The 2010 Olympics and Gender Roles: Highs and Lows
Written by Sarah Seltzer for RHRealityCheck.org - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.
The Olympics are a wonderful event for female athletes, who get the rare and coveted chance to have the eyes of the entire world upon them. I know I'm finishing this first week of events with a brand new set of heroines, as I do every four years. The Olympic's female dynamos are rightly raised to the level of superstars for their physical and mental prowess, and unlike with other major professional sporting events, during these games the spotlights is shared evenly, gender-wise.
But the Olympic games, which are carefully-choreographed for the public and covered to death by the media, are also a moment to take stock of the progress we still need to make in terms of how we view women athletes. They also remind us of the flawed ways we talk about gender, and the performance of gender roles in public. As the Caster Semenya controversy reminded us, traditional attitudes towards male and female categories still hamper our ability to appreciate pure athleticism.
Kept off the Course:
Veronica Arreola over at AWEARNESS blog rounded up most of the issues viewers have noticed when it comes to female athletes. She has a good summary of the most egregious barrier, which is the inability of talented female ski jumpers to get official Olympic recognition and inclusion of their event:
Why? Apparently it's because women are "too fragile," along with an outdated system of rules that allow the International Olympic Committee to keep "American Lindsey Van, who holds the world record for the single longest jump by anyone, male or female" from competing for a gold medal. When the IOC tries to
explain that women can't compete because there aren't enough women jumping , the conversation circles around to, How can we increase interest and participation if women's ski jumping isn't allowed at the Olympics?
And I'd also add that if it's true that the top women are competing at the same caliber as the men, why not allow the smaller number of women jumpers to get in on the main competition and compete directly with the men, at least until the sport is more popular?
Hopefully we'll see these women jumpers with their own event in 2014.
We know that watching female ski jumpers would be wildly exciting based on the other women who performed feats of daring with their feet strapped to planks this week.
Right now, before any of the solo female figure skaters have taken to the ice, the heroines are a group of badass mogul and downhill skiers: Lindsay Vonn, Hannah Kearney, Julia Mancuso and Shannon Bahrke. Snowboarders Hannah Teter and Kelly Clark and Australian Torah Bright also utterly wowed with their spins and tricks on Thursday night.
Who wouldn't get a thrill watching these women jump and flip and speed down the mountain in record time? But their competitors who took brutal falls and then got back up after flying hundreds of feet in the air or sliding down snowbanks also proved the toughness and mettle of women competitors. For some reason, the horrific wipeouts we witnessed on the mountain this week have a different significance than the hair-raising, can-they-keep their-balance falls we see the more demure gymnasts and figure skaters take. These skiers are aggressive, hungry, and on an edge between perfection and catastrophe. And the sanguine snowboarding women who took ten-foot drops, flipped over, and then got up and grinned were a great model for the sheer joy of the competition.