Feminism | Posted by Jenny S on 08/10/2012

Olympics Sexism Overload

Female olympians may be killing it...but is that enough?

Like many of you, I have spent the past week or so essentially glued to my television, watching the Olympics. I love sports—playing and watching—and I love this celebration of human spirit and achievement that comes every 4 years. So I don’t know why it took me so long to see the gender imbalances in sport.

Many other people have focused on the athletes themselves, whether it be the requirement for beach volleyball players to compete in bikinis, or the fact that Saudi Arabia finally sent its first female athletes to the Games (awesome!). What I’m talking about is the announcing, officiating and coaching.

Men have no problem commenting on women’s sports, be it soccer or swimming or gymnastics. In fact, I don’t think I have ever heard a women’s competition be announced by only women—there’s always a man around. On the flip side, however, when it comes to men’s sports, announcing is reserved for the guys.

Perhaps there is an assumption that women do not understand the male version of a sport which is played in a markedly different style than the female version — consider gymnastics as an example, in which only vault and floor are contested by both genders, and even then in dissimilar ways. Yet the men can comment on the women’s sports—does this mean women are just intellectually incapable of comprehending men’s sports?

No. In reality, it’s just another example of a “boys’ club.” Some male athletes and fans might reject a female official bossing around the guys. This is the case beyond the Olympics: The MLB and NHL have no female officials, and the NBA has one, Violet Palmer. The NFL welcomes its first female official, Shannon Eastin, in a preseason game this month, and even then in what is likely a temporary position.

And think of coaches, as well: only 42% of women’s college teams are led by women. I’d speculate that the number is even lower for men’s teams. Natalie Randolph made headlines in 2010, when she was named the head coach of a high school football team in Washington, D.C.—but she was thought to be the only female head coach of varsity football in the country.

I’m not trying to say that all male coaches and officials and commentators need to be replaced by women. But if the men are allowed to dominate men’s sports AND play such a dominant role in women’s, where is the room for us?

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  • Gigi @ at 7:37 pm, August 11th, 2012

    I’ve been watching the olympics and have been really happy with the lack of sexism in terms of how the sports are announced and the respective victory ceremonies for both genders. When sports are anounced they say the ‘mens’ or ‘womens’, instead of only introducing gender on the part of the women as if it’s an alternative. I watched the female weightlifters with a sense of inspired satisfaction and was happy to know that women’s boxing is now included in the proceedings – better late than never! However you do raise a really interesting point about the commentary.
    I’m not sure which country you are from, but I’m from the UK and watched the BBC’s live coverage of the gymnastics. For the majority of both male and female events there were three commentators – two men and one woman. The female comentator also joined in with her male counterpart to comment on the men’s gymnastics, so I never really felt like there was a large gender gap there myself, though it may be different from the other sports, particularly boxing and mens weightlifting!
    The statistics are quite interesting though, and you definitely raise an often overlooked issue that needs addressing! (:

  • Jessica A @ at 1:47 am, August 12th, 2012

    You bring up a great point that I pointed out to my coworkers at lunch the other day! I am from USA, so maybe it is different in other countries, but sounds to me like we only have one woman commentator and I only heard her on the Diving and Gymnastics sections of the Olympics. From my understanding, these are former Olympians… don’t we have enough of these that are women? I mean, they are interviewing retired female athletes for their opinion anyway, they might as well be giving live feed/coverage of it.

    I am also very proud to see the balance of gender in the Olympics this year and so glad to see women represented in the actual sports themselves, next the commentary. Can we just say too that this is where a lot of the media coverage is coming from?? Equally important if you ask me.

  • Gigi @ at 8:25 pm, August 12th, 2012

    We definitely have many more than one female comentator in England. It’s really a shame that you guys didn’t! Here’s to hoping an improvement will arise in the next 4 years!

  • Josh @ at 2:22 pm, August 15th, 2012

    Is it sexism or lack of interest from women. Broadcasters can’t force people into these jobs. And most of the commentators I heard have been doing it a long time – there not there because of patriarchy but because they have experience. Grasping at straws now ladies

  • kaykay @ at 8:59 am, August 21st, 2012

    I’m from Germany and would like to let you know that we have female commentators for men’s soccer/football. They are great and one even hosts a TV sports show, alternating with male colleagues. There’s even female referees in men’s soccer.

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