Monday, October 1, 2007

Mark Bechtel Doesn't Get It

I wrote a letter to the editor recently. There was an article written by a guy named Mark Bechtel in Sports Illustrated profiling a player on the Women's World Cup soccer team.The team was expected to win it all, but lost by the embarrassing score of 4-0 in the semis to Brazil. 

Bechtel described the player as a "bull in a China shop."  I thought it was an insensitive phrase, first because it sounded like he was making a veiled reference to her as a lesbian. For those of you who have been under a rock, "bull" is an unfortunate reference to a very masculine gay woman. Secondly, it was thoughtless because there are already way too many people who just assume that ALL strong, athletic women are lesbians, so why encourage the stereotype. I should mention that I have no idea what the player's sexual proclivities are.

But I was willing to let his reference go. Until I read the last sentence of the article, where he had the audacity to write, "She can still be a bull when she has to."

Okay, Mr. Bechtel, give it a rest. Now I'm pissed. What were you thinking? Didn't anybody proof the article?

To help anyone who thinks I'm overreacting understand the issue, remove the word "bull" and substitute a word you consider 100% offensive and maybe you'll start to understand why I took exception to his reference. Mostly because he used it twice.

As a woman who has loved sports all her life and played softball, tennis and volleyball with a number of elite athletes both gay and straight, I never heard any derogatory references. Then I took up cycling and had an experience that left me shaking my head in disbelief.

Twenty years ago I was riding the Sheridan Road cycling route from Chicago to the way northern suburbs, along with hundreds of other Tour de France lookalikes in the early morning hours on the weekends.

One Sunday I joined the crowd of mostly male riders for a long ride with a guy friend. His bike was slower than mine so I would sprint up ahead of him, then slow down and wait for him to catch up.

During one sprint I raced up ahead only to suddenly feel a drag on my bike. To keep up my speed I had to pedal harder and harder until finally, I got tired of what could only be described as pulling more and more weight so I just slowed down.  At that point a peloton of about twelve riders raced by me. They had come up behind my bike in total silence during my sprint and let me lead them for as long as I was able. I had no idea they were there, so I was startled to see them swooshing past me. Usually when someone is behind you they'll let you know because it can be dangerous to have someone that close. They probably figured I could feel the drag and KNEW what what going on. Nope. I'd never led a peloton.

As the group whisked by the last guy just had to lean over to say, "Nice riding, you old bull."

What?! My feelings were hurt. First I went through denial -- Hey, I'm not that old [I was 43]. And wait a minute! I'm not a lesbian. Then there was anger -- Well, F you too! Finally I chose to take what he said as a left-handed compliment.  But too bad it never occurred to him that a straight woman could ride with boys twenty years younger.

As a result, I am sensitive to people who are insensitive when they should know better. So I wrote a letter to the editors taking exception to what Bechtel wrote and the editors didn't edit. They could have been a little more enlightened.

Here's the letter:


In this day and age, I take exception to Mr. Bechtel's use of the phrase "Bull in a china shop" to describe Abby Wambach or any woman for that matter, but particularly an elite, female athlete. Surely knowing that many people incorrectly assume that strong, athletic women must be lesbians, I would hope some awareness of and sensitivity to pejorative nicknames might have prevailed. Surely another metaphor could better describe Ms. Wambach's outspoken personality.

But no -- instead Mr. Bechtel couldn't wait to add gasoline to the fire. Resorting to the classic writer's conceit of tying up everything with a pointed second reference, he managed to compound the insult, "She can still be a bull when she has to."

What were you nimrods thinking? If she were black would you have described her as a "N----- in the woodpile?" Or ended with "She can act like a n----- when she has to." Probably not. Because you didn't skip school that day.

Your editorial staff in general and Mr. Bechtel in particular owe Ms. Wambach and all women of any persuasion an apology for being so stupid. Not just uninformed. Or insensitive. But stupid.  


Mrs. Linklater

You're probably wondering why the typeface is so large.  Well, I made it large when I was proofreading what I wrote.

And I forgot to make it small again.

So, even though the email is written in upper and lower case, the VERY LARGE type makes it seem like I'm screaming at them.

I'm okay with that.


salemslot9 said...

the dude that gave you that insult
disguised as a compliment
is an insensitive moron :(

screaminremo303 said...

Twenty years is a long time to nurse a grudge. Couldn't you just get some cats and call it even?

robingrg2 said...

Guess I've been under a rock.  I played softball for 14 years, with and against lesbians.  And there were some we wanted to ask to drop their pants to make sure they were women.  But, I never once heard one referred to as a "bull."   If I'd read that article I would've thought he meant that she was all over the field and unstoppable.  I wouldn't know for sure, since I didn't see the game, but maybe that is what he meant.  

Robin in Texas

jevanslink said...

He wasn't talking about how she played, but about her take no prisoners personality. I'm sure he wasn't deliberately calling her a lesbian. Regardless -- using the word BULL is a very sensitive issue among the elite female athletes I know -- some of them former Olympians. Every woman I've talked to, athlete or not,  couldn't believe what he wrote.

Mrs. L