I, like most other women tuning in to the Olympics this year, was so excited to learn that every country had sent at least one female athlete to compete in London. “The Women’s Olympics!” the media was quick to dub it.
And that was about the last positive thing any major media outlet (or social media) had to do with women’s sports in the games.
We’re all well aware women’s sports doesn’t get the kind of respect that men’s sports does. The fact that Title IX even had to be mandated illustrates as much. But the coverage of women athletes in the 2012 Olympics was, well, embarrassing. Let’s start out from the beginning, the title of “Women’s Olympics.”
It’s a crock. The two Saudi women who competed were only covered by one news outlet in their home country, an English language paper, had a public shame campaign launched against them on Twitter, and oh yeah, were likely only added at the last minute to avoid a ban from future games. It’s great that these women competed, it really is, but to act like it’s a step towards Women’s Rights is dishonest.
And while women from every nation competed, which women were given any (positive) attention was quite limited. Before the game even started some athletes were attacked for not being skinny enough. Yes, at an event where the very best athletes from around the world come to compete, what these women’s physical appearance is was more important than their athletic ability. You don’t see male weightlifters being called fat, but there you go.
If not “fat,” how about “ugly, masculine, and dyke(ish)?” That’s what British weightlifter Zoe Smith was subjected to after a documentary about women weightlifters in Britain aired. Don’t worry about Zoe though, she got the last laugh (and seriously, great job Zoe!).
With the close of the games tomorrow, it’s important for us to look back with pride at what women around the world have accomplished, but also necessary to examine how we watched these women compete. Was it really necessary to identify volleyballers by their asses? Did we need a slow motion montage of unidentified, exclusively attractive athletes? Did one of the woman athletes who had no chance of medaling need as much coverage as she got just because she was labeled, “the hottest Olympian?” Was it appropriate to call women Olympians “Gold Diggers?” We’ve come a long way, ladies, but until our athletes are honored for their abilities and not their bodies we will not ever have a “Women’s Olympics.”