Three women of courage rock the male establishment in a big way

Three women of courage rock the male establishment in a big way
The United States’ Megan Rapinoe celebrates after scoring during the Women’s World Cup quarter-final match against France; she outraged US president Donald Trump by saying she would decline any invitation to the White House. Picture: Francisco Seco/AP

Each has shown courage, resolve, and great timing in pushing forward their very different agendas, writes Terry Prone

One of them took on the president of the US. One of them took on a former vice president. The third took on the Italian government.

You may not agree with the reasons motivating any one of them, but you have to admit that these are women of courage who have rocked the male establishment in a big way.

Megan Rapinoe, the soccer player, following a triumphant season, indicated that she’d pass on any invitation coming from the White House, thereby bringing down the immediate online wrath of the man who has been called the “Tweeter in Chief”.

Kamala Harris came out of the traps in an over-populated TV debate between members of the Democratic Party seeking nomination for the US presidency and sank her teeth good and proper in the shin of the favourite and wouldn’t let go.

German sea captain Carola Rackete looked at the decks of her vessel, crowded with sick and exhausted refugees she had plucked from the Mediterranean, and decided to invade the port of Lampedusa at night, where she knew she could dock and offload her human cargo, albeit illegally.

As heroic role models, they’re unusual. We tend to choose women to be heroes, not because they are uppity and politically incorrect, but because they surmount victimhood. Men become household names because of straight-talking (Leo Varadkar/Michael O’Leary), prominence in a popular professional sector (Defence Forces/heart surgery), or sporting achievement (fill in a multiplicity of appropriate names). Women are preferred by media if they’re marinaded in misery, surviving by the skin of their teeth and have achieved moral prominence by near or imminent death.

None of the three women competing for heroic status this week was validated by emerging from the valley of the shadow of death. One of them comes from a background of frank privilege. The other two have indubitably experienced tough times, but their surmounting of past challenges emerged only after their fame was a reality.

Megan Rapinoe is captain of America’s national soccer team and her goals against Spain a week ago and France just before the weekend put her team into the semi-finals of the World Cup against England. Rapinoe first attracted attention by her exuberance when she scored a goal. Which, as mentioned, is pretty often. The exuberance included her running to the sidelines, grabbing a microphone from an official, and launching into a rousing version of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’. So far, so popular.

But then came Colin Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality against African-Americans. Instead of standing, hand on heart, for the American national anthem, Kaepernick went down on one knee, in a dignified but unmissable protest soon emulated by other sportsmen. Rapinoe was the first (white) sportswoman to do likewise, and if there’s one way to lose close to half your audience in sports-mad America, it’s “taking the knee”.

All hell broke loose and Rapinoe found herself being trolled on social media. Even her twin sister, passionately supportive of her sibling on almost all other issues, had reservations about the national anthem protest, which was swiftly outdated by regulations requiring members of the team to stand when ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ was played. Up to then, even though Rapinoe had been for more than a decade an aggressive fighter for proper pay for women athletes, it had been a reasonably positive run for her. Finding out, during her teens, that she was gay, may not have been easy. Her twin maintains Megan went through a quiet, somewhat withdrawn period as a result. However challenging that may have been, it was nothing compared to the level of personal attack she underwent as a result of the national anthem episode.

What’s significant is how she responded.

Opposition and hostility she positioned as what anybody who wants to be a good ally (to the underdog) should expect and welcome.

She didn’t talk about being hurt by it, nor did she back off. When, after last week’s win, someone revived and posted old video footage of her indicating that, in the event of the US team doing well and receiving an invitation to the White House, that putative invitation had a snowball’s chance in hell of being accepted by her. Back down? Not a chance. She stood by her earlier comments, earning herself a tweeted ticking off from Trump.

Just as many Americans, including some who would not count themselves as Trump fans, disapprove of Rapinoe’s stance, so many Italians disapprove of Carola Rackete, the German captain of a refugee ship who landed 40 migrants on Italian soil despite the expressed wishes of Italy’s somewhat right wing minister of the interior, Matteo Salvini. The Italians, understandably, and in common with Malta, are cheesed off about the number of African migrants ending up as their unsought responsibility, courtesy of rescue vessels like the one captained by Rackete on behalf of the Sea Watch charity.

When Rackete announced her need to disembark her passengers, she was essentially told to stuff them. Perhaps into Malta (which wasn’t having any of them and made that very clear) but best of all into Germany. The logic seemed to be:

Oh, captain, my Captain, you’re German by birth and nationality. Take your ship and its payload off up to Germany and let’s see how your compatriots like it.

Rackete indicated that her ship wasn’t built for the Atlantic and anyway, many of the refugees were in rag order after their experience and accordingly must expeditiously be landed in the nearest port. This went on for some time until Rackete decided enough was enough. She went into the port at Lampedusa, navigating with difficulty but success past a police and customs boat, and her passengers, as a result, reached dry land and asylum. Which drove some of the Italians onshore nuts. She must be handcuffed, they told the police. (She was.) She must face the full rigors of the law. (She will.) Inevitably, her background came into play. Her actions were interpreted as no more than her need to pay for being born rich, white and German.

Oddly, or perhaps not oddly at all, the background of our third female warrior, Kamala Harris, also moved front and centre once she became the clear winner of the Democratic Party’s TV debate.

When she claimed: “I was that little girl” in a well-prepared story about the bussing of black children into integrated schools, she forced Joe Biden back on a line of argument that made no sense, then or now. Her online fundraising jumped immediately, providing testimony to her victory. But just as promptly came the suggestions — similar to the “birther” lies told about Obama — that she wasn’t really black at all and therefore unqualified to make the point.

The reactions to these three women demonstrate a need to denigrate them. The fact is, however, each has shown courage, resolve, and great timing in pushing forward their very different agendas.

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