The Summer Olympics are beginning next month and London 2012 hype is in full swing. It was just a matter of time before some guy took the time to write an absurdly retro article telling straight dudes how female athletes are like, totally hot. Enter Bleacher Report's "100 Hottest Female Olympians of 2012." Forget these women's skills -- let's just focus on their abs.
The piece is exactly what you'd expect it to be: a slideshow of insanely talented female athletes complete with headshots and, predictably, some frustratingly shallow captions. These descriptive paragraphs include lines like:
• "You are watching a team of women row a boat faster than the other women. Uh, yawn. But there is a six-foot, 157-pound reason to enjoy it this year."
• "It is one thing to be tall, but it is another when you carry around such a long and skinny frame and a game that ranks as one of the world's best."
• "Now that we are done talking numbers, does anyone else notice that amazing six pack?"
• "If Sophie Polkamp ... wants to retire after this year, I think she would have no problems getting a job as a model in the States."
• "Lesya Makhno plays for Russia in case you couldn't tell from the skinny six-foot frame and long blond hair."
I could keep going, but Alyssa Rosenberg already did a pretty good job of tearing the list apart in her piece for ThinkProgress, "The 15 Most Insanely Sexist Things In Bleacher Report's Insanely Sexist Rankings of Female Olympians." Some of the more blatantly offensive captions have been tweaked in the time since Rosenberg published her article on June 19th. Author Thomas Delatte's comments about top-ranked tennis star Serena Williams -- "Yes, she is not one of the hottest female tennis players in the world, but her amazing figure makes up for any lack of beauty elsewhere" -- seem to have been removed completely. An editor's note at the beginning of the piece reads: "Minor revisions have been made in compliance with editorial standards." I'm not sure that redacting half-paragraphs counts as "minor revisions," but I digress.
This isn't to say that male equivalents of Bleacher Report's slideshow don't exist. (See RyanSeacrest.com's "15 Mouth-Watering Male Athletes To Watch at the Olympics" -- which has a woman-focused counterpart -- for one example of many.) There is certainly ample opportunity for the media to objectify athletes of either gender. However, Bleacher Report is a site for sports fans, presumably both men and women. And that sports website encouraged its audience to gawk at female Olympians' hot bods, rather than admire their athleticism. (This seems to be a recurring theme for the website. They also have featured slideshows of "hottest sports babes" from pop culture and hot cheerleaders.)
The real problem is that highlighting female athletes' sex appeal instead of their skill sets continues a larger theme. When it came to light in May that hurdler Lolo Jones is a virgin, people couldn't stop talking about her sex life. And a study published this week in the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media found that Olympic TV commentators downplay female -- but not male -- contenders' abilities. "It's all about luck with the females. It's all about ability with the males," said study author James Angelini, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Delaware, in a EurekAlert press release. The research showed that commentators are far more likely to praise male athletes for their commitment and skill -- even when they don't perform well -- while they focus disproportionately on female athletes' luck when they succeed and lack of physical ability when they don't.
Female athletes like Serena Williams, Lolo Jones, Kerri Walsh, Allyson Felix and Hope Solo deserve to be respected for their talent and the years of intensive training they've put into honing it. Because at the end of the day, gold medals aren't given out to anyone for the "ability to look conventionally attractive in a uniform."