Every four years the best athletes in the world gather together to compete for country pride, life long bragging rights and to prove to themselves they are the best at what they do.
This year, 45 percent of these world-class athletes are women, but you may not know it just by reading the headlines and watching the television coverage.
The 2016 Rio Olympic games began on Friday and already there have been several glaring examples of sexism on the part of those covering the games, starting with the opening ceremony.
But what makes this year different is that it finally seems like people are paying attention.
NBC, who has the exclusive rights to Olympic coverage in the United States, was criticised for showing too many commercials during the five-hour opening ceremony on Friday night. Who’s fault is that? Well women of course.
“The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans. More women watch the Games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey. It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and mini-series wrapped into one. And to tell the truth, it has been the complaint of a few sports writers. It has not been the complaint of the vast viewing public.”
The response was quick. As expected, people jumped on twitter to express their disappointment.
But encouragingly, the dissatisfaction seemed to spread far and wide. The outrage wasn’t just on social media. Headlines like “NBC didn’t show the opening ceremony live, and its explanation is eyebrow-raising” from Business Insider dominated the news the next morning.
What I’m going to call #SexismBonanzaRio2016 didn’t stop with the opening ceremony.
On Saturday, Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu completely shattered the 400-medley world record, breaking it by nearly two seconds. How did NBC commentator Dan Hicks choose to celebrate Hosszu’s beyond amazing feat? By calling Hosszu’s husband and coach Shane Tusup the man “responsible for her victory.”
I’m sure Tusup was instrumental in helping Hosszu to become the amazing athlete she is, but the key word there is helping. At the end of the day it was Hosszu that got in that pool and won that gold medal.
Hicks later apologised and said he “wished he’d said things differently.”
Regardless, a conversation was started. Two days later, thousands are still talking about ‘Katinka Hosszu husband credit’ on Facebook.
Amazingly the NBC leg of the #SexismBonanzaRio2016 is still rolling.
The USA Women’s Gymnastics team is looking to defend their all around gold medal from the 2012 games. During Sunday’s qualifying round coverage, the five women, who have devoted their lives to the sport, dominated the competition but when they were shown smiling victoriously an NBC commentator said they looked like they “might as well as be standing in the middle of a mall.”
How dare these women smile because of their achievement.
NBC might hold the record for most sexist comments during the games so far but they are by no means the only culprits.
The Chicago Tribune has been criticised for this tweet about Olympic bronze medal winning trap shooter Corey Cogdell-Unrein.
As you can see, the tweet focuses more on the career of her husband NFL linesman Mitch Unrein than the fact she just won an Olympic medal after years and years of practice and sacrifice.
The article itself isn’t much better. The headline, “Corey Cogdell, wife of Bears lineman Mitch Unrein, wins bronze in Rio” makes no mention of which event Cogdell-Unrein competed in and the copy, which first and foremost refers to her as a “wife”, devotes a paltry two paragraphs to her amazing achievements before transitioning to her husbands training schedule.
The following is an actual line the Chicago Tribune thought was an acceptable sentence for an article about an Olympic athlete’s achievements:
“This is Cogdell-Unrein’s third Olympic games, but Unrein, a defensive end in his second season with the Bears, was unable to get away from training camp to join her in Rio and see her in the Olympics for the first time.”
On Sunday night, US swimmer Katie Ledecky won the gold in the women’s 400-metre freestyle, breaking her own world record in the process. How did the Daily Mail celebrate Ledecky’s history making achievement? Well, by referring to her as the “female Michael Phelps”.
Tennis superstar Serena Williams was recently asked how she felt about being one of the “greatest female athletes of all time.”
“I prefer the word ‘one of the greatest athletes of all time’,” said Williams.
Calling Katie Ledecky the female Michael Phelps belittles her and the 19 years she spent working towards her achievement. I understand that the Mail and the commenters saying things like she “swims like a man” are trying to be complimentary.
Ledecky does in fact employ a freestyle stroke similar to her male counterparts but as Conor Dwyer told Sports Illustrated: “I saw a couple of guys get yanked out of workout because they got beat by her.”
So maybe it’s time the media stopped calling her the female Michael Phelps and started calling her simply the best.
Lydia Lassila was the first woman to perform a quad-twisting triple sommersault. She’s not the female version of anyone. She’s just Lydia Lassila. Post continues after the video:
Sexism in sports broadcasting is nothing new. According to a recently published study analysing the language in over 160 newspapers, magazines and blogs by Cambridge University Press, men are three times than women to be “mentioned in a sporting context,” while women are more often described in “relation to their marital status, age or appearance.”
But the good news is, we’re living in a time where television, print, and even commenters have some sexism accountability.
#everydaysexism and #olympicsexism have started trending with Twitter users tagging all the sexist Olympic remarks they come across. The instances above are only the tip of the iceberg. Calling out the sexism is the only way to shut it down.
Social media is already there, on the side of the athletes. But it looks like this Olympics, print and television might finally feel their ears burning and realise that the world is watching, and closely.