Featured Feminist: Lindsey Van (Ski-Jump Champion & Winter-Olympics Challenger)

Are you getting into the Winter Olympics? I haven’t been following every event (who has?), but I did manage to see quite a bit of speed skating and mogul skiing. (So far, Canada has 5 medals in total – 2 gold, 2 silver, and 1 bronze. Woo – go Canada!)

Now let’s get on with the latest Featured Feminist profile.

Lindsey Van

Birthday: November 27, 1984

Birthplace: Detroit, Michigan (USA)

Claim to Fame: At the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in 2009, she captured gold for her performance in Liberec. She also secured 8 Continental Cup victories.

Why You Should Care: She’s one of the female skiers who’s actively fighting for gender equality within the sport.

Now, I don’t follow many professional skiers, but Lindsey Van is one I recently started paying special attention to. Why? According to Time:

“Lindsey Van holds the record — among both men and women — for the longest jump off of Whistler, B.C.’s normal ski jump, built for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.”

It’s impressive alone to hold a record, but to compete with both genders and still come out on top? Now that’s something to brag about. You’re the cream of the crop. And clearly she’s ambitious – at just 25 years old, she’s been ski jumping for 19 years! Crazy!

If you’ve been keeping up to date with the news, you’ve probably heard that although Lindsey Van is certainly a qualified skier, she wasn’t a ski-jump competitor in the Vancouver Winter Olympics. And neither was any other woman.

Start the feminist fire – things are gonna get hot!

The International Olympic Committee has kept ski jumping the sole Olympic sport that remains men-only despite numerous women ski jumpers petitioning since 1998.

I’m sure that you’re as curious as I was to learn exactly why women aren’t allowed to compete in ski jumping. There must be a logical reason, right? Wrong! There were lots of excuses, but the ‘funniest’ one I read was a 2005 statement made by Gian Franco Kasper (the FIS president and International Olympic Committee member) who thought that it “seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.” Really? Sounds like someone’s been studying medical textbooks from the 1800s. I wonder how he explains how she kicked serious ass and held a record among both women and men.

Watch this MSNBC video to hear from Lindsey herself and other ski jumpers on this issue. You’ll get lots of additional background information on gender discrimination in ski jumping. It’s just 10 minutes and 43 seconds long, but it’s worth watching the whole thing.

Why I Consider Her a Feminist

She’s fighting for what’s right – gender equality. And that’s something to be commended, not condemned. If her skiing achievements don’t floor you, it’s her desire to not only see, but contribute to a change in the world. We can all be armchair feminists and point our fingers at what’s wrong and what needs to be changed, but if we never physically act upon it and voice our opinions, that change may never come about.

Passion is one of the qualities I always look for in my friends and people who I admire. She seems to have it in spades. In sports, there’s a disproportionate number of women compared to men, so it’s especially important to have a frontline woman challenging the status quo. It’s inspiring!

For a dramatic visual that really gets the message across, please check out this 57-second YouTube clip that illustrates how women have to really fight for their right to compete in sports that men already get to compete in:

But for those of you who don’t want to watch it, I’ll summarize its message. Women and men have been allowed to compete in Olympic Winter Games events at different times. Women are only approved to compete at a much-later date:

  • Speed Skating: Men (1924) & Women (1960)
  • Bobsled: Men (1924) & Women (2002)
  • Ski Jumping: Men (1924) & Women (2014?)

The clip ends by saying, “Let’s not just bridge the gap in 2014. Let’s jump over it.” Well said!

But like every strong woman, she has strong opinions. According to Wikipedia, “she alienated many supporters when she characterized the Canadian legal system as ‘weak’ and said the International Olympic Committee was ‘like the Taliban of the Olympics.'”

Whether or not you agree with her on either points shouldn’t make you lose sight of the bigger picture – she’s fighting for gender equality within the sport. That should take precedence. And that’s why I chose her for this Featured Feminist section.

I don’t choose people for this section because they are saints or say politically-correct things to the media. I don’t choose them because they always do the right thing. I choose them because they’re doing some good. Big difference. Everybody can fall, but not everyone can get back up.

Thank you, Lindsey Van, for putting women on the ski-jumping map. And thank you for putting yourself on the line for women’s rights all over the world!

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Melli on February 17, 2010 at 7:18 PM

    Hi Mary,

    Thank you for this wonderful post! I have been lurking for a while, and just wanted to say I appreciate your feminist perspective, and all of the wonderful work you put into this blog. I am still floored that such gender discrimination exists, and in a perfect world, all of us will be judged on our abilities, not on our gonads.

    I hope all is well with your dad. I will be thinking of you, and know that you are not alone in this journey.

    P.S. I notice you comment on some of the polish blogs; I am always reading those! There is no reason that we feminists can’t have fabulous nails :).


    • Posted by Mary Shaw on February 18, 2010 at 9:42 PM

      Hey Melli,

      Your comments couldn’t have come at a better time! I just received some bad news yesterday that made me panic, and on top of that, today was one of the worst days at work – came home feeling dejected, bitter, and generally a big ole Ms. Cranky Pants.

      Everything you’ve said made me smile. It’s fun and rewarding to write blog entries, but when someone else joins in and turns it into a discussion, it becomes exciting and more fulfilling. I hope that you continue to visit and voice your opinions when you see fit (even if you strongly disagree with me).

