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August 21, 2008

Why I'm Not Watching the Olympics Anymore

GymnasticsYes the opening ceremonies were impressive.  Yes Michael Phelps is a muscle-bound, big-eared, big-footed phenomenon.  And yes, those sprinters moved so fast their legs and feet looked like a cartoon blur.

So yes, I'm duly impressed, awed, humbled by the athletic prowess of so many. Especially when the only event I could win a gold medal in is speed-eating. (Unless they have a category for breastfeeding two babies at once while knitting -- I would win that one for sure.)

So why am I not watching the Olympics?  No, it isn't because of China's abysmal human rights record.  Nor the amazingly xenophobic reporting.  It isn't the infamous time-delay, or the incessant repetition of a certain female swimmer's amazingly advanced age. (She 41! Call the coroner! She's had a child!  How can she still be a viable athlete? Puh-lease!)  No, though all of these would be reason enough to boycott the games, it's none of those things.

It's the sexism.

When a few things change, I'll watch.

1. When the men's volleyball team starts wearing little Speedos.
Because that's what the women have to wear.  Bikinis.  And there's no way anyone can tell me that a bikini is a more efficient article of clothing in which to play volleyball than a one-piece.  The sand must get all over them.  The women wear bikinis because even though they are world-class athletes, they are objectified.(Check out the NBC website and see the pictures they put up, and tell me that's not objectification.  I dare you.) They even have scantily clad cheerleaders at the Beach Volleyball competition.  And trust me, I've seen the video.  It's ain't about their dancing.

2. When the male gymnasts have to worry about hairspray and stage make-up.

Seriously.  These gymnasts do things that boggle the mind.  They are fast, strong, flexible, graceful. Not only that, but they're polite: they hug their opponents and congratulate them after each routine.  These women rock.
But they are expected to wear make-up.  Why?  They are competing as athletes, not beauty queens.
The men don't have to fuss and preen, why should the women? Is an unattractive athlete any less of an athlete?   If so, how do you explain some of the toothless, scarred, hockey players I see on TV?

3.  When the male runners go topless.

The women run with virtually nothing on.  And I get it, about draft and making every hundredth of a second count.  But the why don't the men  wear next to nothing?  They're not exposing their mid-sections, running around like Matthew McConaughey;  they get shirts!

Do I begrudge any woman -- athlete or not -- her right to care how she looks?  To wear make-up while she competes, or goes to the gym, or goes to the bathroom, if she likes.  No, I don't.  As a matter of fact, I happen to be someone who doesn't like to go out without at least a little lipstick on.  (You never know when you'll bump into that guy who dumped you in tenth grade!)

The point is, I have a choice.  If I want to frighten small children, I can go make-up free all day.  It doesn't seem to me that these women -- these world class athletes -- really have a choice. Norms often dictate what we do.  In this case, the Olympic norm is that many women athletes have to worry about how they look almost as much as how they compete.

My daughter has been watching these games with rapt attention.  I'm glad she's getting to see strong, athletic women getting the attention they deserve. She's seeing a spirit of (mostly) fair play, and grace in both winning and defeat.  But I wonder if, without even being aware of it, she's also seeing that no matter how strong, no matter how competitive, women still have to be "pretty."

That's not fair play.  That's sexism

Original Post to NYC Moms Blog

Nancy Rabinowitz-Friedman is a freelance writer in NYC.  She writes about surviving life after forty, and her twenty-year quest to lose the same ten pounds on her blog, agelessbodytimelessmom.com


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