The US Women's Gymnastics Team Are the Best Role Models My Son Could Ask For

The Final Five Olympics

The Olympics is a big deal in our house. All three of us -- my husband, myself, and our 9-year-old son -- will gather in front of the TV to watch amazing athletes swim, run, row, jump, and more. But the one arena that really stands out for all of us, and in particular for my son, is women's gymnastics. And I couldn't be happier.

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When my son was 4, he attended a week of gymnastics camp at the local Y. He was one of only two boys in the entire group, but that didn't stop him from tumbling and balancing along with the rest of the campers. We have video of him performing his little floor routine, complete with a huge, cheerful grin at the end as he landed his ending pose, hands up and waving.

It's been a few years since that summer, and despite not attending any more gymnastics classes or camps, my son is still just as enamored with the sport, only now as a spectator.

We sat down as a family the other day to watch the Olympics and it happened to be the women's gymnastics all-around qualifying round for the US.

"That's Gabby Douglas," my son gasped, completely starstruck.

"How do you know about her?" I asked, because honestly, I was genuinely curious. We're not the sportiest family, favoring activities like Ultimate Frisbee over the more usual suspects like football or basketball. All that's to say, it's not like we talk much about sports or athletes. 

"Oh, she is the best," he patiently explained to me. "She's already won a bunch of medals and she's so young. She's really, really good."

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Before I could ask any more questions, my son, captivated by the women on the screen, shushed me. His eyes were wide as he watched, completely in awe, amazed at the athletic accomplishments of these young women.

With a spectator's zeal that could only rival Aly Raisman's actual parents, he watches the competition intently. And then, after only an hour or so of gymnastics viewing, he fancies himself an expert, noting a wobbly dismount versus one he deems perfect. Regardless of her actual wins, though, Gabby Douglas will never be less than a perfect 10 in his mind. She's his Mary Lou Retton, and I love that. He may have teared up slightly when Gabby didn't make the all-around top two. But he just as easily cheered on Aly and Simone.

And you better believe that there were hoots, hollers, and some shiny eyes when the "Final Five" won the gold in Rio.

I know there are probably many young girls who are watching the Olympics and who see these athletes as motivation and inspiration. They are certainly that. But they're even more.

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For my son, they're a prime example of female athleticism -- one he can watch and know without a doubt how strong and skilled female competitors can be. This type of message is a welcome one in a world where women are either sidelined as central characters or one-off stereotypes in the majority of media he consumes.

The US women's gymnastics team showcases incredible athletes, for sure. But it also showcases a really strong, positive example of women that we simply don't get a chance to see as often. Sports media still caters to men's teams regardless of how many more fans certain women's teams (ahem, soccer) have over the men's.

My hope is that with boys like my son -- and hopefully many more like him -- watching women's gymnastics with passion and pride, we're cultivating a generation of men that will have a more multifaceted view of women and girls and recognize the strength they can possess.

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And, by watching these events with gusto and real interest, he will most certainly know better than the media that continues to report on various female medal winners by linking them to their husbands, rather than using their actual names.

Because in our house right now, it's all Gabby, Simone, Aly, Laurie, and Madison. My son knows their names, and he knows what they can accomplish.

 

 

Image via  Paul Kitagaki Jr. / ZUMA Press / Splash News 

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