If you’ve been living in a cave for the past week or so, you may not be aware that there’s this big sports competition going on between athletes around the world that’s commonly referred to as the Olympics. Now if you’ve heard of the Olympics and you’ve been watching any of the events or following them on the news, you may be aware that women are making history this time around. Two women from Saudi Arabia will become the first women to represent their country in the Olympic games – Sarah Attar in track and Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani in Judo. Women’s boxing made its Olympic debut. Women are breaking world records in swimming before they’ve even graduated high school. It’s a big year for the ladies.
And yet people, particularly the media, still can’t seem to give them the credit they deserve. Gabby Douglas becomes the first black woman to win a gold medal in gymnastics but there are countless articles discussing her hair of all things. (To be fair, it wasn’t just the media dishing on Gabby’s “˜do. Most of the “controversy” seems to have originated from comments made by Twitter users.) Her teammate, McKayla Maroney, has been labeled a brat and a bitch based on some facial expressions that look like nothing more than the kind of intense focus that comes from competing in the Olympics. (There’s a meme for that.) Chinese swimmer Ye Shewin gets accused of using performance-enhancing drugs because she had the audacity to swim faster than the men. How dare she! Then there are those photos of the women’s beach volleyball players or, to be more specific, their buttocks.
Oh yes, beach volleyball, the sport where the female competitors are referred to as “semi-naked” and described as “glistening like wet otters“ by Boris Johnson, who happens to be the freakin’ Mayor of London. Does anyone even know, without Googling it, what kind of uniform or gear the male players wear? Funny how that hasn’t really been discussed. Other than the swimmers, there really hasn’t been much talk about the appearances of the male athletes. (Speaking of which, check out this tongue-in-cheek look at what would happen if men’s sports were photographed the same way as women’s beach volleyball.)
In almost every single sport, there has been some sort of gender-based commentary in the media directed at the female Olympians, whether it’s mentioning that an athlete gave birth to a child after the 2008 Olympics or referring to their “diva-like” behavior. So what kind of message is this sending to young girls who are watching these Olympic events with stars in their eyes, being inspired to sign up for gymnastics or learn how to swim? That no matter how good you get and how hard you train, even if you become the best of the best, you will still be reduced to being a mean girl with bad hair and a nice butt? Come on. It’s 2012. Surely we can do better than that. We need to encourage their passion and ambition. We need to recognize them as athletes without sexualizing them. In other words, treat them the same way we treat their male counterparts.