reason than that they happen to have headed out for a pint of milk with their makeup on skew-whiff. At Beijing we have seen the antithesis of that – we have been treated to the sight of ordinary women reaching extraordinary heights. … They aren’t on screen because they have starved themselves to a size zero – instead, their bodies are a celebration of strength.”

Indeed, she cites statistics showing just how infrequently (in the UK) images of sportswomen otherwise appear in the media:
“just 2% of articles and 1% of images in the sports pages of national newspapers are devoted to female athletes and women’s sports … Just 1.4% of sports photography featured women; and despite the fact our research only looked at the sports’ pages, there were more images of models, footballers’ girlfriends, the French president’s wife and a nun than of sportswomen.”
(these stats from the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation. See also the Women’s Sports Foundation, Both of these organisations campaign to make sport more accessible to girls and women).

Might this Olympic coverage help to change the way women are represented in the media, she asks? We can hope.
Articles like ‘World-class pin ups: olympic contenders for the gold medal in glamour‘, from the Independent’s supplement (shame!) won’t help.
And even Olympians, it seems, can’t avoid the horrible ‘circle of shame’-type treatment – see here (thanks reader Roberta).

You’re competing at the Olympics and your sports gear slips? Honestly, who cares.

If contraception is abortion…

then so are breastfeeding and exercise. William Saletan at Slate draws out the consequences of the proposed definition of ‘abortion’. A sample:

Thousands of people working at hospitals, lactation centers, maternity-product retailers, drug stores, and supermarkets are presently required by their employers to participate in breast-feeding, either by teaching it or by providing products that facilitate it. Those who refuse can be terminated at will. They endure this discrimination despite clear scientific evidence that breast-feeding poses the same abortifacient risk as oral contraception.

Thanks, Rachel!