A celebration of the suffragettes, two women kissing and an old lady jumping from a helicopter above a screaming crowd—after Friday’s spectacular opening ceremony, the Olympics are well and truly upon us. Okay, so the Queen didn’t actually parachute with James Bond, but if you’re looking for a celebration of women performing incredible physical feats, then London 2012 is the place to be. For the first time, all national teams include women athletes, and British silver medallist Lizzie Armitstead has criticized the “overwhelming and frustrating” misogyny she’s experienced throughout her career.
Zoe Smith kicking ass in the Games.
So far, so feminist. Well, almost. If you thought this year’s Olympics would be a sexism-free zone, you were forgetting about the notoriously chauvinistic Mayor of London, who likened the female volleyball players to “wet otters” when urging viewers to tune in to the Games. Boris Johnson’s mammalian predilections aside, we have to resist the temptation to gloss over the issues that still affect women athletes, while still celebrating their success.
In Britain, purely female sports only get 5% of sports coverage—and only 0.5% of sponsorship, meaning that some of our top British footballers have to take additional jobs to fund their sporting career. You don’t see David Beckham doing that. And despite the overwhelming importance of Saudi women taking part in the Olympics, girls in Saudi Arabia are banned from taking part in PE at school and not a single one of the 150 official sports clubs in the country allows women entry—not even to watch.
18-year-old Zoe Smith, the weightlifter who broke the British record, felt the need to point out “I wear make-up and lipgloss,” defending herself against Twitter bullies who decried female weightlifters as masculine. In contrast, US superheavyweight Olympic weightlifter Holley Mangold criticized the tendency of her peers to emphasise their femininity. Even when these women’s bodies are capable of things most of us can only dream about, our focus is still on the way they—and by extension, we—look.
Throughout the Olympics and Paralympics, I’ll be blogging three times a week on issues around gender and sport. There’ll be celebrations of the women competing, examinations of just how women-friendly all those Olympic sponsors really are, and analyses of the way the media and popular culture depict female athlete’s bodies. I’ll also be linking to some of the fantastic coverage and debates about women and sport that are taking place online. If there’s anything you think I should see, just drop me a comment below.
In the meantime, here’s some footage of swimmer Rebecca Adlington winning the bronze medal yesterday to put you in the Olympic spirit: