Vancouver Games & gender: Lindsay Vonn to Johnny Weir
Last week, writing about sports as labor, I noted that sports are a form of collective identification—of solidarity—a way to bring a community together around feats of strength and competition that have nothing to do with war or resources.
The Winter Olympics are going on, and they show off this identification principle in the extreme. People who think little of patriotism are encouraged to support their nation’s athletes who do this not for money, like pro teams (though many of these athletes are professionals) but for glory—for themselves and for their country. It’s international competition (and sometimes obnoxious jingoism), but with a nonviolent goal.
The Olympics are problematic in many ways—when they come to a city, policing ramps up and the poor are shuttled out of the way. I don’t want to denigrate the very real protests against the Olympic industry any more than I do the real complaints against public spending on U.S. pro sports stadiums while people live in poverty blocks away.
But I love the Olympics. For the first time since I’ve moved, I wish I still owned a TV. I love the sudden obsession of people across the world with sports that are almost never mentioned in the other three years. Luge? Skeleton? Suddenly we all know these athletes’ names and can banter them with our friends the same way we normally exchange references to TV shows.
The Olympics also allow focus on female athletes—suddenly we see the female equivalent of men’s sports we’re used to cheering, as well as brilliant individual athletes in sports most people usually don’t follow. Even if they haven’t seen her, most people now know Lindsay Vonn’s name. And women’s ice hockey? I got your women’s ice hockey.
Well, not really. I’ve heard almost no discussion of women’s ice hockey. One of the few team sports in the Winter Olympics, hockey is always a central focus for me, and since 1998 we’ve had women’s hockey in the Olympics as well. Yet the women’s games seem to be held at times that won’t “interfere” with the men’s tournament or other events that need the ice, and so even this ardent feminist, lover of women’s sports and of ice hockey in particular, has often missed most of the games.
At NPR, Frank Deford noted that women’s team sports still suffer from “a glass grandstand,” where for some reason women’s individual sports are popular but women’s team sports don’t see the same response. This is true in non-Olympic years just as much—think of women athletes you’ve seen on TV recently. Chances are most of them are individuals—Serena Williams, for example.
more at GlobalComment.