I thoroughly enjoyed watching Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce win gold in the 100 meters in Doha earlier this week, leaving no doubt whatsoever about her place in history. At 21 she became the first woman from the Caribbean to win gold in the 100 meters at the Olympics. Later wins solidified her dominance and she became the first woman in history to win three back to back Olympic medals in the event. At 32, after becoming a mother, she is still almost as fast as she was in 2012; her time in Doha was just a shade over her personal best set back then. Fueled by the oh-so-cute photos of her celebrating with two-year-old son Zyon, social media has been awash with #MommyRocket.
Fraser-Pryce wasn’t the only mom who took her child to work in Doha. The USA’s Allyson Felix, who earlier this year had a very public breakup with sponsor Nike over maternity benefits, also made sure her 10-month-old daughter Camryn was in the stadium. Luckily there’s no shortage of photos from the World Champs as I’m sure neither child will remember any of this, spectacular as it was. To them, at this stage of their young lives, these phenomenal women are just mommy. And for them, that is enough.
At Doha, both women have chosen to publicly blend their dual roles of badass athlete and mom. They mention their kids and motherhood in post-race interviews, shaping the narrative of how they want the world to see them: multidimensional, multifaceted, much more than any box in which anyone dares to try and contain them. They are not just black, or women, or professional athletes, or moms. They are the sum of all those parts and more.
So too are all the women in sports, and other professions, who have decided NOT to have kids. In far too many societies, women are often viewed as incomplete, lacking, if they do not reproduce. Speaking at this week’s World Economic Forum’s India Summit, tennis player Sania Mirza tells the story of how a journalist’s first question to her during a press conference after her Wimbledon win in 2015 was whether she planned to have children. Throughout her career, Mirza won six grand slam titles and she eventually went on to become a mother, but it still wasn’t enough for some. After taking a selfie with her, one fan met during a business trip told her she should be home with her child. She pointed out that he wasn’t home with his.
Telling the story of these two encounters, years later, Mirza’s indignation is still obvious. And the sad part is, these conversations could just as easily take place today. We love to put other people in neat little boxes because then we can take comfort in the fact that we know exactly who and what we’re dealing with. Confronted with anyone who doesn’t live up to our expectations, we’re thrown into a tailspin. So some women athletes are vilified for not having kids, and others feel as if they are being punished when they do.
Felix says her relationship with Nike soured after they wouldn’t “contractually guarantee that I wouldn’t be punished if I didn’t perform at my best in the months surrounding childbirth.” Their fight pushed the issue of maternity rights in athletics into the public realm and Nike eventually announced that “it is adding language to new contracts for female athletes that will protect their pay during pregnancy.”
As Fraser-Pryce and Felix have reminded us at Doha, the days of women having to choose between their job and motherhood are long gone, even if their office is a 40,000-seat stadium halfway across the world.
I’m a marketing and communications professional with almost a decade in journalism. After more than 14 years of living and working in China, I happily came home to Jamaica in summer of 2019. In this weekly column I share snippets of what it’s like seeing Jamaica — and sometimes the rest of the world — through my eyes.
By Charmaine N. Clarke