Thursday, March 8, 2012

Always a Woman to Me, or, Cricket as a Metaphor (Yes, Another One)

This is International Women’s Day. A perfect day to shine the spotlight on women’s cricket, and dabble in the history of women’s achievements in the Beautiful Game.

My initial plans for this day included dazzling you with scholarly research, David Halberstam-esque keyboard brilliance and pithy comments from women who play and/or follow cricket.

But something happened on my way to thinking about and writing this post. Life got in the way. Life in the form of a three-year-old miracle named Heidi Camille, and her determination to teach me that, whatever I might think, the most important thing in life does not (necessarily) involve a cricket ball. In other words, I was ill-prepared, and grassed it.

Time to pick up the run rate, I thought. I can do this. Social Media will help me!

So I asked friends for comments, and researched some fine articles online about the history of women’s cricket. As I checked my e-mail for any responses, though, it suddenly struck me that my approach to the subject was leaving me cold. And then I realized that, as a blogger, my responsibility is different from my days as a public radio journalist and magazine writer/editor. My responsibility still involves the truth; but now it involves the essential truths that often exist outside the finite boundaries of facts and figures. And the essential truth is that women’s cricket means more to me now than it ever could have before, because Heidi’s lovely mother lost her mental faculties to such an appalling extent that she married me. And has introduced me to the strongest woman I am ever likely to know. My daughter.

I have known strong women in my time. Strong women got me through college, and taught me that the female sex isn’t there for my amusement or to make me feel better about myself. They taught me, in fact, that holding such attitudes could lead to quite drastic consequences. I like strong women. My wife is one of them—do not mess with her or her little girl: she will take names, as the saying goes.

There’s also an old saying that dynamite comes in small packages, and, friends, let me say here and now that could have been written specifically about Heidi. She is like a ray of sunshine with a large dash of jalapeno pepper. Often in my first years as her dad I have felt like Icarus to her golden sun, making too many assumptions and trying to force her to do or be something in which she had no interest. Careful, Daddy, your wax is melting.

But even singed fathers—oops, I mean, feathers—can soar, given the right conditions. And there have been times I have soared beyond my wildest dreams—soared into love’s blue sky, ached with love’s wind shears, floated on love’s clouds of contentment. I will not continue in this vein by saying my little girl is the wind beneath my wings. How dreadfully disrespectful and haughty that would be. I’m just there, along for the ride, making sure she has a safe and loving place in which to grow up, so when she is ready she can unleash herself upon an unsuspecting world.

Despite what I have always told myself, only by having a daughter could I have come to find any mote of understanding about why it is important that one’s sex not determine one’s future opportunities (or lack thereof). Only by having a daughter could I have truly discovered how important it is for us as a world to stop thinking about women as anything less than fully equal and self-expressive human beings who are actually smarter and more together than any men I know. Only by having a daughter could I have begun recognizing what the politics of sex (or gender, if you will) can mean for someone who is simply a human being who happens to be a woman. And only by getting to know this particular daughter could I have seen just how amazing and wonderful and smart and tough a woman can be—even at three and a half!

So, what does all of this have to do with women’s cricket? Everything. Women’s cricket has a rich history with accomplishments to rival or surpass anything the men’s game has produced. For instance, did you know that the first player to record both a century and 10 wickets in a Test match was a woman? Betty Wilson accomplished that feat against England at the MCG in 1958. Following are some more historical firsts and bests for women, quoted directly from the Wikipedia entry on the history of women’s cricket:

‘Women have beaten male teams to several milestones in one day cricket. They were the first to play an international Twenty/20 match, England taking on New Zealand at Hove in 2004. The first tie in a one day international was also between Women's teams, hosts New Zealand tying the first match of the World Cup in 1982 against England, who went on to record another tie against Australia in the same competition. Female wicket keepers were the first to record 6 dismissals in a one day international, New Zealand's Sarah Illingworth and India's Venkatacher Kalpana both accounting for 6 batsman on the same day in the 1993 World Cup and Belinda Clark, the former Australian captain, holds the record for the most runs in a one day career with 4844. Pakistan's Sajjida Shah is the youngest player to appear in international cricket, playing against Ireland four months after her 12th birthday. She also holds the record for the best bowling figures in a one day international, taking 7 wickets for just 4 runs against Japan Women at the Sportpark Drieburg in Amsterdam in 2003.”

So, will my little girl grow up to play cricket? I have no idea. Will she grow up to be a fan of cricket? I hope she does, but I learned early on in this journey that my thoughts really don’t matter. She will make up her own mind, based on the evidence at hand, no matter what daddy thinks.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In the end, I guess what I am saying is this: Sure, men and women are different. That isn’t the point. The point is we are all equal human beings. So, isn’t it time we started treating men’s and women’s cricket equally, with equal funding support, equal fan support, equal amateur and professional opportunities, equal media attention and equal pay?

After all, when my little girl—and I suspect your little girl as well, if you have one—grows up, there won’t be a choice in the matter. She’ll—they’ll—be there, doing it—whatever that “it” means. Despite the best efforts of some of our politicians in this world, women’s rights have gotten through the boring middle overs and we’re into the power play. The days of small-minded thinking, discrimination, arguing over sexual/gender politics and the digging in of heels are disappearing over the boundary rope, hit for six by women like I hope and feel my own daughter will grow up to be.

Young women around the world are padding up and heading for the crease. Small-minded thinkers have to take the umpire’s decision and walk. If you don’t like it the exit door is right over there, and our miraculous daughters are holding the door.

And we shouldn’t have it any other way.

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