• UO Interviews: Molly Schiot


    Here’s to the barrier breakers: in her new book “Game Changers: The Unsung Heroines of Sports History,” writer Molly Schiot pays tribute to trailblazing past and present female athletes. Read on to learn more about the inspiring project and get an exclusive peek at some of the images in the book.
    Lead image: Norma Enriqueta Basilio, Mexican track and field athlete, the first woman to light the Olympic cauldron. All images posted with permission of Molly Schiot.

    Above: Molly Schiot

    Can you share more about your own background and career?
    I grew up as a huge tomboy in a small town in New Hampshire. I didn’t really have any female role models. All of mine were out of movies like Youngblood and Top Gun. I started skateboarding and playing pond hockey when I was a kid and later became a huge jock. My relationship with sports started to sour in high school when I felt really burnt out. I was stripped of what seemed like years of sleep, friendships, sleepovers, movies, pretty much anything kids do on weekends. I took a very long break from sports and shifted my interests into the arts. A few years ago I saw the Two Escobars about the drug lord and the soccer player, that combined culture and sport into one vessel that I thought was so inspiring.  It was the first time in years where I felt comfortable peeling back some layers and embracing sports culture.

    Above: French figure skater Surya Bonaly

    Above: San Diego skateboarder Kim Cespedes

    Above: Violet Palmer and basketball teammates; Palmer went on to become the first female referee to reach the highest competitive tier in a major U.S. professional sport

    How did the idea for this project begin?
    It happened organically. I started the Instagram account @theunsungheroines as a way to publicly streamline documentary ideas I pitched about women, that I was told at the time were not “interesting enough,” by TV networks. I loved being able to pull these names and faces from library archives and family albums and give them a small modern day, celebratory soap box.  So in a nutshell the book bloomed from being told “no.”

    Above: tennis player Ann Koger

    Above: American runner and Olympic gold medal winner Wyomia Tyus

    Can you talk more about the research process that went into the book? 
    The research was the most arduous part of this process because if you imagine women and sports coverage now, imagine what it was like 50 years ago. I had to depend on universities, families, archives, friends, just to string simple facts together. I wish I had 5 more years to work on this book. 

    Above: Nan Apinwall, the first woman to ride on horseback across North America alone

    Above: New Zealand archer Neroli Fairhall, the first paraplegic competitor in the Olympics

    Above: Belarusian gymnast Olga Korbut

    Whose stories are some of your favorites in the book?
    The story of Joe Carstairs is one of my all time favorites. She was a championship motor boat racer who spent millions of dollars building and racing customized boats.  She was the cigar smoking, tattooed heiress to the Standard Oil fortune. She preferred wearing men's clothing. Her love life consisted of torrid affairs with Hollywood starlets like Marlene Deitrich and Tallulah Bankhead. Despite her many lovers, the only lasting object of her affection was a foot-tall leather doll named Lord Tod Wadley. Given to her by a girlfriend in 1925, Lord Wadley was her constant companion. She spoke of him as her dearest friend, dressing him in expensive tailored suits and ordering him tiny leather shoes from Italy. . . And still we are nearly at the beginning of the saga of Joe Carstairs. After facing tax problems in Britain and the U.S., Joe left civilization at the age of 34 and lived on a Bahamian Island called Whale Cay which she purchased for $40,000. She outfitted it with her own private Spanish villa, a schoolhouse, a power plant, a radio station, a museum dedicated to her own personal accomplishments and appointed herself the island's official ruler, . She made laws -- alcohol and adultery were banned, though she was exempt from this law -- officiated marriages and births, named all of the children born on Whale Cay, created youth camps for the local residents, and ruled over the island with the help of a private machete-bearing militia. From the comfort of her villa, Carstairs continued to entertain a parade of gorgeous women and socialite friends well into her 70s. She kept a photograph of each woman she slept with, amassing around 120 pictures, but the women never stayed for long, as they were forbidden from spending the night in Carstairs’ bed. In 1975, disenchanted with island life, Carstairs sold the island for $1 million and moved to Miami where she lived the rest of her life tending to Lord Wadley and watching boxing shows on TV. She died in 1993 and was cremated and buried with Wadley by her side.

