Sochi, I know you've been getting a lot of flak lately for your dirty water and your stray dogs. And no one's letting you forget that snowflake malfunction that happened during the opening ceremony. Let's not even talk about the anti-gay laws.
While Westerners may be going a little overboard in deriding Russia for some serious problems that face the country's citizens every day -- as Sarah Kaufman over at PolicyMic pointed out, it may be time to check your privilege -- here's my #SochiProblem.
I was super excited to watch the opening ceremony. A bunch of friends came over to my apartment. To me, the ceremony kicks off that wonderful season of walking through my living room and seeing an unreal ski jump. Of turning my head in the office, and there's women's curling!
When it started, my mouth dropped as the little "Hero Girl" was hoisted hundreds of feet up into the air. She didn't seem to flinch and managed to stay graceful amidst all those wires. Then came the parade of countries which is kind of boring, but it's always interesting to see which warm weather athletes can compete in winter, and how many people each country's team can field. Go Togo!
But as the athletes came out, with Greece kicking it off according to tradition, then Angola and Andorra... Everyone started asking: Who are these bizarre, futuristic snowflake ladies escorting each country? They sported bizarre headdresses and two hoops around their chest with the country's name written in English and Russian.
Twitter lit up with responses:
-- Ollie Space (@OllieSpace) February 7, 2014
I like the snowflake ladies, if that's what they are. They're dressed like Bond babes from the sixties. #OpeningCeremony
-- Maureen Holloway (@maureenholloway) February 7, 2014
-- Jan Sanford (@pinxy) February 8, 2014
And I tore myself away from the TV and flew out of the room.
Apparently, the women were supposed to represent "Snegurochka," or "Snow Maidens" from a Russian fairy tale. I'm all for tradition, but not when it means branding identically dressed women and using their bodies like giant flagstaffs. These trophy women were at the ceremony simply to have their bodies read.
Not many people seemed to notice. We are surrounded by women who are portrayed as objects all the time, so it's not really that surprising. Open any magazine, and you'll probably find an ad where the woman is being used as decoration or completely over-sexed to sell a product.
It was bizarre watching the trophy women lead in some of the the most fit, strong female athletes in the entire world. Women have made so much progress, although I still can't quite believe this is the first year women can compete in ski jumping.
What is that progress for, though, if we still don't blink an eye at female objectification? What will it take for women's bodies to be admired -- for their strength, their skill, and beauty -- but not used in the process?
I'm not sure I have the answer, but I do think pointing out these subtle instances of continued gender inequality might make a small difference. Here's looking at you, Rio. Not a big request, but please have the athletes themselves carry the banners in the 2016 Olympic parade?