Going for Gold
It’s not the most inventive title, but you see, I’m not so good with the sports references. In fact, I’m not so good with anything remotely sports related. I figure, if I write that word enough, it’ll just sound like I know what I’m on about. Sports.
So, last week was the launch of the Olympics. I understand many articles have covered this, so I have no intention of going over every detail of what it involved, but before last Friday, I had avoided the Olympics like the plague. Sports plus patriotism is just asking too much of me. But then that launch happened. Aside from the obvious exclusion of the many black marks on the history of Britain, the launch was phenomenal. Suffragettes, Mary Poppins, the NHS and Harry Potter, all at the same time?! It’s like someone went into my head and took out the musical I had always secretly been trying to write. It was gorgeous. And the Daily Mail hated it, which is like the cherry on top of the already overly indulgent, ice cream sundae of joy. Well done Danny Boyle.
Although Danny Boyle was unable to orchestrate all of it. He can’t be held responsible for the speech by Jacques Rogge which lacked a certain charisma, however, one hugely important sentence in his speech, and the entire point of me writing, was this:
“For the first time in Olympic history, all participating teams will have female athletes. And this is a major boost for gender equality” Indeed.
But what was even more important that this sentence? The resounding cheer that followed from the stadium. A cheer which acknowledged the growing appetite and expectation of gender equality. Swoon.
This appetite, to see women in sport and to respect them, grew over the next few days as the first two medals won by Team GB were by women and the first Gold came from Women’s rowing. How exiting. Internationally, the historic moments continued, after the first female in the history of Saudi Arabia’s olympic participation took to the stage for Judo (let’s not forget however, she is returning home to a place where she can’t drive, vote or be taught physical education at school, but still, well done to her.)
One of the things I find most exciting about women in the Olympics, is the opportunity for young girls to see a different body image. One that doesn’t look like the cover of Cosmo (although perhaps they will appear there…) but one that focuses on physical wellbeing rather than aesthetics.
Unfortunately though, this wonderful feeling of change, of equality and of historic relevance was short-lived. It was washed away by a tidal wave of sexist media coverage and commentary.
First came the women’s beach volleyball. The commentary was awful, but what was even more disturbing was the way it was pitched by the Olympics organisers themselves. Yes, they are skimply dressed and prefectly shaved, but, quite frankly, that’s not my issue, (although I would have loved to have seen the shock of an unwaxed close up, if you know what I mean), what I’m referring to is how the show (I use the word “show” rather than competition or sport very purposefully) was put together. Music banging out the speakers which was sexist in itself and a montage for the audience of the athletes arses. Seriously, an edited montage. Unsurprisingly, the audience was majority male. Although, I’m sure, there were exceptions to what I can only assume was an oggling, offensive, male crowd. These women are athletes, representing their countries. How about a little more respect for them; not even from the audience, but from the organisers. The next day, the papers’ coverage was equally distasteful, to the point where articles were written about how bad fellow journalists and photographers were. The US Metro, does a good job of taking the piss out of it.
Then came Judo Wrestling. I have a lot of respect for these women. I mean, obviously, they can probably just look at me and do some damage. But that’s the entire point of the sport, it is aggressive, it is about physical strength and skill, and just like all other sports at the Olympics, it’s about winning over your opponent. A sentiment that seems to have gone entirely over the head of this Telegraph journalist who deemed women’s judo “disturbing to watch” and “like two drunken women bashing ten bells out of each other outside a Yates Wine Lodge on a Friday night” a phenomenally sexist (and weird, seriously, where do you drink?!) summary of a legitimate sport. A description that would never be used to summarise, men’s judo, men’s rugby, men’s football….etc.
But, it’s not just on the pitch, or the sand, or wherever people play sports, and it’s not just during the games. This sexist attitude towards women athletes has been unavoidable during the run up to the games too.
By now, I’m sure you’re aware, I’m not a huge fan of advertising and the lead up to the Olympics had me at a new level of advertising rage. Every 15 minutes my TV viewing or my radio listening was interrupted by the Olympics practically vomiting on me. From Union Jack nappies, to Olympics Tampax, it seems everything can have a link to the wonderous event. Ugh. But my outrage became directed to the way in which female athletes and male athletes were categorised in what they can sell. Obviously, Sir Chris Hoy telling me that Always Ultra will give me a happy period (side note: How f*cking annoying is that tagline?!), doesn’t really work. It’s not necessarily about what they are advertising but how they are doing it.
Take a look at this picture I was kindly able to steal from Facebook:
Both of the people in this photo are athletes. One’s a real athlete though, because that sells for men, the other is pretty, because that’s what sells for women. Sigh.
On top of this, the fact that not all sports have a female equivalent, the fact that in 2011 only 0.5% of all UK sponsorship went to women’s sport and the enormous gender pay gap makes this all, a far cry from an equal playing field.
This may have been announced as the era of gender equality at the Olympics, but there is a long, long way to go. Getting female athletes there isn’t the job done. It’s about how they are treated once they get through those gates.