How do you define the word “hero”? Does a hero have to be six feet tall, with perfect hair and a red cape trailing in the wind? Of course not, you say. A hero can be anyone who has made an impact on the person that you yourself are aspiring to be. Heroes can be parents, athletes, actors, singers—anyone who possesses qualities that we wish to see reflected in ourselves.
You’re probably thinking of someone who is your hero. What a great person, you think to yourself. So imagine how I felt when I heard that my childhood hero, Andrea Joyce, was coming to speak at the University of Michigan.
Now you’re probably thinking, Why would this girl’s childhood hero be Andrea Joyce?! I was a competitive gymnast from age eight to age eighteen, and seeing gymnastics televised was always a rare treat because the networks usually give priority to high-revenue sports. But when the Olympics roll around, gymnasts suddenly have the spotlight. And the first person they encounter when the competition ends is Andrea Joyce.
No matter what happened in the competition, whether the gymnast is devastated or ecstatic, Joyce always knows how to coax out an interview more interesting than those full of responses like “I just wanted to do my best” and “I worked really hard to get here” from the teenage competitors by asking questions that make the girls think; questions like “Do you think your performance was enough?”. Unapologetic and tough, she’s there to get her job done. When she spoke at Michigan this past week, she said this about her career: “You’re there, and you mean business, and you’re only there for business.”
But the underlying theme through everything that Joyce had to say was that her job and the incredible work she’s done has been that much harder to achieve because she is a woman. When she first went on the air at the beginning of her career in sports broadcasting, she said that male viewers called the station to say that they’d been taping her segments, waiting for her to make a mistake, and were surprised when she never did. Social expectations of women at the time, when women were not prominent in broadcasting, dictated to male viewers that she would be sub-par at her job. Professor LaVaque-Manty’s essay “Equality and Excellence in Modern Meritocracy” (in the book The Playing Field of Eton, University of Michigan Press, 2009) speaks of how women are often treated as if their sex is a disability—and this “‘spoiled identity’ is the person’s social identity, how others see her. One of the things people don’t expect of ‘defectives’ is excellence.” Few people were expecting excellence of Joyce before she took the air, and I’m sure that few people would use the word “defective” in any context to describe Joyce.
In 2006, Joyce and her husband, newscaster Harry Smith, switched jobs for the day as a part of a series on CBS where spouses switch places for a day. Although Joyce’s career is as demanding as her husband’s, the article described her career like this: “besides running the household [she] is a sports reporter for NBC.” This implies that her primary job is to run the household and her career is a hobby of sorts, something she does “besides” being a housewife. But what moves me the most is how Joyce doesn’t seem to be fazed by the expectation that her sex will get in the way of her professional performance. In her own words, “You have to be better than you think you need to be.” At the end of the day, you have to be better than others think you need to be.
In an age where undeserving celebrity can be gained through a few well-worded tweets, girls deserve to be aware of the strong women who have opened the doors for them in all walks of life. Maybe girls are “supposed” to be overly emotional, apologetic, and timid. But this is the time to reverse those stereotypes. Joyce has no patience for whatever society is “expecting” of impressionable girls. As she says, “When you make a decision that there’s something you really want to do…you have to attack it.”