Is this the most feminist Olympics ever?

Story highlights

  • Roxanne Jones: Fu upended stereotypes about Chinese women and broke a taboo by talking about her period
  • Jones says Rio Olympics have challenged Western assumptions about gender norms, women's power and equality

Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, has worked as a producer and as a reporter at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. She was named a 2010 Woman of the Year by Women in Sports and Events, is a co-author of "Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete," and CEO of the Push Marketing Group. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Go ahead. Admit it. If you are a Western woman who watched Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui tell the world that she was having her period but that it was no excuse for losing, you were shocked that such a frank, public, feminist comment came from a Chinese woman, of all people.

"I feel I didn't swim well today. I let my teammates down. Because my period came yesterday, I'm feeling a bit weak, but this is not an excuse," said Fu after the 20-year-old won a bronze medal for her nation in the women's 4x100-meter medley relay in Rio on Sunday.
Wait. Doesn't this fly in the face of the west's old, stereotypical view that women in China are meek and oppressed? Doesn't the feminist flag wave only for American women, perhaps most particularly white women?
    Well, no and no -- unless you've been brainwashed by arrogant Western ideas about feminism while ignoring the strength women around the world have always shown, regardless of their circumstances.
    And if that's the case, these Olympics have likely challenged your notions about femininity and empowerment everywhere.
    Start with Fu, the backstroke specialist, who refuses to fall into anyone's preconceived ideas about Chinese women. She's a rock star in her homeland not only for her athletic success in both the 2016 and 2012 Olympic Games but for her outspoken personality, optimism and goofy brand of humor. She has more than 4 million followers on Weibo, China's top social media platform, and has inspired girls across the globe.
    Listen to this confident, carefree woman after her third-place finish in the 100m backstroke semifinal on Monday: "Whoooaah! I was so fast! I didn't hold back...I used all of my mystic energy!" When asked why she didn't place higher she quipped that her arms "were too short."
    Thank you, Fu, for encouraging millions of girls and women to jump into that pool, compete and strive to win no matter what day of the week. And for saying what so many Western woman have wanted to say in our biggest moments but kept silent about because of some ancient social and cultural shame.
    Our periods, though inconvenient at times, are what make us beautifully female and all-powerful in our ability to conceive life, if we choose. That to me has never been a sign of weakness, and also never an excuse for failure, but instead a demonstration of our immense power. And it's time for us to shatter the notion that we can't succeed because we bleed.
    The innocent brilliance of Fu is that she has used her athletic ability and humor to remind us how all women are connected through our sameness. She did it by standing up and daring to be a whole woman who embraces her femininity.
    Global feminist icon Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Prize in 2004 for her contributions toward sustainable development, democracy and peace, urged people to open up the discussion of global feminism to include the voices and concerns of woman across religions, cultures and nations. Because, as she knew, human rights are human rights for all.
    Maathai, who died in 2011, understood that true feminism cannot be dictated by Western ideas of what equality means for women. And she believed every woman had the ability to make a difference.
    "It's the little things citizens do. That's what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees," she famously said.
    Too often we judge the fight for equality by the power that women do not have, instead of the immense power we do have collectively. We may not all loudly protest, or win Nobel Prizes, or lead nations. But each of us can contribute to the fight for our human rights, our dignity, in our own way.
    We can stand on the podium like US swimmer Simone Manuel, who dedicated her record-breaking Olympic gold to inspire her black community to keep fighting for justice.
    Or, you can make a bold statement by challenging religious persecution, as the Egyptian beach volleyball team did when they dared to compete in long pants, sleeves and a hijab instead of the skimpy bikinis that only women -- never men -- were mandated to wear in the past.
    The rules on bikinis were eased before the 2012 Olympics, and it's notable that in "advanced" countries like the US, full of "empowered" women, beach volleyball teams continue to compete before a world audience wearing almost nothing. Egypt's team of women, meanwhile, opened the door for other Muslim woman athletes to compete on a world stage.
    Ideally, we will follow the lead of Fu, who showed us that sometimes our most powerful act is just to stand proudly in all of our womanhood, being our authentic, beautiful selves. Talking about a little thing like your period. Changing the world.