This morning I got up at 5:10 a.m. and drove to the Potomac river to hang out with a bunch of boys.
I’m a coxswain for Thompson Boat Club’s U-23 Men’s Development Camp, a summer rowing program for college rowers.
Male rowers. Big, tall boys.
So what am I, a young woman, doing on a team with young men?
Coxswains need to be small and light and it’s a lot easier to find small, light girls than it is to find small, light boys on a college campus, which is how I ended up coxing for Columbia University’s heavyweight men’s program.
It’s an interesting situation to be in.
I’m in charge of steering the boat and often running practice, calling drills, and executing strategy during races.
But I’m as much as a foot shorter than some of the rowers in my boat.
And I’m a girl.
But my gender is never an issue for my teammates. I’m their coxswain and they trust and respect me as another one of their teammates.
That isn’t to say that it’s always easy.
Coxing is hard. I have good practices and bad practices just like anyone else on my team. And, although it is a strange experience being a woman on a men’s team, I love it.
It’s like having 20 brothers.
Lisa recently wrote a blog post about Title IX and athletic opportunities for girls, which got me thinking about my own experiences. I was a four-year varsity athlete in high school where I played field hockey and rowed.
Being on a team with other young women was a lot of fun, great for my self-esteem, my discipline, and for building leadership skills. I think that part of the reason I’m able to hold my own among guys who weigh twice as much as me is because of the skills I learned while playing on all-female sports teams.
While my experiences don’t necessarily mirror those of other female athletes, (And, for the record, I do consider myself an athlete; I regularly run and lift weights in addition to coxing.), I think they have been equally important and empowering.
A year after the U.S. women’s 8+ won a gold medal in Beijing, and a month after the University of Washington Huskies (whose coxswains are all female) swept the IRA national championship men’s heavyweight 8+ events, I can’t help but feel optimistic about women’s athletics and the future of women and feminism in general.
SaraEllen Strongman is a summer intern at The Women’s Foundation. Raised in Bethesda, Maryland, Sara is a junior at Columbia University majoring in women’s and gender studies. In addition to rowing, she likes to read, run, and do yoga.