The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Oh Gabrielle

Gabby, that was not a good one.

I probably should just take a pass on this drama because…like ugh…but whatever. This is what’s happening in the gymnastics world right now, apparently, and it’s the worst. Typically I would just say, “Puh, these children and their dramas,” but this feels bigger than that.

This gymnastics story has also been caught up by the wider consciousness (remember when that used to be a good thing?), where of course the incredibly sexist “OOOOH CATFIGHT” angle has been the focus. Boo. So, let’s retake this story that’s happening in our world and try to deal with and dispose of it reasonably so that we don’t have to talk about it anymore.

If you have an actual life and are not voraciously following the minute-by-minute trials and tribulations of what the last two US Olympic teams are doing on that perpetual motion machine of self-sabotage known as Twitter (Twitter: This Is A Bad Website), let’s play catch up.

First, Lady Aly of House Raisman posted a message about victim shaming and the backwards reactions too many people still have to sexual assault. Everyone read it and thought, “What a strong, correct, and empowering message that no one could possibly disagree with!”

Then Gabby Douglas went, “Hold on, I have something that I’ve been told my whole life and have therefore internalized that I probably shouldn’t say out loud right now. SEND.”

Now, we should start by quickly breaking down what’s wrong with this sentiment, namely the perpetuation of the age-old idea that not being sexually assaulted is somehow women’s responsibility, that there’s such a thing as “asking for it,” and this inexplicable need to take a portion of the crime out of the hands of the only villain here, the predator. But if you’re reading this site, you are a gay man (and that includes the women) who is also too feminist to function, so we probably don’t need to go into any more detail there. Also, I’m wildly unqualified for that. We get it.

There’s another idea floating around that has translated what Gabby said into “Aly was dressed provocatively and was asking to be abused by Larry Nassar,” which would be an insane-person thing to say or think but is also not really what she said (this was more of a general, theoretical dumb comment, not a targeted dumb comment about a specific situation). But the timing of it, as well as the sentiment itself, was ril bad. At such a sensitive moment, when Aly has started to discuss being abused by Larry Nassar, any “well actually”-ing of her comments about sexual abuse is going to come off as undermining her and not supporting her when she deserves the support of all reasonable and unreasonable people alike.

That’s the other issue at play here, this idea of not supporting a teammate. Over the last five years, far too much time and energy has been devoted to the sexist “Sure, they won a gold medal, but are they FRIENDS????” line of discussion with regard to Gabby and the rest of her Olympic teammates. The answer to that question is, I don’t care. And unless you’re one of the five members of that team, you shouldn’t care either. It doesn’t matter to you one way or another if they’re friends.

But this dynamic has informed the reaction of her actual teammates who, in a series of tweets and subtweets, feel that this is a betrayal of Aly in a time of need.

Here’s the deal. Gabby is on the wrong side of this thing, and it’s important to point that out and explain it so that these ideas don’t fester and spread any more than they already have.

At the same time, throughout the last few months, a lot of us have been temporarily reminded of the lesson that we don’t know someone’s background or what’s going on/has gone on behind the scenes that informs their outlook, and to keep that in mind when judging their reactions and behavior.

That’s appropriate to keep in mind in this case as well. Not that everyone should always be given a pass when they say a dumb thing, but to be reasonable and understanding in rebuke because there’s always more we don’t know.

It’s fair to say, “That was not a good tweet,” explain why for the purposes of education and improvement, and then move on, back to the real baddie here. His name is Larry, and he needs to be in prison forever.

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