At espnW: Women + Sports Summit, chorus of voices makes beautiful song
As we wrap up the 2018 espnW: Women + Sports Summit, I've been thinking a lot about a lunch I had the week before with a woman in her 70s. It was during Sukkot, the Jewish holiday where you celebrate those who have sheltered you and reflect on the metaphorical harvest of the prior year.
The woman was seated across from me, slight, draped in a cashmere cardigan and loose pants, and when it was her turn, said she was most grateful for the harvest of memory. Then she leaned in and told me a story about how as a girl, she'd always wanted to be an opera singer. She was qualified, auditioned and been granted acceptance to a prestigious performing arts university. But there was a problem. Her father preferred quiet in the house, and he couldn't abide her practicing. "So I was put in the position of having to learn to use my voice without making any noise."
The sentence rang like a gong in my chest when I first heard it and I have not stopped thinking about it since.
I thought about it as I watched my W colleagues Julie Foudy and Sarah Spain and Alyssa Roenigk take the stage and command it with voices that boomed, stirred and cracked wise. I thought about it while force of nature Andra Day encouraged us to "go to the places in life or in your heart that are the scariest," before belting out a set that left the entire crowd believing we had the strength to do just that. I thought about it when the Sister Survivors told their stories of sexual abuse and pushing forward in the face of an entire organization and culture that profited from scaring them silent.
Keeping women quiet is an international preoccupation. Such has it always been. The margin of acceptable volume slim. (To say nothing of acceptable "tone.") Throughout the Summit, I thought about how this woman from the Sukkot, not too much older than I am, was denied the blessings of her gifts, her childhood dream, by her own father, simply because he wanted her to hush.
And because of that, I grabbed a microphone. And after I said my piece, I passed it to another woman, who spoke and passed it to another woman after her. And so it went. Three days, woman after woman telling her story, on stage and off, reflecting on our harvest, encircled by a swell of purpose. We had come together to shelter each other, to use our voices. And all of us, every last one of us, made noise.