Olympic Sexism

14 Aug

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I HAD planned to write a post on sexism in the Olympics but Socialist Worker’s Leela Yellesetty did such a great job I thought I’d just point you in her direction.

From the well-reported news that female Japanese soccer players and Australian basketball players flew coach while their male peers got to travel in style in first class on the long haul to London 2012, to the Metro piece that cropped images of male athletes to focus on their butts and abs to highlight the sexism of the frame in photographs of female volleyball players that raced around Twitter, Yellesetty hits the nail on the head.

A particularly cringe-worthy moment at this year’s Games came when NBC sports commentators covering women’s gymnastics asked if they had “seen any diva moments yet.”

That falls on the subtler end of the spectrum. The overt is much worse. Some of it is dressed up in the guise of drumming up more viewership, such as the suggestion that female boxers wear skirts while competing. The idea being, according to the Amateur International Boxing Association, “to help viewers distinguish between male and female boxers.”

The almost pathological need to enforce the femininity of athletes who are specimens of physical strength and athletic prowess was on display in the New York Daily News‘ bizarre article on Olympic athletes who are also “Champion Chefs in the Kitchen” (needless to say, they’re all women).

Far more prevalent and insidious is the continuous attempt to sexualize female athlete’s bodies. According to Feministing.com’s analysis of ESPN’s annual Body Issue, in which nearly half the athletes featured were women, “[O]ver half of the female athletes were shown only as passive eye candy, while virtually all of the men were shown in action shots.” Feministing found that:

– 78 percent of the photos of men depict an active pose, while only 52 percent of women’s photos do.
– 90 percent of the male athletes had at least one active pose in the slideshow.
– 46 percent of female athletes had at least one active pose in the slideshow.

Read the full article here.

To the section on Lolo Jones, I’d add this Reuters blog post, which I’m including for a comparison between the New York Times hit-job on Jones versus male athletes, and this graf which speaks to the editor nerd in me:

Here’s what an editor scanning for sexism might have written on Longman’s draft, next to “Previously, Jones has defended her nude ESPN photograph on artistic grounds”: Not necessary. No male athlete or actor or anybody has to defend taking their shirt off even if they suck at what they do. And beside “she has proclaimed herself to be a 30-year-old virgin”: Implies that she’s not, when only reason to do so is weird investment in truth of virgin-whore paradigm. Or in the margins by “After stumbling four years ago, she is back on her feet, back in the Games. Back in position to be appreciated for her athletic skill, not merely her sex appeal. Back in position to undress her opponents, not herself”: Sounds like commentary from a mean, judgy preacher-dad. Basically says, “Cover yourself up.” Just try to imagine some of Longman’s sentences being printed about a male athlete.

This is slightly tangential, but a couple months ago I read this excellent profile of Indian boxer and Olympic bronze medalist Mary Kom and wanted to share it; please read.

And finally, to end on a humorous note, here’s the inimitable Sajan Venniyoor on Kafila, whose post had me in stitches. The name tells all: Why the Maldivian ski team is good in short bursts (and other reflections on the Olympics). It’s a laugh a minute.

One Response to “Olympic Sexism”

  1. Z 19 August 2012 at 3:44 PM #

    There has been a lot on this subject during and after the Olympics. NBC’s most cringeworthy moment by far (which was eventually taken off the air) was this video they posted. You can still see it on Jezebel here: http://jezebel.com/5933302/someone-at-nbc-apparently-approved-this-creepy-porny-video-of-female-olympians

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