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Olympics Sexism Overload

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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