Is there anything a woman can’t do?

Wouldn’t it be nice if Ellen MacArthur’s record-setting solo 71-day journey around the world changed a few minds? Wouldn’t it be nice if her achievement nudged us a little closer to the day when men-and women-no longer believe in all those false limits to female strength and ambition?

MacArthur went were no man has gone before. With only mind and muscle, using the wind as her fuel, she showed us all that the Earth is not so big after all. She proved that our planet is smaller than the ambitions and endurance of a single woman.

Think about it for a moment, the fastest human to sail around the world-in all of history-is a woman.

Primitive and unjustified ideas about gender differences have burdened humankind for a long, long time. Early on, males embraced the idea that physical strength was more important than anything else in determining who is boss. Perhaps it was justified on the African savannah a million years ago. But why are testosterone-based power structures still so popular? After all, technology has reduced the significance of muscle fibers?

The price for our blunder, of course, has been the loss of immeasurable intellectual and creative potential. How many women were born with gifted minds, only to be neglected and left undeveloped? This year alone, how many girls will be born into societies that will not allow them to attend school or drive a car, much less steer a ship around the world? Not too bright for our species, to say the least. We have plodded along with one foot dragging and one hand tied behind our back for far too long.

Our awakening to justice and the value of women has been slow but the pace has quickened over the last 100 years. Never before in history have so many women and girls had so much freedom and opportunity to fulfill their potential. Yes, there are still societies where women are the slaves of men. But they are the past, doomed to erosion and eventual extinction by a world that is passing them by.

Sports may seem trivial to an issue as important as gender equality, but I’m not so sure it is. The perception of overall weakness is critical to the belief that women are inferior to men. Sports has been methodically destroying this notion for years now. After all, sports shows us women who can run faster than 99.99 percent of all the men on Earth. Sports shows us women who are stronger and can lift heavier weights than 99.99 percent of all men. And, this month, sports gave us a woman who sailed around the world faster than anyone ever has.

MacArthur’s record-breaking 71 day, 26,000 mile journey around the globe was one more nail in the coffin for the traditional view that women just can’t cut it. It now requires extreme stupidity to think that women are weak physically or mentally. They hurl heavy steel balls 65 feet. They run marathons. They climb mountains. Every day, sports show the world that women are strong and capable of magnificent achievements.

Some may argue that pointing to the elite has no direct relevance to the abilities of all women. These are, after all, the most gifted and driven. The answer to that is the fact that every superwoman began life as an unimposing baby girl. While a loving mother or father may believe in their infant’s destined greatness, no one else can be sure. You or I, for example, would not have looked at newborn Ellen MacArthur 28 years ago and seen a future sailing legend. We could not have known.

At birth, all girls are potential scientists, space shuttle pilots and record-breaking sailors. For this reason, you and I owe every baby girl born into this world a chance to sail toward any horizon they choose.

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