Women in sport


Sport is one of the few arenas where gender segregation is still allowed, even though it doesn’t really make any sense. Oh yes, women are, on average lighter/smaller than men but many sports that rely on these aspects are already segregated by weight class so why not just do away with the sex discrimination altogether?

It won’t happen, at least not for a long time, which is a shame as in the meantime we will continue to see women’s sport relegated to second class.

A case in point is the closure of West Ham’s stadium. It turns out that a women’s match was scheduled to be the last match held there but some ‘fans’ couldn’t face the idea of such a historic match being played by mere women, so managed to get it cancelled.

Another example is that of cycling. Nicole Cooke detailed some of the more blatant examples of sexism she’s encountered in the sport, the most galling of which has to be regarding the supplying of bikes for the 2012 Olympics:

In readiness for the 2012 Olympics, the McLaren Formula One team were commissioned to produce special bikes for the British riders to take advantage of every possible “marginal and aerodynamic gain”. Which was good if you were a man but, of course, women were excluded. Custom-fit bikes were produced not only for every British male road rider but also for every member of the reserves. None were made available for the women’s road team.

Then there’s golf. As the old adage goes, it’s a good walk ruined but if women want to ruin their walks then that’s up to them. But not according to Scottish golf club Muirfield, which beliefs that only men should have that choice. They’ve recently voted to retain there male-only membership rules. However, in a rare turn of events, the club is feeling the repercussions of such an outdated stance. They’ve lost the right to hold the Open championship.



The Humiliating Practice of Sex-Testing Female Athletes

This is a long article but well worth a read. Be prepared to be horrified though. The level of humiliation that female athletes have had to undergo to confirm that they are female is unbelievable. From the snide comments if they do better than expected to having to have genital examinations prior to competing,

To evaluate the effects of high testosterone, the international athletic association’s protocol involves measuring and palpating the clitoris, vagina and labia, as well as evaluating breast size and pubic hair scored on an illustrated five-grade scale.

The worst thing is the practice is based on science that is dubious at best and completely lacking at worst. It is essentially punishing women for having the temerity to be world-class athletes.



An Interview With Lael Wilcox, the First Woman to Win the Brutal 4,000 Mile Trans Am Bike Race

"Last week, Lael Wilcox became the first woman to win the Trans Am Bike Race, a grueling, 4,200-mile slog that takes cyclists from Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, Virginia. In addition to offering no prizes, the race is totally unsupported, meaning the participants are responsible for carrying everything they need—from food to camping equipment—for the duration of the ride.

Wilcox crossed the line after averaging 235 miles per day for 18 days, sleeping just three to five hours per night. Despite her incredible performance, her win was promptly met with derision on Facebook by men who assumed she must have cheated. We spoke on Saturday about the ride, about her detractors, and what it’s like to crush a race previously dominated by men."

Well worth a read, especially to see what happened when she reached the last 100km (I’m not spoiling it, go read the article).



It’s the Olympics! Which means that the levels of sexism in the press reach Olympic proportions. These are a few of the stories I’ve found that have looked at women in the Olympics, both at Rio and in history.

Olympics Sexism Watch: Wives, Broadcast Delays, and Swimming “Like a Man”
I’m starting with an article I don’t fully agree with. It looks at a few stories from the first few days of the Olympics determining whether they are as sexist as people have argued. I think it unwittingly does a really good job of highlighting microaggressions - each individual case may not, or only just, pass a ‘test’ for sexism, but in aggregate it shows that sports pundits and journalists are incapable of describing women as anything other than in reference to men.

How to talk about female Olympians without being a regressive creep – a handy guide
This is a really good guide, and can be read either with a totally genuine ‘just trying to help’ tone or a very sarcastic ‘i can’t believe you need this to be spelled out for you’ tone. I particularly like this bit which should be applied to every single piece of reporting on women and their accomplishments.

“DON’T bring your sex feelings into it. And, yes, I am
aware that there are more than several women on Twitter with passionate opinions about the shoulder-to-waist ratios of the piles of trapezoids on the men’s swimming roster. But there is not currently a vacuum of serious, well-rounded coverage of men’s sports. There is not a historic precedent of men’s bodies eclipsing their accomplishments, and, in turn, undermining their credibility and hobbling their upward mobility in every major industry. It is OK to have sex feelings. Just watch where you’re spraying them.”

Simone Biles: ‘I’m Not the Next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the First Simone Biles’
Yes she is.

The next two articles are blogposts that look at the body shaming female gymnasts experience.

A Real Role Model in the Olympics
The first highlights a fantastic role model, Alexa Moreno, a Mexican gymnast who is extremely muscular and not the ‘typical’ body shape of world-class gymnasts.

“When I look at Alexa Moreno, I think of her, and of how many other girls will look at her and know that puberty does not necessarily mean the end of their dreams. They might not all end up Olympians of course, but most children don’t in any sport. The simple fact that they have someone to look up to, and that maybe they will not feel so ostracized, or be excluded just because they develop hips and breasts, and can continue doing a sport that makes them happy, that’s already a huge positive to come out of these Olympics”

Patriarchy and Performance: Olympic Gymnastics is SO UNFAIR
The second highlights the contrast in expectations between male and female gymnasts,

Men: Complete the elements. Be powerful. Stay in the lines.

