London Olympic Sexism: Gender Issues Are Being Ignored During the 2012 Games

During the run-up to the Olympic games, newspapers across the world reported on the vile sexism of Saudi Arabian officials who refused to allow female athletes to participate in the games. After weeks of international pressure, the country finally conceded and agreed to send two female athletes to compete in London this month. 

This does not, however, appear to have been the end of sexism during this Olympic season. While women are a strong presence among the athletes, at around 45%, sexist remarks and offensive comments — like calling female athletes masculine and unattractive, and comparing them to animals — have been spreading around the internet since the Games began, demonstrating to the world that equality of the sexes requires more than just a female face. 

This week, newspapers reported on how 18-year old British weightlifting champion Zoe Smith, did an amazing job at cutting short the comments women and men alike were spreading around Twitter, stipulating that her muscles make her appear manly and unattractive. Zoe quickly snapped back on her blog, putting all of her critics in their place and leaving female Olympic spectators grinning with glee as the virtual bullies and sexist trolls hung their heads in shame. The internet went viral as people began tweeting and sharing excerpts from Smith’s blog.

Smith hit a cord by demonstrating that women, whether professional athletes or not, are not living for the sole purpose of attracting men, especially not men that judge them solely on their looks. However, her swift response has far from put an end to the problem. Others have criticized the fact that sports commentators tend to focus more on female athletes´ physical appearance than on their athletic abilities, as 16-year old gymnastics gold medallist Gabby Douglas recently found out when her victory led spectators to passionately debate, not her performance, but the way she wears her hair! Female boxers have also been asked to wear skirts in order to “differentiate “ them from the male athletes. While officials claim that the boxers were only offered the option of wearing a skirt as opposed to the skirted uniform being made mandatory, one has to wonder what an athlete’s ability has to do with her attire and why this issue was brought up in the first place. Since when does a woman need to wear a skirt in order to throw a punch?

Another issue brought up by female athletes is that discrimination has become commonplace on the job. The Japanese and Australian women’s basketball and soccer teams were flown into London on economy class, while their male counterparts flew in business! According to bicycling silver medallist, Lizzie Armistead, this is just one of many such cases

Female athletes get disproportionately less airtime than their male colleagues, and as a rule receive far less corporate sponsorship as well. 

In a world that upholds gender equality as an underlying value, it appears that many of those involved in the Olympic Games need to take some time out for introspection.

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Cristina Maza

Cristina is a freelance journalist and editor based in Tbilisi, Georgia. She frequently writes about media, politics, social issues, technology, and international relations.

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