The Olympic games in Rio are well underway, and various news sites are picking up on a trend which appears to treat women the same way Hollywood has for decades. Men are praised for their athletic abilities, while women appear to be singled out with questions about their appearance and marital status.
It may be a male dominated world which is to blame for this subtle segregation between the genders. It may have been the reason why Caitlyn Jenner hadn’t made her transition until long after winning a gold medal as a man. Women tend to be treated as potential mates, while men are often treated as actual athletes.
Hollywood was doing the same thing until recently and casting women as eye candy while the men were the intelligent heroes. It wasn’t until the recent rise of feminism that women started getting more serious roles, such as in The Hunger Games (Jennifer Lawrence), Mad Max: Fury Road (Charlize Theron), and many cast members from Agents of SHIELD.
Vogue points out that women are objectified even on their way to the red carpet, being the subject of appraisal for what they’re wearing, how their hair is done, and how much skin is showing. Only a select few reporters give this treatment to both sides. The fashion website says that female athletes like Katie Ledecky and Simone Biles were often compared with their male counterparts rather than praised for their individual efforts at the Olympic games this year.
Cambridge University has gone back decades to research this phenomenon and found that the 2016 Olympic games are far from the first time this has happened. They looked at blog posts, tweets, and even print newspapers, and throughout that time, women were described more by their appearance and desirability, and men drew more focus on their actual athletic prowess.
Some women are attempting to break this trend, such as former UFC champion Ronda Rousey. She went toe to virtual toe with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and traded verbal jabs that spawned rumors the two would go cross-technique to pit his boxing against Rousey’s grappling style. She made us consider her an equal to a man considered to be one of the pound-for-pound greatest boxers in the history of the sport with a 49-0 record and World Titles in five different weight classes during his career.
— The Independent (@Independent) August 17, 2016
Mashable states that the Judo competition between Majlinda Kelmendi and Odette Giuffrida was described by BBC reporters as a cat fight. This degraded a disciplined Olympic games event to make it look like little more than oil wrestling with global TV coverage.
Adam van Koeverden: I’m tired of sexist Olympics commentary. Let’s treat our female athletes better https://t.co/l4aubelzMd
— chantal hébert (@ChantalHbert) August 13, 2016
The Daily Mail asked Team GB rower Helen Glover about her experience with hair and skin products, turning a serious competition into a commercial for beauty products and diet foods.
Women are also mentioned about a third as much as men throughout history, and it’s not because that is the actual ratio of male to female athletes. While it’s true that women have gained more freedom to compete, they are still considered a separate part of the global stage. Their competitions are called “women’s sport” events instead of simply “sports” or “athletics.”
Mashable suggests a few things reporters can do when talking about the Olympic games to make women more equal in representation, instead of treating them as if they were “those other athletes.” First of all, when it’s a sporting event, women who win aren’t just lucky. It takes skill and training no matter what the gender is. Also, reporters should stop mentioning marriage and having babies.
They even point to things such as Google search results, where female athletes are given suggested terms like “husband” and “baby,” while men are given terms like “Olympics” and “sports.” It’s unknown if it’s Google possibly rigging the search results or if people are actually searching that way.
News coverage of the Olympic games throughout history has seen this issue perpetuated, and it may be time for reporters to stop treating women differently.
[Image via Pete Niesen / Shutterstock]