Nothing like the Olympics to remind the world how a woman can’t accomplish anything without either being compared to a man who does the same thing, being labeled as a “wife” or “mother” above anything else, or being blatantly patronized on national television.
Here are the most sexist things that have happened at the 2016 Rio Olympics thus far ― the key phrase being “thus far.” There’s still a lot of Olympics left to go, ladies. (And none of this new or unique to Rio, there is a long history of sexist Olympics coverage.)
1. As three-time world champion Simone Biles flies from the uneven bars and soars above the mat before sticking a near-perfect landing, an NBC commentator says, “I think she might even go higher than some of the men.” For whatever reason, a lot of the male NBC anchors decided viewers might not fully grasp just how talented these female athletes are without first comparing them to men. This was the first of many times they did this throughout the games, and each time was just as unnecessary as the first.
2. The Chicago Tribune labeled two-time bronze medal-winning Olympian Corey Cogdell as “Wife of a Bears’ lineman.” Not only is an Olympic medal-winning, world class athlete being reduced to simply a “wife,” but it doesn’t even matter which lineman she’s married to. Being married to the vague idea of a professional football player, no matter which one, is more deserving of a call-out than a women being one of the best trap shooters in the world. It’s great of The Chicago Tribune to acknowledge the feedback, because while there was no ill-will behind the tweet, and it was a way to localize an international story, they at least respect the fact that it struck a chord with a lot of women who are frustrated with the way the media covers women in sports, defining them more often by their appearance or martial status than by their strength or speed.
3. Everyone is making a big deal about U.S. Olympic gold medalist Dana Vollmer having a baby more than a year ago. “She’ll be the first woman to win a medal after having a baby,” the NBC commentator says, because they love to get real granular with the whole “first to win” labels. The media attention around her being a mother―it’s hard to find an article that doesn’t mention she’s a “new mom”―implies that women who have children are then incapable of all the things they did before giving birth. Which isn’t true, and in fact research suggests the opposite. While it’s an incredible feat to give birth and go on to train for the Olympics, a feat only a woman can accomplish, and being a “momma on a mission” is a part of Vollmer’s personal brand, she was still a world-class athlete before having her child, so the fact that she continues to be after giving birth isn’t that shocking. Women are strong as hell.
4. When 19-year-old Katie Ledecky was busy breaking a world record in the 400-meter freestyle by nearly a full two seconds, NBC commentator Rowdy Gaines said, “Some people say she swims like a man,” probably talking about his slew of sexist coworkers at NBC. “She doesn’t swim like a man, she swims like Katie Ledecky!” It’s great of Gaines to make this point, but it’s not a point he should have to make. People should be able to acknowledge her incredible athletic ability without comparing her to a man. I wonder if men understand how ridiculous this sounds―like if a judge on Project Runway said, “People say he sews like a woman, but he sews like Jay McCarroll!” And to be clear, Gaines’ comment wasn’t sexist, he was calling out the many sexist comments made by fellow swimmers, like Ryan Lochte, who said her strokes and mentality were “like a guy,” and media outlets, like the Daily Mail, which referred to her as the “female Michael Phelps.” His comment highlights the sexism surrounding Ledecky’s media coverage.
5. Immediately after Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu broke the world record in the 400-meter individual medley, hard emphasis on individual, NBC announcer Dan Hicks immediately focused the attention on (and gave all the credit to) Hosszu’s coach and husband Shane Tusup, saying he was “the man responsible” for her performance. He’s since defended his comments, saying, “It’s impossible to tell Katinka’s story accurately without giving appropriate credit to Shane,” despite many believing Tusup uses fear tactics to push Hosszu. Even if Tusup deserves credit for his role in coaching Hosszu, she was still the one in the pool, she broke the world record, so maybe wait for her to at least dry off and accept her medal before gushing about Tusup.
6. Turns out even if you’re an Olympic athlete, you still can’t avoid being labeled as a “girl,” when you’re clearly a grown woman. At one point, NBC announcers referred to the “men’s cycling team,” and the “girls’ cycling team.” Ugh. And another commentator referred to four-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin as an “enthusiastic girl.”
7. In between dominating the competition, the U.S. gymnastics team talked to each other on the sidelines. Most likely not about boys and makeup (but if they were, that’d be fine too), but probably about how they were leading the rest of the world by nearly 10 points. “They might as well be standing around at the mall,” Jim Watsonsaid, ignoring the fact that after training 30-plus hours every week, these young women probably don’t have too much time to go shopping. His response to criticism was even more cringeworthy, saying “Don’t boys hang out in malls too? I did.” And with that logic, sexism is solved.
8. NBC’s chief marketing officer John Miller declared that women aren’t into sports, but they’re very into reality TV. When explaining the network’s tape-delaying and packaging of the Olympics, Miller said, “The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans. More women watch the games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey. It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and miniseries wrapped into one.” This is offensive on all kinds of levels. For starters, he implies that “sports fans” and “women” are mutually exclusive. He also implies that women watch the Olympics because they’re hoping two people will fall in love and retreat to the Fantasy Suite, rather than, oh, I don’t know, actually wanting to watch sports. It’s also likely that more women tune in to see women’s sports, which are covered significantly less than men’s.
9. After Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom broke her own world record in the 100-meter butterfly, she was continually asked by NBC anchors if she was going to “do the samba on Copacabana Beach,” which she apparently said she’d do if she won. Not only was NBC oddly fixated on this, they even went so far as to suggest the offhand comment was “interesting for this reason: it’s unclear how seriously the Swede takes the 200m freestyle.” NBC, calm down. Have you ever been so hungry you’d “kill for some food.” That doesn’t mean you’re going to murder anyone, and it doesn’t mean you take air or shelter any less seriously. The expression on Sjostrom’s face when they asked about the samba indicates she clearly either didn’t remember saying it or thought American newscasters were ridiculous.
10. Rio promises the “sexiest ever” Olympic opening ceremony, with a source saying there will be “lots of nearly naked women doing the samba. The costumes have been designed to show off as much flesh as possible which means as little material as they can get away with.” They added that, “This is Brazil, after all, where the female body is celebrated like no other place on Earth.” While this is a nice sentiment, it’s also not entirely accurate, considering a recent report revealed a woman is raped every 11 minutes in Brazil. So maybe that wasn’t the best way to frame the opening ceremony, before a major world event where so many women have been training their whole lives to be looked at as more than just a piece of flesh, and more than a wife and mother. They’d like to be recognized as the badass, legendary athletes they are.
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