Despite all of the happy, positive news coming out of the games in Rio and the bank vault sized trove of medals brought home by US competitors, the Olympic games have had a lot of problems. Medalists are being robbed at gunpoint around town, kayakers are hitting submerged couches in disease infested waters, the swimming pools are turning green and the facilities were clearly less than optimal. All of this has prompted some of us to suggest that maybe the games should be shipped back to Greece permanently. But for at least some observers, those aren’t the biggest problems with the Olympic Games. It’s the sexist nature of the media coverage of female athletes. (Mashable)
With more women competing in Rio 2016 than in any other Olympics, there is still a notable difference in the way female and male athletes are discussed in media coverage. Now — 116 years since women were first permitted to enter the Olympic Games — sexism and the Olympics remain unfortunate bedfellows.
Since the opening ceremony of Rio 2016, UK commentators and publications have garnered criticism for all the wrong reasons. BBC presenter John Inverdale forgot about the existence of women’s tennis; BBC commentators referred to the judo final between Majlinda Kelmendi and Odette Giuffrida as a “cat fight”; and Team GB rower Helen Glover was asked by the Daily Mail about her skincare regimen and the effect of training on her hair.
The author, Rachel Thompson, isn’t entirely off base on some of these complaints. I don’t see it as the end of the world, but it’s pretty ridiculous to spend time asking someone who just won a gold medal about which skincare products she’s using or if the chlorine in the pool is making her hair frizzy. Those aren’t really offensive questions in my eyes, but they’re clearly pointless in the larger context and detract from the accomplishment being celebrated. But at the same time, it seems that the press can’t help themselves and there are reasons why this happens. One of the best examples is the red carpet coverage at the Oscars and other awards shows. Feminists have been getting upset because reporters keep asking the actresses about their gowns when men don’t get similar treatment. The reason is that the men are all wearing the same thing. (But that’s an argument for another day.)
But Thompson doesn’t stop at the usual complaints about fashion questions. She goes on to kvetch over reporters making comparisons between the male and female competitors.
When U.S. gymnast Simone Biles — the greatest gymnast of all time — delivered a fantastic performance on the uneven bars, one NBC commentator stated, “I think she might even go higher than the men.” Meanwhile, U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky was hailed the “female Michael Phelps” by the Mail Online. And, Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu’s husband was credited for her gold medal win by NBC.
Sam Smethers — chief executive of women’s rights organisation Fawcett Society — says that the Rio 2016 media commentary on female medallists has been “offensive and demeaning.”
This leads the author to endorse a call for the media to stop referring to women’s sports as “a separate entity.” But as we’ve discussed here in the past as it relates to professional sports, how are reporters to honestly treat the subject as if there aren’t two separate categories for these events? Pretending that everyone is on a level playing field is dishonest and fails to reflect reality.
If there were no differences between the genders then we’d just have everyone competing in the same events with no distinction made for biology. And what would happen then? In the 100 meter freestyle swimming event this year in the men’s division, Kyle Chalmers of Australia took the gold with a time of 47.58 seconds. It was a great performance, but he failed to break Eamon Sullivan’s record of 47.05 set in Bejiing. At the same time, Simone Manuel shocked with world, sharing a gold medal in a tie with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak and setting a new Olympic record in the process. Their time was 52.7 seconds. Had they been in the pool with the men they’d have come in dead least by an awkward margin. Out on the track, Usain Bolt covered the same distance in the dash in 9.81 seconds. In the women’s matching event Elaine Thomson took gold with a time of 10.71. On the men’s track that wouldn’t have gotten her through the qualifier. The men’s pole vault record stands at 19 ft 9 and 1/4 inches. The women’s record is more than three feet lower.
The list goes on in virtually every sport. So yes… cut out the questions about hair products and what the athletes think of the new pastel uniform colors if you like. But please stop complaining about treating the gender categories of the sports differently. Men and women are not the same. They are each unique in often wonderful ways, but one of those differences shows up in physical athletic competitions. The system is working fine as it is, and if you disagree, ask Annika Sorenstam how it worked out when they let her play in some PGA events.