Gender and the Olympics
The London Olympics concluded today. For the first time, women were represented on every competing nation’s team, and the U.S. team had more women than men. Judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison talked openly about being a survivor of sexual abuse, and American soccer player Megan Rappinoe publicly announced she is gay. But these Olympics also demonstrated that we are still struggling with how to react when the people achieving these feats are women:
· Officials considered requiring female boxers to wear skirts. Are you kidding me? I am sure these ladies could kick ass wearing skirts, high heels, or the queen’s hat if they had to, but just because (some) women wear skirts doesn’t mean women need to wear them boxing. You don’t see anyone making male boxers wear cummerbunds.
· US weightlifter Sarah Robles struggles to get a sponsor. The US top-ranked Sarah Robles had no sponsors and was living on $400 a month before the games, despite her athletic success and inspiring back story: she has Madelung’s deformity which means her ulna is shorter than normal and crooked, resulting in pain during every lift. She is now sponsored by Solve Media. Her lack of funding highlights the difficulties that athletes in more obscure sports face in finding sponsors, especially if the athlete doesn’t look like our typical ideal of beauty.
· Hurdler Lolo Jones gets ripped in NYTimes for having too easy a time getting a sponsor. God forbid a female athlete should actually be good looking, controversial, and use those traits to drum up publicity necessary to get sponsorships and avoid living on $400 a day, though. Lolo Jones was the subject of a highly critical NY Times article alleging that her fame was due to looks and public discussion of her choice to remain a virgin, rather than her athletic abilities. While it would be great to see more coverage of her teammates who medaled in the event, she placed fourth—it looks like she was pretty qualified to be at the Olympics. It’s obvious that getting sponsorships relies not only on athletic performance but also on charisma, but it seems that female athletes get disproportionate criticism when they play the game. Lolo’s idiosyncrasies give her an unfair advantage in the media circus—but Ryan Lochte’s grill gets a pass.
· Gymnast Gabby Douglas’s ponytail isn’t good enough. I sometimes don’t comb my hair in the morning. Gymnast Gabby Douglas, gold medalist in the women’s all-around, hits the floor to complete some of the most difficult physical maneuvers on the planet, and it’s a travesty that more thought, time and effort didn’t go into her hair. What, the U.S. gymnastics team didn’t want to hire Ronaldo to consult?
· Will beach volleyball keep the bikinis? In a number of sports, athletes compete in minimal attire for the sake of comfort and ease of movement. When beach volleyball, whose traditional attire is obviously beach wear, allowed women to compete in more covering uniforms, an inordinate amount of attention was paid to which women would keep their bikinis. What should have been a simple choice reflecting weather and personal preferences would inevitably be viewed as a statement on gender, voyeurism, and the image of the sport.
· IOC institutes policy of gender testing based on testosterone. The test would only be carried out if requested by the chief medical officer of a national Olympic committee or a member of the IOC’s medical commission. They have not published an acceptable level of testosterone, and the methodology has been criticized by some doctors, as some women simply produce high levels of testosterone. Some fear that gender testing will unfairly single out athletes who don't conform to tr Castor Semenya, a South Africa female runner whose gender was questioned three years ago and was subsequently cleared, competed and won the silver medal in the women’s 800 meter run.
Completely agree with you on these points. The Lolo point is further exacerbated by her humble origins, which makes the NYTimes singling out of her all the more problematic. As if to say that it's okay for a male basketball player of humble origins to get lots of attention, sponsorships, and fame, but if you're a woman, you're held up to a double standard.
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I have worked in economic policy and research in Washington, D.C. and Ghana. My husband and I recently moved to Guyana, where I am working for the Ministry of Finance. I like riding motorcycle, outdoor sports, foreign currencies, capybaras, and having opinions.