We Will Not Vanish

“Pressure is a privilege”—Billie Jean King

As a member of the All-Star Ultimate Tour, I am beyond lucky to have a platform from which to share my thoughts with the broader ultimate community. So in spite of my somewhat crippling fear of sharing my writing with anyone, and in the spirit of celebrating the pressure I feel and the privilege granted to me, the following are my musing as the tour comes to a close:

Earlier this summer, I asked my friend to put some podcasts onto my phone before my plane ride home to Seattle, the big flight that marked the beginning of my All-Star experience. Anticipating nerves on my flight (because I have a mild to moderate fear of flying) and boredom from clocking double-digit hours of driving each day on tour (because I get car sick from reading), podcasts seemed like an optimal solution. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong about their necessity. #Vanlife has been one of the best ways I could think of to get to know my teammates, as well as acquire new skills like voice-throwing and landmark identification. Furthermore, on my flight to Seattle, I befriended Ken, the passenger next to me, who just so happened to be a pilot. Much to his chagrin, Ken spent his flight having an in-depth conversation with me about flying, planes, and contingency plans if anything were to suddenly go awry. Despite learning the intricacies of flying, and just before piling into Shady Van surrounded by new friends, I actually did manage to make it through one podcast; and, serendipitously so. 

The podcast episode to which I refer is “The Lady Vanishes”, an episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s series titled Revisionist History. Gladwell’s podcast centers on the story of a painter in the late 19th century whom you’ve likely never heard of before; her name is Elizabeth Thompson. Chances are you haven’t heard of her because after her painting “The Roll Call” was hung on the line in Gallery II of The Royal Academy’s annual exhibition (which is a HUGE deal), she was denied membership to the same institution by just one vote. She was shutout of art society, and she vanished. Gladwell shares Thompson’s story to help exhibit the concept of “moral licensing”. The gist of the social psychology phenomenon is that “past good deeds can liberate individuals to engage in behaviors that are immoral, unethical, or otherwise problematic,” (Gladwell, The Lady Vanishes). In the case of Elizabeth Thompson, this meant that following her initial success with “The Roll Call,” her talent was pushed to the background and her existence was overshadowed by her male counterparts.

Like Elizabeth Thompson, we accomplished something amazing—we successfully promoted women in ultimate by showcasing individual talent and increasing media devoted to female athletes; however, our work is far from over. What we have accomplished is not enough, and when the tour ends, the work we continue to do is paramount as we strive to reach gender equity in our sport. Gladwell explains the concept of moral licensing with the metaphor of a door, and I think it applies here, too. With tremendous support from the ultimate community, one door has been cracked open, and we 17 All-Stars were able to slip through, bringing with us our host teams, their communities, and a good portion of the ultimate community. I have some trepidations of sounding overly preachy here, but we cannot take the successes of the All-Star Ultimate Tour and feel liberated. We cannot shut the door again on everyone else. Those who have power, those that have helped to open the door, need to recognize their power, and follow on what Gladwell deems a “virtuous trajectory." 

Consider all the work there still is to do. Think about the privileges and opportunities afforded to males in our sport, the most popularized of which is the pro leagues. Think about the discrepancies in media coverage that exists between male and female sports that further notions of men as superior athletes. Think about the recent crediting of female Olympians’ successes to their husbands. Think about how much work there still is to do, think about how we’re going to do it, and do it. We will not be more Elizabeth Thompsons. We will not vanish.

Photo: Tino Tran Photography

Photo: Tino Tran Photography


*For anyone who’s interested I highly suggest Gladwell’s podcast, as he explains these concepts much more comprehensively than I do in this blog post! Check it out: http://revisionisthistory.com/episodes/01-the- lady-vanishes