    Above: Women of all ages sharing a eurhythmics display at 1970 Stuttgart, Germany gymnastics festival

    Above: runner Kinue Hitomi, the first Japanese woman to win an Olympic medal

    Are there any singular facts or tidbits that were particularly enlightening/funny/surprising?
    When you create a book you imagine your audience as fitting a specific mold. Since the book has come out I have received close to 30 photos of kids being read the book by their parents. What’s even more astonishing is how many of the kids are boys. Its pretty dope thinking that so many of the kids will know the names of Junko, Gertrude, and Anita.

    Who are some of your own role models (in sports or otherwise)?
    Mona Hanna- Attisha. Cecile Richards. Kamala Harris. Serena Williams. Elizabeth Warren. Ava Duvernay. Wendy Davis. Michelle Obama. Marely Dias. Jaha Dukureh.

    Above: Boxer Marian "Lady Tyger" Trimiar

    Above: professional pool player Dorothy Wise

    Above: sprinter Betty Robinson

    You’ve expressed that the book was a response to “outrage” over sexism — what advice do you have for young girls who are perhaps experiencing this today?
    Find a mentor and email them. They will email you back. And if for whatever reason they don’t give them the benefit of the doubt, and email me, and Ill find someone for you to email with. I promise.

    Above: motorcyclist Elspeth Beard

    Above: baseball player Edith Houghton

    Above: Patti McGee, 1965 Woman's first National Skateboard Champion

    How can we dispel stereotypes and progress as female athletes? What steps do you see that need to happen?
    How much time to I have? 

    For starters there is far less exposure for women’s sports than men. In a study called DUDE TIME, by Michael Messner , professor of gender studies and sociology at USC, he concluded  “men’s sports received 92% of the air time, women’s sports 5%, and gender neutral topics 3%. The television sports news did focus regularly on women, but rarely on women athletes. More common were portrayals of women as comical targets of the newscasters’ jokes and/or as sexual objects (e.g., women spectators in bikinis).”  So a remedy is give women a platform. People will watch.

    And then when we do focus on women, which is usually during the Olympics the examples of sexism are so rampant it becomes a trend on Twitter.  Here are some of the roughest commentary moments from the recent Olympic games in Rio. Chicago Tribune’s headline ― “Corey Cogdell, wife of Bears lineman Mitch Unrein, wins bronze in Rio.” An NBC commentator said USA Gymnastic team members looked like they “might as well be standing in the middle of a mall” after the camera focused on them laughing after they crushed the competition.  NBC sportscaster Dan Hicks gave big props to Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu’s husband, Shane Tusup, after her world record breaking crazy win. As the camera focused on Shane, who was also Hosszu’s coach, the sportscaster said, “And there’s the man responsible.”   So a remedy is get journalists and reporters that are smart and know better.

    Lastly pay. Quick numbers. 25.4 million viewers watched the 2015 World Cup Final against Japan, making it the most watched soccer match—male or female—in US history.  But Players on the women’s team, earn as little as 40% of what their male counterparts are paid, despite having generated more revenues last year. Oh and also The U.S. women’s team won three World Cups since 1990. The mens team did not make it to Rio or placed in the top 4 in the World Cup since 1930. So a remedy is give women a break. Pay them more. 

    I am not an expert or a scholar but all those example seem pretty unfair to me.

    Above: All-American redheads basketball team

    Above: Estonian mountain climber Helme Suuk

    Above: French sailor Florence Arthaud

    Above: skateboarder, surfer, and environmental activist Peggy Oki


    Game Changers: The Unsung Heroines of Sports History
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