Women in sport have never been far away from the Olympian level of sexism which follows them in their chosen industry. They are never allowed to forget that they are competing in a man’s world; in a man’s game.
The Olympics are no different.
Flash forward four years, and the hope of progress in the wake of the supposed new wave of feminism is palpable across social media, but sadly Rio 2016 has been no different. With multiple commentators across the board attempting to win the gold medal of misogyny.
Olympian Level Of Sexism: Wins Gold
The level of sexism crosses all boundaries in this games, stemming from commentators, athletes and the general public. Female Olympian athletes are facing a larger struggle than excelling in their chosen sport; facing the crippling sexism of the industry.
One of the most notorious, and frankly ridiculous examples, was when the Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu swam the 400-meter individual medley and smashed the world record – easily winning gold. Of course, NBC immediately owed credit to her coach – her husband. Once again women’s accomplishments are owed to their men, as they can’t be seen as successful at anything other than ‘shopping’ or being a mother.
NBC refuse to quell their choking sexist behaviour to their country’s great female athletes. An unnamed commentator criticised the USA gymnastics team who were laughing and talking after winning easily in the qualifier, and saying they ‘might as well be standing in the middle of a mall’. Not a word of congratulations on their success as world class athletes in a competitive sport, but another sexist attempt to control women’s behaviour in spite of their success.
It was only last year that Serena Williams was questioned at her press conference after her U.S open win against her sister, Venus, why she wasn’t smiling. Although not at the Olympics, it shows the impossible standards athletes are expected to meet in how they present themselves as women full of humility and modesty, while training and competing strenuously.
And it’s not merely the press who perpetuate this level of sexism towards athletes. Ryan Lochte commenting on USA peer Katie Ledecky’s impressive swimming skills and prowess as ‘like a man’. As what else can be the strongest compliment for a woman? That you’re almost as good as the men – i.e the real athletes out here.
However, thankfully there is some consciousness out there – with Andy Murray shutting down the sexism of BBC presenter John Inverdale. When asked how it feels to be the first person to ever win two Olympic tennis gold medals, he responded ‘Venus and Serena have won about four each’. Despite Murray’s golden response, this purely underlines how the whole industry surrounding sporting defines women’s accomplishments as being a ‘lite’ version of the real events of the men.
Women can’t escape the permanent male gaze, even when they are on a world stage to show their amazing determination and skill to reach this level of competition. Fox news anchors discussed whether or not female Olympians should be wearing make-up or not, as it detracts from the sports. With sports commentators proven to comment on women’s appearances twice as much as with men, the standards for women are much higher – and go outside the boundaries of their sport. With sometimes their sport being ignored entirely.
Such as the ever reputable news source The Daily Mail writing a piece on the best and worst fashion choices of the gymnast’s leotards. Managing to read almost as a parody piece by the Daily Mash than an actual news source, it discusses how the German’s uniform looked ‘more Rocky Horror than Rio’.
With these incredibly fit and athletic women still being subjected to body shaming tactics. We are all used to hearing the disgusting comments about swimmers and tennis players alike being shamed for looking like unfeminine ‘men’, but this year Mexico’s Alexa Moreno was taunted for being fat. Many from twitter criticised the 99lbs 4ft 11 gymnast (a healthy BMI of 21) removing her accomplishments and reminding her that she is there for her body and not her sport, jibing her with comments such as ‘pig’. Once again, ignoring her skill, and reminding her that the most important life skill is to remain desirable to men.
Women are described as emotional in the face of men’s paralleled courage and strength. It doesn’t help that only 21% of sporting media is taken up by female commentators, but the indulgent level of sexism that is allowed to live and breed in the sporting world is unacceptable and toxic.
2016 shows the year with the highest ever rate of women athletes, making up 45% of all competing members. Yet there is a long way to go to eradicate this pressing issue to reach a level and equal playing field for all athletes.
It is instead Simone Biles’ commentary on her experience of sexism in the wake of her medal winning performance that I’ll end upon, rather than the endless streams of sporting sexism. In her comparison to the other (male) athletic greats, Biles said ‘I’m not the next Usain Bolt of Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.’
In the face of this archaic sexism, we need this unapologetic level of self-belief and confidence to trump the patronising words of the many. Before we have even come to the end of the 2016 Olympics, we can see sexism is very much alive.