Despite making up 45% of Olympians, female athletes still have a way to go before they have real gender equality. Sexism in sport is alive and well.
International sport is heavily male-dominated and Jacques Rogge, Head of the International Olympic Committee, hailed the London 2012 Olympics as a breakthrough year for gender equality issues. “For the first time in Olympic history, all the participating teams will have female athletes. This is a major boost for gender equality.” Never before have all the participating teams sent female athletes; who now make up a record 45% of all athletes. In Atlanta only 16 years ago, 26 countries did not include any women at all.
But despite these steps forward, how much progress has still to be made?
Before a sports shoe had even been donned there were gender issues. Two women’s teams were obliged to travel economy class while their less successful, male counterparts travelled business class. Resistance came from Saudi Arabia to send female delegates until they finally bowed to pressure from the IOC to include women early in July. This is a country where physical education for women is banned in schools. The female judo competitor Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani has now been allowed to compete wearing a headscarf, rather than the traditional muslim dress of hijab. However, she has been subjected to internet abuse from countrymen under the hashtag translated into #olympic_whores for not adhering to conservative Muslim dress codes for women.
Ye Shiwen, the 16 year old Chinese swimmer, winner of 2 gold medals and breaker of world records, confronts news items about whether or not she is guilty of doping or has even been genetically engineered, rather than congratulations. Ye is smaller than most swimmers at her level but has never to-date failed a drug test. Commentary from Olympic organizers says in her defence that the suspicions were “crazy” and motivated by jealousy.
Zoe Smith, Olympic weightlifter turned in a personal best performance was equally harangued, but this time for being unattractive. Happily she responded with some alacrity in her blog, “we don’t lift weights in order to look hot, especially for the likes of men like that. What makes them think that we even WANT them to find us attractive? If you do, thanks very much, we’re flattered. But if you don’t, why do you really need to voice this opinion in the first place, and what makes you think we actually give a toss that you, personally, do not find us attractive? What do you want us to do? Shall we stop weightlifting, amend our diet in order to completely get rid of our ‘manly’ muscles, and become housewives in the sheer hope that one day you will look more favourably upon us and we might actually have a shot with you?!”
tasteless joke about her appearance, but seems not to have been fazed by the comedian’s barbs. She took 3rd place in the 400m freestyle, recording a faster time than her gold-medal winning performance in Beijing. Why Boyle even gets airtime is a mystery to me.
Lack of sponsorship
Lizzie Armitstead, the silver medallist in the women’s road race, also commented on, “overwhelming sexism faced by female athletes”, referencing a lack of high level bank rolling sponsorship for the women’s teams which lack financial backing from companies such as BSkyB which sponsors the men’s team.
So it would seem that although many battles are being won, gender equality is still unbalanced and the war is far from over for our female athletes. But happily it would seem that these women are prepared to speak up and fight on! Brava!
More sexist abuse
Addendum 1 Thursday 2nd August. Legendary Australian swimmer Leisel Jones, winner of 8 medals over the past 2 games is getting comments in the press about her weight!
Addendum 2 Monday 6th August. US weightlifter Holley Mangold subject to sexist tweets from Conan O’Brien.
Addendum 3 Monday 6th August. US Beach Volleyball Women’s Team required to wear bikinis - male counterparts wear shorts and shirts.
If you hear of any more – please add a comment!