Thesis: In what many observers consider the greatest rivalry in the history of sport, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova helped change societally constructed ideas about female identity. Chris Evert proved that you could be an intensely driven professional woman and “feminine” at the same time. Martina, well, Martina’s the missing heroine in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Her story (herstory) mirrors the archetypal hero’s journey in all the world’s myths and religions.
I: Departure, the Call to Adventure. One of the first prominent athletes to risk defecting in secret from an Eastern bloc country, Martina left her family behind reading the newspapers: “Martina Navratilova preferred a fat bank account.” Her call to adventure included American freedom, its endless opportunities, its many doors of ice cream fries Big Macs Whoppers . . . Won the first three of her 18 grand slam singles titles as “The Great Wide Hope” (Bud Collins).
II: Initiation, the Road of Trials. “I never thought there was anything wrong with being gay.” To say one was a lesbian was to turn one’s back on the holy trinity of money, fame, virtue. Martina’s life as a private-becoming-public lesbian. Martina’s life as an eastern-bloc defecting private-becoming-public emotional yet intellectual yet devil-may-care lesbian. Add to that the most challenging question: how do I beat Chris Evert? So workouts, weights, diet. A complete body makeover like the kind you only see on TV. Once Martina married her hard-earned athleticism to her imaginative skill for attacking the net on lefty serves, big forehands, and biting knifed backhands, what could poor Chrissie do? What could anyone?
III: The Hero’s Return, the Public “Boon.” Not true in the case of our heroine! Martina never returned to us; we finally caught up to her. We now hold these truths as self-evident: that you can love who you want to love, that you are what you eat, that female athletes lift weights, that getting older does not mean you must stop competing. Martina won the Wimbledon doubles title a few months shy of her fiftieth birthday. Just as many early feminists saw Eve not as a sinner but as heroine who challenged the status quo, someone who by reaching for the fruit of greater knowledge broke the patriarchy’s rules and was punished for “disobedience,” Martina’s now a heroine for many. Martina’s mainstream now.
The Painting above of Martina Navratilova–70 x 70 x 3.5 cm, oil on canvas–was a commissioned work by the Berlin Tennis Gallery, G-Anne Fixemer. For a great introduction to The Berlin Tennis Gallery, check out this short introductory video:
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