No, the Olympics are not sexist
It has been less than a week since the Olympics started, and already several publications have declared that the entire event is tainted by sexism. ‘It wouldn’t be an international sporting event without a little sexism, and this year’s Olympics does not disappoint’, declared the Telegraph.
After Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú broke the world record for the 400 metre individual medley, the cameras cut to her coach, Shane Tusup, who happens to be her husband. NBC commentator Dan Hicks stated, ‘there’s the guy responsible for turning Katinka Hosszú, his wife, into a whole different swimmer’. Hosszú’s times have indeed made a considerable improvement since Tusup took over coaching duties in 2013, but a number of enraged tweets misrepresented Hicks’ comments as giving a man credit for a female athlete’s victory.
After trap-shooter Corey Cogdell-Unrein’s win, the Chicago Tribune tweeted: ‘Wife of a Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics.’ The Chicago Tribune was criticised for failing to mention Cogdell-Unrein’s name. The Telegraph poured scorn on the tweet: ‘Because, of course, no one would have cared unless they knew about her husband.’ But Cogdell-Unrein’s husband wasn’t named either. The only thing that was mentioned in the tweet was the Chicago Bears. Clearly the Chicago Tribune thought the local connection would have been of more interest to its readers than trap shooting, or the name Corey Cogdell-Unrein.
Sometimes, even commentators attempting to counter alleged sexism end up being accused of sexism. When NBC commentator Rowdy Gaines said of swimmer Katie Ledecky, ‘some people say she swims like a man – she doesn’t swim like a man, she swims like Katie Ledecky’, the Huffington Post put it in their ‘Top 10 most sexist things to occur at the 2016 Rio Olympics so far’. Why? Because ‘it’s great of Gaines to make this point, but it’s not a point he should have to make’. What’s been missed here is that the reason numerous athletes and coaches have compared Ledecky’s swimming technique to that of a man’s is not because men are infinitely better, but because she has a gallop to her stroke, a leg-propelled technique used more often by men. Casual feminist viewers assume the phrase ‘like a man’ could only ever mean something sexist.
The hypocrisy here is staggering. Hyper-sensitive feminists are keen on pointing out the supposed ignorance of media professionals, but in doing so they only reveal their own ignorance. Worse still, by arguing that ‘sexist’ commentators can’t let these athletes’ accomplishments speak for themselves, they portray these women as victims of oppression, rather than letting their achievements, er, speak for themselves. Forget the seemingly off-colour comments – it’s the Games that matter.
Christian Butler is a writer and musician based in London.