Wednesday, August 20, 2008

CNN examines sexism in the Olympics

It's great to see mainstream media tackling this subject. I like to think they got the idea from feminist blogs -- many have written about sexism in the games this Olympic season.

I think it was wise not to focus the discussion on Michael Phelps as a "typical male" earner. He is an extreme case. He was America's star this year breaking records left and right, amazing story, 8 medals etc. But when you compare male/female Olympians with similar qualifications (good story, press coverage, similar medals won, records set etc) ... men STILL earn more. Much more. The pay disparity shocked the hell out of me. Nearly an 80 MILLION dollar difference between the top female and male athletes!

click to enlarge

You cannot tell me this is an accident.

The CNN discussion also touched on the longevity of medal winners. Of course the Olympics are about fulfilling dreams and showcasing athletic ability. But it's also a career move. Winning gold means getting Gold. Endorsements, jobs in sports commentary and speaking deals can make a career. Bruce Jenner, a former gold medal winner, can be seen on the reality show "Keeping up with the Kardashians" still doing speaking events for business in California. He was a hero in the 70s (athlete of the year, Wheaties Box etc) and he is STILL a hero to many today.

Women do not see that kind of long-term success. Hell, they don't even make the short-term success staples in sports-- take for example, a cover of Sports Illustrated.

From a fantastic article Sports Illustrated’s Cover Barrier: Who Will Break the Bikini Line?

So far in 2008, only one woman has made the SI cover: Swimsuit model Marisa Miller. What about 2007? Yup, just one woman again. Her name?: "Beyonce". 2006? Well, one winter Olympics issue had 6 athletes with three of them being women. In the year’s other multi-female issue there were 8 half-naked supermodels. So who was the last female athlete to grace an SI cover by herself? That would be softball player Jennie Finch in 2005.
And Finch was not photographed like her male peers-- in an action shot. She was wearing a miniskirt and the headline read, "SI Throws a Party: Jennie Finch Will be There."

One would have to go back nearly three full years, 10 bikinis, and one miniskirt before finding a female all by herself on the cover who was recognized for her athletic achievements (Danica Patrick in June 2005).
A photo of Sports Illustrated covers. Three whole years and these are the ONLY covers with women.

Is it any wonder we remember our male sports heroes longer than the women? Is it any wonder we don't take our female athletes as seriously or value them as much? When we acknowledge them, we tend to so for their beauty. We put them in a miniskirt and we tell them to "smile not sweat." We want it to be all about their woman-ness, not simply the fact that they're a kick ass athlete.

CNN briefly touched on the beauty double standard. It doesn't seem to matter if a male Olympian has classic good looks, but for women... well if she's gonna have to be in a bikini or miniskirt to grace a magazine cover, I'm betting it's still an issue.

This year plenty many great blogs have tackled the crazy differences in men's vs. women's Olympic uniforms (click that link for pics) and also the sexist coverage female medal winners receive but again this is indicative of the larger sexism that pervades against female athletes,

IN 1972, Title IX was passed mandating that public schools provide women equal opportunities to enjoy sports just like men had been doing since --- ever.

Still 36 years later, there is no equality.
--According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, U.S. men receive $133 million more in college athletic scholarships then women.
--Female pro tennis players make 37 cents for every dollar their male peers earn.
-- Only 16 percent of collegiate athletic directors are women
-- 8 percent of media coverage of sports focuses on women.
-- Some high schools schedule girls basketball games on weekday afternoons and the boys games on Friday at eight p.m.

In 2004, Sepp Blatter, president of the international soccer governing body known as FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) suggested that female soccer players wear tighter uniforms to attract more television viewers. He also thought it would bring in money from fashion and beauty advertisers.

In 2002, The Ladies Professional Golf Association gave their players makeovers for similar reasons.

Just this year the WNBA decided that they too would 'pretty up' their players.

Feministing didn't enjoy that too much:

I'm glad CNN did this story but I'm so very, very thankful that when I started to research this post and grab links and factoids, there were so many out there. We have to report these stories, we have to speak up because it should be better and it's not just gonna "happen" one day. We're gonna have to push for it!


Anonymous said...

Danica Patrick was on the cover of the May 19, 2008 issue of Sports Illustrated, which featured her in a story about her racing career. She was attired in her racing suit.

Tobes said...

Yikes. Thanks for mentioning that. This article must have been published before that. That is still ONLY 6 covers in 3 years and 2 repeat appearances by Patrick... there aren't any other female athletes???? :)

William K Wolfrum said...

Very good post, Tobe. You're aware that SI is the sports section for CNN, right? CNN, despite the report, is no ally whatsoever to feminists. They're treatment of swimming star Amanda Beard (who dared to say she wasn't interested in Michael Phelps) was truly atrocious.

Bianca Reagan said...

Tobes: doing the work so I don't have to.

Irwin Handleman said...

I agree that the sexual component that is always forced on women who play sports is jacked up, but the reason men make more money for playing sports is because they are better at sports than women. You can't blame the public for wanting to see (and pay for) the best. That's not sexism, that's product quality. You should acknowledge that.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your Blog and I will be back to check it more in the future so please keep up your work. I love your content & the way that you write. It looks like you’ve been doing this for a while now, how long have you been blogging for?

Tobes said...

I've blogged for a few years now but I've really fallen behind on it--- I'm kind of flattered anyone still reads it to tell you the truth. There's plenty to keep writing about but I got so busy with work.... do you blog?