The Slowtwitch Question

Last night, I was reading the Slowtwitch interview with Beth Gerdes on my phone. I don’t read most of the Slowtwitch interviews, but I like Beth and she’s been killing it recently, so I was reading the interview and I got to this question:

ST: Did you two at one point consider not having the baby, or was that a thought that never crossed your mind?

Beth: Seriously? This is a question? Hah. No, we never considered it. I admit I was terrified at first, but Luke was very excited from the get go. We actually found out that I was pregnant two days before Ironman Hawaii 2013. Luke came 2nd that year so I’d say it was some good motivation for him.

My only reaction was ‘whoa, that’s surprisingly real for a triathlon interview,’ but she handled it in the only way that probably made sense for her. And I moved on, read the rest of the thing (which actually is much more interesting and she has a lot of good stuff to say about coming back after having the baby, the WTC points system, and her recent races), and didn’t think about it again.

This morning, I turned my phone back on to find out that my internet had thought about it a lot and was PISSED about the question, primarily because they felt it was a fundamentally inappropriate and sexist question.

I’m not sure they’re right. There are plenty of reasons to be upset about the question and how it was asked, particularly if you are Beth, but it is not a fundamentally sexist question. You don’t ask guys about training through pregnancy, not because you’re sexist, but because it doesn’t make sense to ask them. The decision to have a kid may be a personal decision between two people, but one of those people will disproportionately shoulder the burden of actually having the kid. It is a question that female athletes grapple with far more so than their male counterparts, because women are the ones who will have to be out of training and racing for a year, and lose everything that comes with that. Women are the ones who will have to make the hard comeback to full-time professional athlete. Yes, there are challenges for the male athletes with kids too, but they are far greater for women.

That is just a fact. And it is just a fact that I am sure there are female professional athletes who have ended up pregnant and simply were not prepared to have a kid at that point. There are countless reasons they might make the decision to have an abortion and that is their decision to make.

So. I read that question and I thought maybe we were letting women own their experiences a little bit. I thought maybe this was a step in the direction of allowing these decisions to come out of the shadows, and to let them simply be one of many decisions you, as a complex and nuanced person, make.

But I was wrong.

When everyone got upset about the question, this was the response:

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.29.08 PM

Ugh. So, nope, we’re not letting women own any of their experiences. Actually, still just making moral judgements about them.

People are upset about him asking the question, but I think they’re upset for the wrong reasons. They seem to think he shouldn’t have asked it, because it’s a topic that shouldn’t be touched, because it’s offensive for polite company. They seem to be saying: No one should ever suggest any woman has ever considered an abortion. What they really should be upset about, though, is that he asked it hoping to catch her in some kind of moral trap.

I’m a big believer that if we’re more honest, as people, then it would be better for everyone, that these are not things that we need to hide away in shame. Women deal with miscarriages all the time, yet never talk about them. Infertility is a tough problem for a lot of people, but they never mention it. The statistics suggest that you probably know someone who has had an abortion. But I doubt you know who they are. If we share our experiences, then we allow others to recognize themselves in us and to realize that they are not alone.

I’m sorry Beth’s interview is becoming all about this one question. You really should read the rest of it. But what if it was a totally different person who had been asked the same question and they had said, “Yeah, it’s a tough issue for a lot of pro women, and I really considered all of my options, but I’m glad I decided to have Baby X and it’s been great.” Or, hell, what if they had said, “Actually, I’ve had an abortion before.” (They wouldn’t, because they wouldn’t want the death threats or the outrage or sponsors leaving them.) But if this imaginary person had been asked the same question about her experiences and she had answered it with her own truth, I wonder if the outrage would have been the same.

I didn’t think much of the question at the time because somewhere in my head I had thought maybe that meant we lived in a world where it really was just one question among many. I was wrong, though. We don’t live there yet.

12 thoughts on “The Slowtwitch Question

  1. Not to mention, the question was – “Did you two, at one point, consider…” So it ain’t sexist. It may be inappropriate, or leading, or just annoying.
    But it’s not sexist. For the record, I have been asked the same question. (Answer: nah.)

  2. When I first read it I thought it was “did you consider not having *A* baby,” and I didn’t get the outrage, because I think that’s a thing we’ve evolved to realize female athletes have to think about (and, uh, you know, women generally) disproportionately vs. men, fair or no. But it did change for me when I realized it was THE baby, the now-living being whom the interviewer had spent the ENTIRE interview asking about up to that point. (Or at least I think he had focused on it till then did per internet comments; I can’t see where it appeared in the original because it’s deleted.) From a journalistic perspective, I think there could have been a bazzzzillllionnnnnn better ways to get the information you might be trying to get from a question like that. I mean hell, I think it would have been less bad to ask if the pregnancy was planned, which I also kind of don’t think should be a question someone asks. Or like, what were your thoughts when you found out you were pregnant, or what kind of thoughts did you have about how being pregnant and then later being parents would affect your lives? I just guess I don’t know what was to be gained from asking the abortion version other than shock value.

    1. Yeah, there were definitely better ways to ask it, like you laid out. And, OF COURSE, the baby is a living person and so it’s like how can a parent really answer that question, it’s so weird.

  3. Spot-on commentary. Thanks for addressing this. Also, the “selfish world we live in” business is ridiculous.

  4. I was actually quite surprised by her response to the question, not the question itself, b/c I know that if I became pregnant whilst a pro female triathlete, HECK YES I would have considered whether I should have an abortion or not. Isn’t that a sensible thing to do? Maybe all the internet outrage is from Americans, who really have no idea how to handle the topic of abortion as it is…

    1. Hahaha, well I have no idea what their discussions actually were. But, yeah, I would have also considered it. I think many women would. But, here, in the US, there’s just no way your answer could be anything but what she said really.

  5. I still come down on the fact that it’s a sexist question.

    I admit openly that with all three of my pregnancies, my husband and I had extensive and painful discussions about whether to go to term. Not because I have an athletic career to think about but because the realities of our life made it something we needed to think about. (Not the least of which that my body revolts against pregnancy and I experience dreadful hyperemesis gravidarum.) I’m open about it. I’ll tell complete strangers, like I’m doing now.

    But going for this question, two minutes into an interview with an athlete, would only happen with a *female* athlete. The impact of parenthood on professional athletes is one worth exploring, but there were better ways to open that discussion than “was this a good decision on your part?”

    1. I’m really glad you feel so comfortable with sharing you experience; I hope more women do too. And sorry to hear about the painful issues during pregnancy, and I hope everything turned out ok.

      I’m not sure, though, that just because something is only asked of a woman automatically means it’s sexist. There are differences between men and women, which isn’t sexist to notice. Just because you only ask women about how pregnancy affects them, doesn’t mean it’s sexist to ask them. It doesn’t make as much sense to go around asking men that question. And, yes, having it be the second question seems early, but it was on the heels of a question about being a mom and coming back after pregnancy, so it sort of makes sense in the context of the questions around it. Yes, if it came out of nowhere, then it wouldn’t make sense.

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