Posts Tagged ‘being a woman and other disabilities’

In my discussion section (#5), we discussed nations in which there was a quota system set up to ensure active participation by women in the government.  After class I discovered that France is one of these nations.  French law currently states mandates that a certain percentage of parliament is made up of women (The Guardian), but the Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling party was fined five million euros in 2000 for failing to meet the government’s standards.  Yet, the president is pushing for new legislation that would push these reforms into the private sector.  Businesses represented in the Paris stock exchange would be required to have half of their board made up of women by 2015 (Feministing).  This legislation appears to be a large step forward for women, but many believe it would be a step backward.
If this legislation were enacted it would give women a much larger representation in French businesses.  If passed, French businesses represented in the Paris stock exchange would be required to have a board made up of at least fifty percent women.  Women currently make up only 9.7 percent of Europe’s top company boards.  Similar legislation was passed in 2004 in Norway.  The female percentage of their corporate boards doubled from 22 percent to 44.2 percent in only four years.  Clearly, women would have more equal representation in French corporate boardrooms if this legislation was made law.
Despite the positive effects this may have, not everyone believes it is a good move.  Ann Lavergeon, the CEO of Areva, the French nuclear energy company, calls the proposed legislation “humiliating” (Market Watch).  Lavergeon says that because eighty percent of her company’s employees it would be unfair to expect that women should represent a larger portion of the company’s board.  Lavergeon makes valid points, which should be taken into consideration before passing this legislation.
Reading about this controversial proposition reminded me of “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities”.  Both involve the idea of leveling the playing field so that everyone may be involved in “meaningful competition”; one on the actual playing field, and one in the boardroom.  Just like one who is deciding on the rules for a competition with disabled athletes, who may be able to play the same sport as other athletes, but perhaps in a different way, or with the help of an aid, one must consider what it does to the spirit of competition between men and women when women are given an advantage in promotion considerations.  I personally believe that the measures which the French are thinking about putting into place would be positive for a period of time.  However, if this legislation becomes a permanent part of French law, it make cheapens the competition between men and women.  If women only make up a small portion of an industry it is unfair to give them an equal portion of seats in that industry’s boardrooms.  Allowing women to be given preferential treatment for a short time would give women an opportunity to show their competency in business, and then give them the opportunity to compete for those jobs equally with men.
Lavaque-Manty, Mika.  “Being a Woman and Other Disablities”.  The Playing Fields of Eton.
University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, 2009.

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A x-ray of my right hand taken around 2003.

I have a disability called Poland Syndrome. Poland Syndrome is a birth-defect characterized by the absence of the pectoral (chest) muscle on one side of the body. In my particular case, I am missing my right pectoral muscle and one of the side-effects is that I have a smaller right hand with shortened fingers that are not really capable of bending. In the fifth chapter of Mika LaVaque-Manty’s the Playing Fields of Eton that is called “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities,” LaVaque-Manty claims that, “In disability sport, the idea of open competition is that anyone who can compete can join in. It is not only true in disability sport,” (LaVaque-Manty 147). As a person with my own disability and drawing from my own experiences and thoughts, I believe if a disabled person can participate in a sport, disability or able-bodied, he or she should have a right to compete with or without the help of an aid.

From my own experiences with sports, such as baseball, if a disabled person is able to compete, they should have a right to do so. I used to play on a baseball team when I was younger. In order to play, I would have to wear my baseball glove on my left hand to catch the ball, and as soon as I caught the ball, I would immediately rip off my glove and throw the ball with my left hand. In order to play well, I had to do this quickly. I did not need any aids in order to play; therefore, if I could do well enough to compete, then I should have a right to play just as the fully able-body athlete does. The only roadblocks I could have faced or any other disabled person to keep from contending would be overcoming value barriers such as a team not wanting an athlete with a small hand on the team. Fortunately, I never had to experience such barriers.

When it comes to disabled people competing in sports with the help an aid of some sort such as a prosthetic limb, if that disabled person can participate in competition, then they should have a right to compete. In one case, South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius was born without fibulae in his lower legs and uses prosthetic legs known as the Cheetahs in order to make himself participate in running (LaVaque-Manty 147). If the Cheetahs enable Pistorius to compete on the same scale of able-bodied sprinters, then he should be allowed to compete. There was some debate about Pistorius’ use of his aids, “Pistorius’s case required complicated adjudication on whether he had an obvious advantage or simply lots of talent or hard work,” (LaVaque-Manty 148). The use of an aid can bring questions on whether disabled athletes have advantages over able-bodied athletes. I personally believe that if an aid is there just to simply fulfill a function that a disabled person does not have, then by all means, let disabled athletes with aids compete on the same level as able-bodied athletes.

