The Olympic Games is under way and we’re loving our cheeky work breaks on iPlayer, to check on how high Jess Ennis-Hill is jumping, how fast Bolt is running and how fast and high the mind-blowing Simone Biles is flipping, bouncing and balancing.
We love sport, and the Olympics is a reminder of how incredible the human body can be but unfortunately it’s also a reminder of the sexist bias in reporting which we see in the media. Mis-haps and blunders have plagued reporters, where internalised misogyny bubbles to the surface in the heat of the events.
Like when Andy Murray had to remind John Inverdale that the Venus sisters do count as people. When the presenter congratulated Murray on winning the Olympic tennis singles title for the second time, he suggested Murray was the first person to win two golds. Murray quickly replied “I think Venus and Serena have won about four each”.
And when Twitter had to step in to point out that the “Wife of Bear’s Lineman” has a name of her own, as well as an Olympic medal to put to it – and it’s Corey Cogdell. The Chicago Tribune’s tweet was quickly criticised by people asking them to refer to her by her name, not her marital status or husband’s profession.
We’ve also seen double standards from the US media, who were actively disappointed in Gabby Douglas when she didn’t put her hand over her heart during the US national anthem on the podium when she won the Team event for Gymnastics. However, swimmer Ryan Lochte in the US Olympic team, who is accused of vandalising a building and lying to the police about a robbery, has been defended by the media, as a “kid” who “deserves a break”. Double standards which we can’t help but see as influenced by race and gender. Imagine if a black athlete had caused damage to a building, do you think the media would have reacted in the same way? We think not.
Happily, our female athletes are having none of this, as Simone Biles (we have such a girl crush on her) refused to be compared to some bloke who can’t even do a back-flip:
We’ve also seen the brilliant Fu Yuanhui, bronze medallist swimmer from China talk openly about how her period affected her performance. This was more than just tackling the taboo, it also prompted mass discussion of tampons in China, where they’re used by only 2% of menstruators because of myths around their impact on hygiene and virginity. Woman’s Hour this week explored these cultural taboos and the difficulty in finding tampons in China, in more detail in this programme. Lets hope more Chinese menstruators feel empowered to plug up and go for a swim when they’re bleeding.
Yuanhui’s admittance of her period couldn’t come at a better time as a gym in Georgia banned women on their periods from swimming just last week. Customers are outraged and one asked that she pays 20% less on her membership than men if she’s forced to avoid the pool for 6 days each month.
Change may be slow to happen, but these instances of sexism, misogyny and the cultural pressures working on women, are being called out quicker than Usain Bolt can cross the finish line. We wish the best performance to every athlete, male and female and hope the Games can act as a platform for gender equality as well as a great advertisement for athleticism and sport around the world!