“Sexism is as common as sweat at the London Olympics”

Annie-Rose Strasser draws our attention to some delicious instances of sexism at the Olympics, from  from female boxers being asked to wear skirts to differentiate them from the men, to women’s teams taking coach while men’s fly first class.

Meanwhile 18 year-old British Olympic weightlifter Zoe Smith responded sharply on her blog to Twitter-brains tweeting or chirping that she is too manly:

[We] don’t lift weights in order to look hot, especially for the likes of men like that. What makes them think that we even WANT them to find us attractive? If you do, thanks very much, we’re flattered. But if you don’t, why do you really need to voice this opinion in the first place, and what makes you think we actually give a toss that you, personally, do not find us attractive? What do you want us to do? Shall we stop weightlifting, amend our diet in order to completely get rid of our ‘manly’ muscles, and become housewives in the sheer hope that one day you will look more favourably upon us and we might actually have a shot with you?! Cause you are clearly the kindest, most attractive type of man to grace the earth with your presence.

Oh but wait, you aren’t. This may be shocking to you, but we actually would rather be attractive to people who aren’t closed-minded and ignorant. Crazy, eh?! We, as any women with an ounce of self-confidence would, prefer our men to be confident enough in themselves to not feel emasculated by the fact that we aren’t weak and feeble.

Having fun yet?

20 thoughts on ““Sexism is as common as sweat at the London Olympics””

  1. The Olympics have always been sexist, racist, elitist — at least people are talking about it now. Though women take part in every Olympic sport, just look at the composition of the IOC: 88 of its 109 members are men, 28 of its 32 honorary members are men and its sole ‘Honour Member’ is Henry Kissinger, that well known sportsthing.

  2. I think it’s worth quoting the very next paragraph in Zoe Smith’s blog post–

    “What makes me sad is that some girls had this opinion too! How ironic that the title of the show was Girl Power. You’d think that young women around the same age as us would commend us for doing something different and with our lives, and putting 100% effort into it in order to make something of ourselves. But apparently we’re ‘weird’ for not constantly eating crap, binge drinking regularly and wearing the shortest, tightest dresses that the high street has to offer. Sigh…”

    1. “Sigh” indeed! Sexism (like any other form of discrimination and oppression) wouldn’t work if it didn’t also incorporate many of its victims into its “common sense” and its way of seeing the world…
      But every Zoe Smith (and there are countless such) proves that the “common sense” is not all-powerful and seamless, that alternative kinds of common sense that challenge the dominant one are also continuously produced.

  3. Indeed, that is a fantastic retort by the Kiwi, but the comments that she responded to were of overeager twitterati (?) and not anyone connected to the Olympics in an official capacity. Of course, the olympics–like most institutions globally– remain sexist (among other things, as Sajan has pointed out), but we need to be more nuanced here in our approach (in which case phrases like ‘having fun yet?’ seem somewhat patronizing).

    The Olympics do, for instance, help create spaces for women like Zoe to “make something of ourselves”, as she puts it, and to inspire many others to face difficult circumstances with strength. The Olympics also are an arena of contestation where debates on race/gender/history etc find expression, starting with Smith and Carlos’ raised fists in 1968 to Cathy Freeman’s performances in Sydney, and to, now, the return of Caster Semenya on the track in London.

    It is not set in stone that Olympics should be the sort of exercise which displaces people from their homes. That is an outcome of the direction in which the politics of the city has gone in the last three or so decades. Mobile capital and footloose tourists compel cities to try to outcompete others for a share of flows. This, in addition to misplaced notions of nationalism (CWG, eg) and/or geopolitical strategizing (eg China and its obsession with soft power), have produced the kind of monstrosity that we now see. But it need not be like this.

    1. Rohit, your comment is peculiarly hostile and confused at the same time. Why for instance, would you read the idiomatic “having fun yet?” as patronizing? To whom is it patronizing?
      (For that matter, why do you call British Zoe a “Kiwi”?)
      Why – to continue my eager attempt to decipher the line of reasoning, if any, in your comment – do you think “sexism at the Olympics” can only refer to official sexism ( of which too, there was an instance in my post)?
      Why does your understanding of “a nuanced approach” depoliticize and co-opt protest at the Olympics into the bland “the Olympics are an area of contestation” – as if there is anything in the world that isn’t? The fact that Carlos and Smith protested (and paid a very heavy price for it), the fact the strong and vocal queer movement in South Africa and its queer-friendly constitution forced Caster Semenya back into the field – in your “nuanced approach” these instances somehow prove the Olympics to be a kindly open space allowing contestations and “helping to create space for women like Zoe” (sigh, thanks!)
      Your last paragraph that says “It is not set in stone that Olympics should be the sort of exercise which displaces people from their homes.” No of course not. It is not set in stone that this world should be relentlessly anti-poor, anti-ecological concerns, that our cities should be exclusively for the rich – it is precisely because none of this is set in stone that so many of us continue to persevere at different levels to change the tide.
      But we also do need to point out that this is the way things are at the Olympics today. It has displaced people, it is wasteful and disruptive in countless ways, it is sexist. There is a politics of sport.
      What exactly bothers you – that my post, Sajan’s post too, and some of the comments (like WalkerJay’s for example) – puncture the glorified idea of Olympics as a “pure” sporting event?
      And if that is not what bothers you, then I dont understand either the hostility or the argument in your comment.

      1. ‘What exactly bothers you – that my post, Sajan’s post too, and some of the comments (like WalkerJay’s for example) – puncture the glorified idea of Olympics as a “pure” sporting event?’

