Games On! The London 2012 Olympics: So Far, So Feminist?

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 lifting in the Olympic Games
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: 

Image: Reuters

by Kaite Welsh
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5 Comments Have Been Posted

As someone who writes a lot

As someone who writes a lot about sports and feminism (and who is an athlete herself), I am stoked about this blog series. The gender politics of the London Olympics is fascinating to me, not just because of all the barriers broken but also because of how much of the same old bullshit is getting recycled. Fortunately it seems like a lot of people - like Lizzie Armitstead and Sarah Robles! - are willing to call out the double standards. Can't wait to see what you write!

I'm so excited about this

I'm so excited about this blog series. I can't wait to read your opinions on the treatment Holly Mangold has been getting. Conan O'Brian's recent tweet (“I predict 350 lb. weight lifter Holley Mangold will bring home the gold and 4 guys against their will.”) was so incredibly offensive.

The Olympics so far have been

The Olympics so far have been inspiring for me because 1. I get to see the athletes I hear so much about during the year and don't have the chance to see in action until the Olympics come around and 2. These awe inspiring women are great role models. Being a young adult now, it's a little unheard of to throw around the phrase "role model", but when I see Serena Williams dominating on the tennis courts and winning singles and doubles gold, for example, it reminds me that I can achieve everything I set my mind to.

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