Saturday, July 28, 2012

Being a Woman at the London Olympic Games

Lenka Hajeckova, Czech Republic, beach volleyball 2012

Betty Grable did the same dance steps as Fred Astaire, and as she famously added, "backwards and in high heels."  The 2012 Olympic Games in London continue the tradition of making life harder for women participants for no discernible reason with the following by-line from The Daily Beast, "Jesse Ellison reports on the IOC's quest to determine whether female athletes are too masculine".

Jesse (who claims to be female, by the way) has written a stunning behind-the-curtain report on the strange and continuing fascination by the International Olympic Committee with the sex, both physical and genetic, of female participants, a fascination that does not apply to male athletes.She reports first on the strange and continuing quest to find some way to disallow South African track star Caster Semenya her medals, then takes us back to the early days of the "sex quest":
Such accusations go back at least half a century. The IOC adopted its first set of gender tests in the 1960s, with “nude parades” that were exactly what they sound like: female competitors made to walk naked before a panel of judges.
But as the IOC later realized, what’s on the outside doesn’t always match what’s on the inside, so the committee moved on to chromosome testing. Once it was shown that women can have a single X chromosome (just as men can have two of them) that was abandoned as well.
Then came SRY gene detection (the gene that triggers male sex determination), but after the Atlanta games, in which 8 women tested positive for it, and all were cleared for competition, this method, too, was deemed insufficient.
A decade ago, the committee decided to chuck the testing altogether. But in the wake of Semenya’s case, and the international scrutiny it prompted, the IOC announced that it would try, once again, to devise a way to decisively determine what makes a woman a woman.
Read the full article here at The Daily Beast to get the full dose of indignity and paternalistic intervention (using drugs to lower naturally-occurring levels of testosterone) for the sake of correctness the IOC is currently forcing on Caster and other female athletes.

Here's a final quote to help raise your blood pressure:
It all highlights a cruel injustice: the policy—and the testing, treatment, and humiliation that can come with it—only applies to female athletes. Men who excel at, say, ice dancing or synchronized swimming, where success has more to do with grace and rhythm than brute strength or speed, simply aren’t questioned in the same way women are. In 2010, after two French-Canadian sports commentators snickered over the flamboyant skating champion Johnny Weir and suggested that he should compete with the women, they were immediately and vociferously condemned for what was widely perceived as homophobic, despicable language. (This was, keep in mind, precisely the moment that Semenya was living in virtual exile after the subject of her gender had made international news.) Similarly, there is no upper—or lower, for that matter—limit to the amount of testosterone their bodies naturally produce.
One more thing - it's not just the IOC making women Olympians' lives more difficult.  Female TV viewers have their piece of the pie as well.   Pacific Standard reports "Female Olympians Sidetracked from Prime Time TV."  The article breaks down coverage percentages over the years and discovers that events where women wear bathing-suit type attire and are performing in "feminine" sports get on TV, while the lady weight-lifters, shooters, fencers, etc don't get the spotlight.
The UNC researchers emphasize they are not arguing that NBC is “intentionally marginalizing any athletes.” Rather, they write, the network—cognizant of the need for high ratings—is responding to the public’s preferences. (The top-rated events of the 2008 summer games were women’s gymnastics, followed by men’s and women’s swimming competitions.)
Don’t assume that means pandering to sexist male sports lovers. Traditionally, the Olympics are the only sporting event that draws a majority female television audience. For NBC’s 2008 coverage, the biggest demographic group was women 18 and over, who made up 49 percent of total viewership. Men ages 18 and older made up only 41 percent.
The Olympics telecasts are a huge ratings draw–214 million people, more than two-thirds of the American population, caught at least some of NBC’s 2008 coverage–so an argument can be made that the programmers know what people want to see. Their decisions suggest we love our women athletes, but only when they’re showing a lot of skin, and/or participating in sports our society considers acceptably feminine.

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