In addition, let’s say I wanted to take up the sport of boxing. Boxing is a sport that I really should not participate in because it would be very dangerous for me to participate in (not because it’s dangerous already). Since I am missing my right pectoral muscle, the entire right side of my rib cage would be exposed. However, if there was some way to create a special pad that could cover my chest that would be of the same shape and consistency of a pectoral muscle, then I could be possible for me to participate in boxing. Yet, it could be brought up that it would be unfair for me to box because I have a pad over my chest that could put me at an unfair advantage to other boxers who do not need a pad over their chests. There would have to be some sort of institutional reform to determine if my participation would be equal and meaningful just as Pistorius had to undergo a case with the International Amateur Athletics Federation (LaVaque-Manty 147). However, from my view as a person with a disability, if there is an aid that can cancel out a disability to make a person equal, then they should be all means have a right to compete.

As a person with Poland Syndrome, I know what it is like to play in sports where you have to work harder than everyone else. Disabled people are placed at a disadvantage in life, and if they are able to overcome their disabilities to participate in sports, then there should be no restrictions to keep them from doing so.

Works Cited

LaVaque-Manty, Mika. The Playing Fields of Eton. University of Michigan, 2009. 131-152.

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Nicole Miller

Section 10

Everyone Wins with Separate Competition in Sports

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I gave up the idea that I would someday make my living playing soccer professionally; that I would never compete in front of thousands of screaming fans or appear in Gatorade commercials or become a celebrity like my heroes at the time, Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain.  My realization was disappointing, but it never made me think less of myself: the percentage of athletes who go on from childhood to play their sport for a living is ridiculously small.  I could still play to reach my own potential, and that was good enough—it had to be.  At the end of the day, we need to look at situations with honesty and understand that achieving excellence is complicated: it requires more than desire alone and involves more than competing before crowds of cheering spectators.

“Being a Woman and Other Disabilities” asks whether competition has to be equal in every sense of the word, whether all groups must compete together, in order to avoid stigmatizing a particular group.  I would argue that not only can separate competitions and divisions in sports be non-discriminatory and fair, but that they are preferable almost all of the time.

Does equality mean having spectators present? This does not necessarily equate to the skill level or excellence of the athletes participating.  To use our university as an example , we have twenty-seven varsity sports teams, but only two or three of them (men’s football, hockey, and men’s basketball) could be considered “revenue sports”— the funds generated from the sport (tickets, sponsorships, etc.) are greater than the cost of operating the program.   The vast majority of teams, regardless of which gender is competing, play in front of a relatively small number of spectators or no spectators at all (e.g. crew). Having men and women (or disabled and able-bodied) athletes participate in the same competitions or divisions would not change this, so maybe having separate but equal competitions is advantageous.  This way, each athlete has a better opportunity to achieve at the highest level.  This does not mediocritize people; it simply recognizes that different groups sometimes have inherently different capacities for achievement.

To explain this idea further, separate competition is better than having the genders compete together at the highest level and having men always take the top spot.  If, for example, men and women ran together in a marathon, a woman would never be the best even though she is the best once you level the playing field.  And if wheelchairs competed with foot racers, the top wheelchair athlete would always beat the top foot racer.  This is a much less desirable situation—for athletes and spectators alike—than breaking persons down into logical categories so that they can compete more meaningfully.

At the end of the day, I would argue that maybe “disability in any given dimension” actually does “[represent] the left tail of a bell curve of that particular dimension” (Lavaque-Manty 146).  The disabled can be talented in multiple areas, but many times in sports, they simply do not have the power to compete alongside able-bodied athletes.  The same idea applies to women compared to men in sports.  For the small minority of competitions that are considered spectator sports, much of the appeal of watching them is that we get to witness performances that only a few people in the world can match.  Separate competitions enhance the spectator experience as well—so everyone wins.

Works Cited

LaVaque-Manty, Mika. The Playing Fields of Eton: Equality and Excellence in Modern Meritocracy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. Print.

Works Consulted

University of Michigan Official Athletic Site. Web. 04 Dec. 2009. <http://www.mgoblue.com/school-bio/mich-varsity-sports.html&gt;.

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