Sexism, language and the difficult job of being an Olympic commentator…

The Olympics are on our home TV most of the time these days and with it has come some interesting and important conversations. My feminist ideology informs my viewing and my commentary of various media and one of my two sons often retorts that I am a conspiracy theorists. Sadly, this Olympics has provided me with prime examples of sexism in reporting.

Sexism undercutting female athletes’ Rio achievements? 

This article from CBS This Morning details the most publicized snafu’s and coded sexism from commentators, explaining women’s achievements in relationship to other men: their husbands, their coaches, and other male athletes. The basic lesson here is that language is inextricably a marker of the systematic inequalities in our society.

Olympics 2016: Battle of the sexes in the unequal language of sport

Those who aren’t convinced can look at this CNN article from Henry Young who describes “new research from the UK’s Cambridge University Press, which has looked at the way we talk about men and women in sport.” How do we talk about men and women? Men are strong, and skilled, women are married, or moms, or have a new uniform designed by X.

Top 10 Most Sexist Things To Occur At The 2016 Rio Olympics So Far

Huffington Post writer Sarah Beauchamp enumerates sexist things ending with the statement from NBC’s Marketing Exec John Miller that (to paraphrase) women like the journey, the narrative of the athlete and not the outcome.

Olympics: NBC exec says women aren’t watching for the actual sports

What does this really mean when the male executives who make our viewing decisions don’t think that women watch sports…for sports?

My son theorizes, in defense of Mr. Miller: He’s probably just going on the demographics data that they have. You don’t like sports?

My response: Why am I here watching the Olympics?

My son: You don’t like watching sports with us other than the Olympics. Like football.

Me: No. I’m not a fan of watching grown men crash into each other violently for three hours with an hour of commercials. I like rowing, and equestrian, and gymnastics, and fencing, and weightlifting. Sports that our US media chooses not to air on a regular basis. Therefore, their demographic numbers are skewed.

My son: But people like football, baseball and basketball.

Me: That’s all they give us.

Son: Because that’s all that’s worth watching.

Me: The decisions to cover and sponsor those sports exclusively came to be when women didn’t have access to sport. Corporate and collegiate money in this country created a pipeline that led to high paying and elite competition for men that was televised.

I didn’t go into the importance of Title IX in trying to alleviate these inequalities. He’s heard it before. The argument continued until I pointed to a prescient comment under one of the articles that observed those who aren’t affected by the inequality often don’t feel the pain of the injury. I recently appreciated a quote,“When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” (I can’t find the attribution although I’ve found it used in a variety of posts and articles.) Basically, my son, and the other folks who rail against evidence of sexism in sports don’t see a problem because it’s not a problem for them.

Being a commentator is difficult. People can take words out of context or lack empathy for the fact that a commentator has one minute to fill with only 10 seconds of real info. Still, that’s what a talking-head signs up for, AND…each commentator has an army of producers and researchers literally in his or her ear to give stats and facts.

Tell me how many hours a day the athlete practices.

Tell me more about the rules of the specific sports.

Tell me (and possible future athletes) about the pipeline for these athletes to get where they are today.

Tell me how this athlete was able to raise the private funds to get where they are today and how other countries do it differently.

Tell me how they get a horse to prance in place.

These are the questions we run to Google for but if NBC was doing its job, we wouldn’t have to.

I’ll leave you with this link to amazing photos of female athletes at the games. Enjoy!

50 Photos That Show The Raw Power Of This Year’s Olympic Women