        -None of the above, actually. I agree with the critiques wholeheartedly, all I was trying to say–agreed, not very effectively–is that a one-dimensional view of the Olympics is not very productive. I didn’t mean to be at all hostile, but I thought the initial post was patronizing in its approach: it seemed to imply that anyone who watches and–horror–enjoys the sporting event is thoroughly mistaken to doing so.

        ‘Your last paragraph that says “It is not set in stone that Olympics should be the sort of exercise which displaces people from their homes.” No of course not. It is not set in stone that this world should be relentlessly anti-poor, anti-ecological concerns, that our cities should be exclusively for the rich – it is precisely because none of this is set in stone that so many of us continue to persevere at different levels to change the tide.’

        – Could not agree more.

        ‘But we also do need to point out that this is the way things are at the Olympics today. It has displaced people, it is wasteful and disruptive in countless ways, it is sexist. There is a politics of sport.’

        – Precisely. Therefore, why alienate those who perhaps view the Olympics through an unproblematized lens at the moment?
        In fact, I think the popularity and reach of the Olympics actually help make arguments–like you have here and elsewhere–around complexities of gender, or disability (Pistorius), or race etc All I’m saying, again, is to be critical without being dismissive or patronizing. If you think I misread your post, then I do apologize.

        ps. Kiwi, because I mistakenly took her to be from NZ for some reason while writing my comment.

  4. The statistics in this article can be used to make a strong argument for putting an end to sex-segregated sports events. Instead, this guy politely insists that Lochte was actually faster, just “pacing himself differently”, and that such performances are “exceptional”.

    One wonders – if Ye Shiwen had dark skin and looked less cuddly and girly, would they have let her go with only drug testing? I think not.

    1. Thanks Kalyani, what an amazing article!
      The article is forced to record the following facts a) “Ye Shiwen, a young Chinese swimmer, won the 400m individual women’s medley in fine style. Her blistering final 50m was faster than American male swimmer Ryan Lochte’s final 50m in the men’s event, despite him swimming one of the fastest overall times in history”.
      b) “It’s not the first time that Lochte has been slower than a woman over the last leg of that race. In Beijing in 2008 when he won bronze, he was slower than the Italian Alessia Fillipi – by more than half a second – and she only came fifth in her own race.”
      c) Dr Ross Tucker from the Sports Science Institute at the University of Cape Town points out that Rebecca Adlington swam faster than both Lochte and Ye in the final leg of the 800m freestyle at the world championships last year.

      But the article still frames everything in this way – “But do the figures reveal anything really suspicious?”
      No, nothing suspicious, no doping, no drugging, in fact, there’s nothing even remarkable (“it’s impressive but not remarkable”, says the writer reassuringly). Why?
      Because a) “Sport scientists say that during a teenage growth spurt, there is a release of hormones that can suddenly increase the powers of endurance.”
      b) “Lochte simply paced himself over the race very differently to Ye Shiwen.”

      Suddenly age and strategy become the determining factors – every possible factor other than gender is deployed to reassure everyone that the norm is for all men to do everything physical better than all women, and however many exceptions there are, a suitable (suddenly non-gender related) explanation will be found for them.

  5. Rohit, you say you called Zoe Smith a Kiwi because you “mistakenly took her to be from NZ”. Considering I refer to her in the beginning of my post as “British Olympic weightlifter”, it seems you misread my article not only metaphorically (“it seemed to imply that anyone who watches and–horror–enjoys the sporting event is thoroughly mistaken to doing so.”) but literally as well!
    I wonder what in my short post linking to someone else’s blog made you decide that I am dismissive, patronizing, and critical of sport in general. My post was on sexism at the Olympics, and some others came in to say it is not only sexist, but there are other problems with it. Apparently (from your response) you agree with all of that.
    Of course, the Olympics have seen a variety of political protests – what forum hasn’t? What does that prove? Would you say it is “the popularity and reach” of the IMF that enables protests against it?
    I dont even understand what our disagreement is, unless of course, you take (as some people in cyberspace routinely do) a sort of hostile oppositional stance even when you are completely in agreement with a piece of writing.

    1. ‘unless of course, you take (as some people in cyberspace routinely do) a sort of hostile oppositional stance even when you are completely in agreement with a piece of writing.’

      I don’t, which is why you will only rarely find responses by me on Kafila even though I read it regularly.

      I think I must have gone straight to the blog by Zoe while reading your post, and for some reason assumed she was from NZ. I also think it was a honest mistake, though you are free to read something more here.

      It was the ‘having fun yet?’ phrase at the end of your post that–to me–made it seem like you were being patronizing. But if that’s not the case, as you say here, then there is no disagreement at all.

  6. tried posting this yesterday but it wasn’t put up, hope i’m luckier this time.
    thank you rohit for your thoughtful and incisive comments, which were a far more articulate version of my own doubts. i’m surprised they were met with such hostility on a forum where we’re all agreed to disagree. as everyone here seems to agree ‘there is a politics of sports’ and it involves sportspeople, spectators, governments, corporates, etc. it’s a space we’re all thrown in together and it’s far from perfect but it’s not a space we should cede as one that has already been hopelessly lost. while the critique of it on many counts is what is needed to make sure that this does not happen, it seems equally imperative to celebrate, or at least, acknowledge the many small but significant moments.
    whether it’s a damien hooper proudly displaying the aboriginal flag on his body:
    http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1676436/Damien-Hooper,-the-Aboriginal-flag-and-freedom-of-speech
    or, the wonderful gabby douglas playing her part in history along with the williams sisters:
    http://socialistworker.org/2012/08/06/the-power-of-gabby-douglas
    these moments matter. they create discussions (with no thanks to the authorities, unless it’s to thank them for the provocation). and they bring us back to one of the most vital forms of politics, that of the body.

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