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He Said, She Said: The Olympics and Gender Equality

All is not well in the Olympic Village.

The London Games are all anybody can talk about, and for good reason. From a stunning and hilarious opening ceremony featuring British celebrities like Mr. Bean and David Beckham, to Michael Phelps winning his 19th Olympic medal, breaking the record for most decorated Olympian, this summer’s Olympics have provided much to discuss. But some of the most interesting action has taken place out of the swimming pools. This year’s Olympics mark many firsts for gender equality, as well as shed light on deeply entrenched sexism in American culture and cultures around the globe.

Let’s start with the good. For the first time, team United States is comprised of more women than men, and Canada’s team broke Olympic records by being 55.96 percent women. There are more gold medals available for women than ever before (132 up from 127 in Beijing), while the number of medals available for men has decreased slightly (162 down from 165 at the last summer Olympics). Women’s boxing has also been added to the Games, meaning women can now compete in all of the same events as men. And, most strikingly, this will be the first year that every nation participating has sent women as part of their delegation, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei.

But as much as the International Olympic Committee has praised itself for its gender equality, all is not well in the Olympic Village. Before the Games even started, Japan and Australia found themselves in hot water when flying their men in first class and their women in coach. Female athletes have faced high levels of scrutiny for not looking attractive enough (which sparked a great response from weightlifter Zoe Smith). Leisel Jones, an Australian Olympic swimmer, has been derided in the tabloids for not looking “fit” enough to participate. Meanwhile, London Mayor Boris Johnson, referred to beach volleyball players as “glistening like wet otters,” which is as creepy as it is sexist. And Saudi Arabia’s groundbreaking female athletes met a mixed reaction on the Internet as a Twitter hash tag dubbed them “Prostitutes of the Olympics.”

So is this really the year of women at the Olympics? Yes and no. There are many steps toward true gender equality, and while there is much for women to celebrate about the London Games, there is still much for the world to own up to. Hopefully, we will have even more to praise about the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia!

Pi August 05, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Why does everything have to turn into some feminist issue?
tfd August 06, 2012 at 12:21 PM
Pi, I have to agree with you. If Japan and Australia flew their men first class and not the women, that is their issue. Men do not have a monopoly on noticing and making comments on athlete's bodies. I have heard a lot of women talking about Ryan Lochte and other swimmers and divers - and not about their athletic abilities. You can always find "gender inequality" if you look for it. But a lot of times it isn't inequality, it is just different.

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