PATTON: Aesthetics over athletics for women in sport

There has been a lot of discussion on the sexism at the Rio Olympics.

Kristi Patton is the editor of the Penticton Western News

Kristi Patton is the editor of the Penticton Western News

There has been a lot of discussion on the sexism at the Rio Olympics.

While I am sure there will be more remarks made over the course of the Olympics there is a more important issue —will it change and how?

Part of the problem is the lack of knowledgeable journalists covering those sports. Some are probably thrown into situations where they barely know the sport, never mind the personalities. I have seen it first hand. Standing in the mix zone, where athletes are available to the media after training or competition, I have overheard journalists ask the most inane questions that shows that the reporter hadn’t researched the sport, let alone the athlete.

Worse yet is that women in sports aren’t covered on a continual basis, so journalists can’t get to know their personalities and nuances of the sport. Think of the 2014 Sochi Olympics women’s hockey gold medal final. It will go down as one of the most exciting hockey games at the Olympics. Canada squeaked in the tying goal to send it to overtime and then captured gold over the U.S. in an intense few minutes of extra-time action. Some 13 million Canadians tuned in to watch. If you were one of the people who watched that game, ask yourself when the next time you watched the national team, or in fact any women’s hockey, since. I bet I know the answer.

Partially because they have barely been on TV since — the world championship last year had a decent amount of coverage because it was held in Kamloops. The general public also doesn’t know where these U.S. and Canadian women play outside of the Olympics, FYI it’s college/university, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (without pay) and last year in the inaugural season of the National Women’s Hockey League (top salary was about $18,000).

Several studies have recently come out about sexism in sports that point to deeper troubles. An analysis of Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine covers shows that 64 per cent of female athletes featured are shown in passive poses such as glamour and sexualized shots. The majority (61 per cent) of men are portrayed in action-orientated imagery emphasizing their skill in their respective sport.

A study by the Cambridge University Press shows gender divides in the language of sport. Analyzing millions of words relating to men and women in Olympic sports they found men or man is referenced twice as much as woman or women. As well it states language around women in sport disproportionately focuses on appearance, clothes and the personal lives of women.

Strides are being made, tennis now offers the same prize money to both genders, but they aren’t happening fast enough. Just over a year ago one of Canada’s top tennis players Eugenie Bouchard was asked to “give us a twirl” during an on court interview with a male reporter after she dominated her opponent at the Australian Open. Shots were also taken at Bouchard when a CBC Rio Olympics reporter was critical of her loss in the second round. He said she was too busy spending time on social media taking selfies of her hairstyles and caring more about beauty and fashion instead of being a competitor on the tennis court. Sigh.

After winning bronze, U.S. trap shooter Corey Cogdell was the topic of this Tweet from theChicago Tribune “Wife of Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics.” Double sigh.

Out of frustration of the coverage of women at the Olympics someone pointed out “Former Miss California’s fiancé wins Olympic medals” was never a headline anywhere. The fiancé being swimmer Michael Phelps.

The good news here is that fans are starting to speak up. Biting response to the sexism at the Games via social media has been abundant — coming from men and women, another important step. It is time people start speaking up and not dismissing sexist statements by paying more attention and demanding more coverage of women’s sport.

How about we give that a twirl?

Kristi Patton is the editor of the Penticton Western News and started her career as a sports journalist. She has also worked as a reporter at two Winter Olympic Games.