Fu Yuanhui (of China) is getting a lot of attention for straightforwardly stating a significant concrete fact about her body. It's a matter of great personal privacy, something women take pains to conceal, and it's so pervasively common that it's not really an interesting fact. When do we ever need to know?
By saying "but this isn’t an excuse, I still didn’t swim well enough" Fu immediately revealed a key reason why athletes don't say it: It sounds like an excuse, and it's an excuse so many others could make, so why invade your own privacy?
When Michael Phelps failed to win his last individual race, the 100m butterfly, he didn't tell us about his substandard sleep last night or a recent unsatisfying bowel movement. He said to talk to the guy who won and "I’m happy right now" and other conventional good-sport remarks.
But menstruation is different. It's a big, shared but mostly secret experience for women, and hearing an Olympic athlete admit it was a burden, an added challenge, is heartening, perhaps. And don't we wonder, watching women compete: After training so hard, how awful to have your period the day of the event... that's got to be happening to some of them... but who?
Chinese sports fans used social media to praise Fu for breaking the silence surrounding the menstrual cycles of female athletes. Many said they had not realised it was possible for a woman to swim during her period. “Our Ms Fu dares to say anything,” wrote one user of Weibo, China’s Twitter.Imagine thinking it's not even possible to swim when you have your period:
Eight decades after tampons first went on sale in the United States, a deep-rooted cultural resistance and inadequate sex education in China are blamed for the fact that only 2% of Chinese women use them, according to one recent study.Quite aside from the cultural change of using tampons, there's the switch to free speech:
China’s first domestically produced tampon – named Crimson Jade Cool – is set to go on sale soon with the businessman behind the initiative planning to target sport centres for sales.
Mark Dreyer, who is tracking China’s Olympic fortunes on the China Sports Insider website , said Fu’s popularity pointed to a healthy shift away from China’s notorious obsession with “robotic” gold medal-winning athletes. “She’s probably got more name recognition at this point than any of [China’s gold medalists],” Dreyer said.I love seeing the love for free speech. As that person on Chinese social media said: "Our Ms Fu dares to say anything."
“People are more interested in the personality side of things and the individual side of things rather than, ‘Here are 50 Chinese robots who are winning for their country and for their Party’,” he added.