It Isn’t Easy Being Alpha: Part Two

My last post came off sort of like a women’s empowerment PSA on the unfairness of being labeled an “Alpha”.  After I wrote it, I received my Outside magazine and ESPN magazine in the mail and realized that  I am in great company and wanted to write another post to discuss the topic further.  So I apologize to my male readers again for the lady-biased writing, but I have to give a huge shout-out to all my female friends who kick butt out there and don’t only keep up with the boys, but make the boys keep up with them.

Sasha DiGiulian: If  you’ve never heard of her, you’ve been hiding under a rock (and not climbing it).  She emerged on the scene at an early age.  She’s been climbing for more than 12 years and she’s only 19.  A climbing friend and mentor told me about her a few years ago when I tried to make an excuse about not climbing more due to my petite frame and lack of height to get to those reachy holds.  He told me about this teenager who was exploding onto the climbing scene.  And she was my size, literally.  Sasha is recorded now at 5’2″ and 95 pounds.  And she’s doing it all.  Sasha just became the first American female to climb Pure Imagination’s 5.14d route last October.  She also won the gold medal at the Climbing World Championships in Italy.  She’s doing so much for the sport and a true inspiration to someone like me who, as a teenager, never felt like I was big and strong enough to climb with the boys.  I guess I have no excuse now.  And on top of everything else, she’s adorable.  Really.  Check her out at http://www.sasha-digiulian.com/.

After getting through Outside magazine, my ESPN subscription arrived and like some sort of sign, it was an issue dedicated to Women in Sports.  It starts off with a cover page and story about Danica Patrick.  I’ll be honest with you here.  I don’t watch NASCAR.  I’ll play Mario Kart on Wii and GTA, but that’s as close as I’ll get to caring about racing. To me, it’s just a bunch of cars going around in a circle.  I say we put them out on the streets!  I don’t even own a car anymore.  That being said, I can appreciate a woman breaking into this VERY male-dominated field.  The first thing the article discusses is her hand-shake and her size.  This is something I can identify with.  People are always telling me that I have a “good handshake”.  I think it came from years being in the legal profession–another male dominated field, and needing to assert myself somehow.  Hers probably comes from the fact that she drives cars for a living.  This is something I didn’t know: Danica Patrick is 5’2″ and under 100 pounds.  Between her and Sasha, I really can’t use my size as an excuse anymore.  And, she likes to eat.  Woman after my own heart.  I could go ahead and talk about all of her accomplishments in the racing world, or her slightly uncomfortable GoDaddy commercials, but I’m not.  Just like with Sasha, there is something special and unapologetic about Danica and her success.  Many debate her success as being dependent on her looks.    This is simply not true.  As explored in the last post about alpha females, we (uh, they) use everything to their advantage.  And it’s not to unfairly get ahead, but sometimes it is to even the playing field.  When asked, Danica said, “Do I use being a girl to my advantage?  I use everything I can to my advantage…  Maybe back in the day you didn’t need to be the greatest looking [athlete] to be on TV and you didn’t need to speak the best, but in this day and age, I think you need to be the package…And I feel like that’s one of my strengths.  Do I get more attention than a lot of people who at times do better than me?  But it doesn’t come without its costs…It doesn’t come without criticisms”.  Danica, in defense of being an alpha female, just trying to carve out a place for herself among the boys. 

The article then comes to an awkward transition, discussing another young female driver, Johanna Long.  At age 19, Long is making a name for herself too, but not in the same way.  She is not the girly-girl that Danica claims to be.  She thinks of it more as just being a driver out there instead of being a female driver.  While nuanced, it was interesting reading the different approaches to career that these two women have.  By the way, to highlight Patrick’s alpha characteristics even more, the article ends on Patrick’s thoughts on Long: “[S]he seems young and insecure.  When I was her age, I was insecure too…I should retract that…I was probably never all that insecure.”

More gems from the Women in Sports issue: the Baylor superstar Brittney Griner’s wingspan is half an inch longer than Andrew Bynum’s.  Also, women pack a punch.  According to ESPN, the technique of women boxers results in faster acceleration, which equals more force when striking an object.  No wonder I am always trying to fight the boys and prove I can do some damage ;).

Aside from the magazines, and the glorified articles about women who are breaking through the glass ceiling in sports, there are plenty of real life women out there who are doing just as much when it comes to normalizing the idea that women can compete at the same level as men.  I would never call myself a feminist–I’m not.  I can’t take credit for being one.  I’m also not one of those “pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen” type women.  I believe there is a middle ground, even among us alphas.  Maybe women like DiGiulian and Patrick are showing us where that middle ground is.  DiGiulian developed a tough skin over the past few years when critics accused her of having an eating disorder because of her petite frame.  In those teenage years where most women are insecure, DiGiulian had the maturity to understand that whether it is the media telling you are too fat, or too thin, all it is is someone trying to break you down when they see you’re on the way up.  Patrick is unapologetic for her success, on and off the track.  Her view is that men use advantages whenever they can, so women should too.  DiGiulian and Patrick might have some similarities like their strength of character, drive and talent, but they are totally different.  What we all need to discover is that the middle ground is big enough for us all.

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