If you haven’t seen it yet, you should. I’m talking about a clip from American Ninja Warrior. And this clip matters, not just to those of us who might treat shows like this as a guilty pleasure. Because of Kacy Catanzaro, and the incredible physical feat she accomplishes, matters.
She’s tiny. Physically tiny. Five feet tall. 100 pounds. I can’t even begin to comprehend how she blazes through the obstacle course. But watching her, I feel completely, literally awestruck – as in, I am filled with awe.
I’m also overwhelmed by pride for and in this woman who I don’t know and who clearly leads a very different life than I do. But I hear and see so many things more than her physical prowess when she powers through what should be impossible. I hear how the commentators move from expressing doubt that she’ll be able to do it and noting ominously how small she is, to using every positive adjective you could possibly use to describe a competitor and athlete – including calling her “one of the greatest competitors – man or woman.” I hear her boyfriend, who is into the same competitive sports she is, turns in an unguarded moment to someone next to him and say “she’s the most talented athlete I’ve ever known” (at the 6:13 mark). I hear the crowd go absolutely crazy for her early in her run and never stop screaming. I’ll admit, I was screaming at my computer by the end too.
But how does all of this link up to women and work? Because research shows us that women don’t believe in themselves and in what they can accomplish at the same rates as men. This isn’t something hardwired into our biology. It’s because we are socialized to doubt ourselves and to disbelieve our own abilities.
As the ad above notes at the end, 66% of fourth-grade girls say they like science and math, but only 18% of college engineering majors are women. Somewhere along the way, enough messages sink in that there are things women just aren’t able to (or shouldn’t) do. Whether that’s play with tools, participate in a science fair, get the promotion, or lead the company, it has real effects on even the most accomplished professional women.
Kacy is a particularly vivid example of how tired those old stereotypes really are. #MightyKacy indeed.