Gabby Douglas and the Plight of Women Who Aren’t Expressive Enough

So it’s not enough that Gabby Douglas helped her team win gold in the all around. And it wasn’t enough that, even though Gabby Douglas scored high enough to compete in the individual all around, she couldn’t because only two people per country are allowed to, that rather than staying in her room sulking, she went out into the stands and cheered her teammates on. Gabby Douglas was also apparently supposed to stand up as she cheered, because otherwise it was fair game to attack her for not being supportive enough.

And in all this whirlstorm of criticism lobbed at Douglas, I’ve yet to find one thing she actually did wrong. And it’s exasperating, because as far as I can tell, the only thing Douglas is guilty of is not conforming to people’s social expectations, which frankly are subjective value judgments. And yes, race and gender both play a factor here.

From what I’ve seen of Douglas, she’s not a very expressive person. And that’s okay! Or it should be okay. For men we tend to value this collectedness. We don’t in women, though, as Douglas is learning. Some people jump up and down when they’re excited. Other people remain calm and collected. We need both types of people in the world. Not everyone can be a firecracker like Laurie Hernandez, we need people with Gabby Douglas’ regal calmness just as much.

And I related to the frustration, because I’m not very expressive. I can be extremely excited and happy and people will remark on how humdrum I seem. For me, showing displays of emotion is very personal and uncomfortable. It’s like being seen naked. And yes, I have gotten criticized for not smiling enough, for not being expressive enough, for being standoffish.

However, when I go to a haunted house, I’m the one people congregate around, because I’m calm and fearless and people feed off that calmness to help them steady their nerves. When emotions are high and the situation is tense, people gravitate towards someone who is calm and collected because it’s takes things down a notch. When you’re about to compete in the Olympics, I could see how Douglas’ poise could be a big boon for her teammates!

There’s more than one way to be supportive. Some people jump up and down in the stands, others don’t. And before people criticize someone who helped her team win gold, perhaps they should ask themselves how they would like it if someone recorded them for an hour and nitpicked their demeanor and second, when was the last time they won an Olympic gold medal for their country?


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