      Thanks for thinking of my dad (and of me). He’s really strong despite the multitude of challenges he’s faced and continues to face on a daily basis – I’m so proud of him! It amazes me how, at his age, he can bounce back (slowly, yes, but he is getting better. The way I look at it is that I got another chance to rediscover the amazing relationship that I have with my father. He could’ve easily been taken away from me back in early December. My family may have grieved deeply when he was in the hospital, and it may have been overwhelmingly stressful for us, but he’s back now. And we have to learn to cherish the moments we still have to spend with each other.

      Haha…yes, I’m a huge nail-polish fan, so I’m always staying on top of the latest trends. Been collecting for a couple of years, and have already passed the 200-bottle mark! Kinda scary, but exhilarating at the same time. And while I’ll admit that I hate the physical act of painting my nails and smelling the pungent fumes, I do love the look of a manicure that I did myself.

      Yes, feminists can have fabulous nails, too. Hehe…It makes me laugh when some people picture all feminists as being stereotypical hairy hippies. Sure, there are some, but not all feminists take the same extreme approach. Wanting to look nice (albeit in a commercial, conventional way) doesn’t always have to be anti-feminist.


  2. Posted by Melli on February 18, 2010 at 11:50 PM

    Hi again Mary,

    I will definitely visit, and have checked the box so I know when you post again. I hope things start looking up for you, so hang in there! If you ever need to vent, you can always send me an email. Or we can fill your comments sections with our discussions :).

    My collection is now 230+ polishes. My name is Melli, and I am a polishaholic :).

    Take care of yourself,


    • Posted by Mary Shaw on February 21, 2010 at 6:27 PM

      Thanks for the encouragement and the sympathetic invitation, Mellie!

      My father always said, “When you’re at your lowest, you should be at your strongest.” I’m trying to put that philosophy into practice now. It’s hard, but we can never succeed if we never try, right?

      Wow, 230+! That is impressive! How are you storing them? Initially I wanted to get an OPI train case, but then I saw the prices on eBay, and I totally couldn’t justify spending that much. So instead I got some plastic bins (supposed to be used for holding shoes), and they work nicely. I have a tall stack of boxes that I’m very proud of – although sometimes I look at it and feel guilty. But at least this is a cheaper ‘addiction’ than buying Coach purses (which is what I used to buy a lot of before).


  3. Posted by Dami on February 20, 2010 at 10:31 PM

    Hi to all. Of course Lyndsey should have been allowed to jump – but you will get there soon!

    Regarding feminism, I am a guy so I have a different perspective maybe – but of course women can do so many things at least as well.

    But cheer up – in so many ways you are gaining much ground. Like so many guys I have gone before football games to hooters bars, etc with those gorgeous dancers. Ok – you may think that is a little sexist.

    But today you get more and more equality even for such things – I know professional ladies who have turned the tables and they have parties with nude butlers and things like that. So we are equal.
    And in north of Europe (maybe USA also, I dont know, but Berlin, London, etc) you have bars for women-only parties where the only guy is serving also with no clothes. It’s really exist – so if you are feminist and want to make fun of a man you can have that chance if you want. It’s equal for all.

    Anyway, go women jumpers


    • Posted by Mary Shaw on February 21, 2010 at 6:18 PM

      Hey Dami,

      Welcome to the discussion!

      The only way women ski jumpers will get to compete in the Olympics is if they speak up and petition. Otherwise, nothing will change. They’ve been trying since 1998 and have been brushed off more than once. To a professional skier like Lindsey Van, I can imagine just how heart-breaking it is because by the time they do accept women ski jumpers, she may be too old to compete. But it’s inspiring how she’s doing it for the future of the sport and for women so that they’ll continue to even want to be ski jumpers. (The MSNBC link to the video I included in my post really gives a great overview of this topic.)

      I agree with you that women are covering more ground, but to me, it’s not solely about covering as much ground as possible – it’s about which ground you cover. The whole quantity versus quality debate. I respect the women who work at Hooters (and even think some of them are quite attractive), but I don’t believe that they can be truly happy, self-actualized individuals doing that in the long run. They may even be some of the most self-conscious and insecure people who are overcompensating or are masters at hiding behind emotional masks. But we all need to experience life in our own way before we realize what we really want from life and from ourselves.

      You mentioned gender equality in the example of women now having nude butlers at parties. Maybe that’s great. (Hehe…when it comes to strip clubs, dancers, nude entertainers, etc., I hold this belief: ‘Why pay for something you can get for free?’) But it’s not just with sexuality that we need gender equality. Sex is important, fun, and we may want it just as much as men do, but there’s more to life than sex or sexuality. Among the important topics on my hierarchy of gender-equality issues include equal pay in the workforce. Equality in strip clubs and Hooters bars is not as high up on the list for me because I think when women put themselves in those environments, it’s because they’ve had doors slammed in their faces before and because they felt like they didn’t have any other avenues to pursue. But that’s an interesting topic that I’ll consider blogging about later.

      I can’t go without addressing something you said specifically that rubbed me the wrong way: “…so if you are feminist and want to make fun of a man you can have that chance if you want. It’s equal for all.” Yes, some feminists hate men (with a passion) and want to ridicule them, but that’s certainly not my stance. Equal opportunity is one thing, but trying to improve society is another. I really think we’re taking 10 steps back and only 1 step forward if we’re fighting merely to see who disses who better. Men can bring women up. And women can bring men up. Forget enrolling in the school of hard knocks to hammer everyone down to nothingness. True feminism is more about making society as a whole better rather than just promoting women for the sake of being women. Balance is key – we need both women and men if we want to bring about positive change.

      I’m glad that you stopped by and weighed in your two cents! Hope you come back to either discuss more or read future blog posts.


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