On Sunday evening, U.S. world-record-breaking swimmer Katie Ledecky dominated the women's 400-meter freestyle race and beat her own record. The swimmer's accomplishments are absolutely incredible, but appallingly, that's not what some people have been focusing on. Made after the infuriating claim that she "swims like a man," this one tweet about Ledecky's abilities uses a feminist response to slap the haters in the face and remind them that women can dominate the field — or the pool — just as well as men can.
The claim that Ledecky "swims like a man" doesn't just downplay her own victories. Dangerously, it also suggests that women aren't capable of being amazingly strong, record-breaking athletes. Or that there's something wrong with them if they are. It implies that Ledecky is somehow not "feminine" enough because of her athletic abilities, while in reality, success and drive are some of the most attractive traits. Determination is beautiful in its own right, and needs zero justification.
This social climate absolutely needs to change, especially if young girls are to grow up confident that they, too, can succeed just like Ledecky. Tweets like this one are helping to catalyze that change and relay the truth: Girls are strong, and they should be damn proud of it.
To say the least, the thoughtless comment is incorrect and intensely offensive in more ways than one. An athlete — woman or man — makes a career out of his or her sport, and deserves to be recognized positively for it. In this case, attention to gender is completely inappropriate, but sadly not uncommon.
In gym class, young boys are often teased that they "throw like a girl" or "run like a girl," ingraining the idea in all that "girl" and "athleticism" are somehow antithetical. What's worse is that the comment is oftentimes shrugged off or spat to trigger embarrassment. In other words, it's become okay to imply at a young age that being a girl is never good enough. Ledecky, as well as numerous other female athletes competing in the Olympics, are here to joyously prove that's not the case.
Ledecky's record is impressive for any athlete, let alone a 19-year-old. After attending the 2012 Olympics in London and taking home a gold medal, the swimmer came to Rio four years later with high hopes. She beat her own world record and the competing swimmers beside her by entire seconds. Though she wasn't the only swimmer in the pool, that 400-meter race came down to beating her own personal time and no one else's. In a symbolic sense, her competing against herself represents a noble defiance of comparison — one from which we can all grow stronger.