Women: Complete the elements. Be powerful but not too powerful. Or rather be powerful but don’t make it look like that. Be effortless, graceful, fun, flirty, whatever feminine personality trait you are going to work, work that with the elements. And be beautiful. And smile. And have your wrists right, and please do it all to music. And stay in the lines.

I’ll end with a historical perspective.
When Ancient Greece Banned Women From Olympics, They Started Their Own
(or maybe they didn’t).

The First American Woman to Win an Olympic Championship Didn’t Even Know It
The first Olympics sounds like a real hoot!



More Olympics fun…

Following on from the article I linked to here
The Debate About Caster Semenya Isn’t About Fairness
A brilliant piece that pulls to pieces the lie that gender testing is about ensuring sports are ‘fair’,

'All elite athletes are genetic anomalies, but this is the only one being singled out as the signifier of womanhood. No one trait defines a person’s gender. While the world is taking steps to understand gender fluidity, gender expression, and sexual identity, the Olympics cannot stop its quest to define one gender, definitively, in the name of protecting that gender."

Silver Medalist’s Boyfriend Proposes, BBC Calls It ‘An Even Bigger Prize’
Because anyone can win an Olympic medal…

"Perhaps, for Zi, the engagement is more meaningful than winning the silver medal in her sport. It’s not for anyone else to decide which should carry more weight — or if the experiences are even comparable.

But when a media outlet refers to a proposal as more significant than a woman’s individual achievement, it is making that decision for her. Moreover, it is reinforcing the deep-seated expectation that a woman prioritize relationships, and her domestic life, before her own ambitions."

Don’t read the comments. Apparently the only reason this article was written was being the author is a bitter lonely woman who wants to ruin everyone’s happiness :unamused:

The story led to this piece which I found really interesting,
Public proposals: true romance or unwarranted coercion?
I have to say I find public proposals embarrassing but I don’t know how much of that is just my Britishness!

‘The question at the end of this is not just “Will you marry me?”; it could be seen as “Will you refuse to marry me and risk harsh judgement from all these strangers, who know nothing about you apart from the fact that you have a partner who just went to extreme efforts to impress you so obviously cares about you greatly, and will likely be utterly heartbroken and humiliated if you refuse?”’

What I find most interesting is that the article is written by a man and the comments, for the most part, are sane with no ‘removed by admin because it didn’t meet out community standards’ notes. I wonder if that would be the case had a woman written the article…

There’s been a lot written about the sexism in the Olympic coverage and some people have ‘pointed out’ the supposed hypocrisy of women lamenting sexism while commenting on the physical appearance of some of the male athletes. This is a great piece that explains why it’s not hypocrisy.
Three things that need to happen before I defend men from Olympic sexism

“Feminists don’t critique objectification because we are mad that people sometimes have sex feelings for each other. Some of my best friends are sex feelings. Feminists critique objectification because our society is running a millennia-long deficit on the acknowledgement of female humanity, to the measurable detriment of women as a class. The fact that we are assessed as decoration first and athletes/politicians/musicians/accountants/CEOs/presidential candidates second has a transparent impact on women’s upward mobility. The issue lies not in sexualisation itself, but in that either/or – attention to women’s bodies not supplementing, but supplanting respect for the breadth and magnitude of women’s skills.”

Finally (for now) a happy little story of men taking a stand against sexism,
Olympic men stand up to sexism, too — because that’s not just women’s work
While the comment that sparked the story is frustrating, there’s much to like. For one thing, Andy Murray won Gold at the Olympics again :smiley: , for another he corrected an interviewers sexist question and finally, people are starting to realised that both sexes need to play an active role in reducing sexism.



I was just coming here to see if there was anything on Caster Semenya. Just saw the interview with Lynsey Sharp and then the stuff Paula Radcliffe said. Was a bit WTF, really. I liked that Colin Jackson and Michael Johnson brought up Usain Bolt - because there has been discussion about his physiology and how it is he’s able to run. But the tone is different - it’s all admiration and awe.



The Olympics are over and there’s been a lot of great discussion about the level of sexism in sports.

These women are Olympic athletes. Why do they have to look like showgirls?
Like the old addage about Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels, the Olypmics highlights how stark the contrast is between the expectations on male and female athletes.

“somehow elaborate makeup is de rigueur for the synchronized swimmers, whose workout routines include swimming three miles a day, hours of strength and flexibility conditioning, and practicing underwater routines with weights attached to their wrists and ankles to increase stamina”

Why has women’s fitness become a beauty contest?
An interesting piece that looks at whether ‘fit’ has become the new way to body-shame women.

Professional sport should be about the struggle to reach the pinnacle of your abilities, to stretch yourself, to win. These women put their bodies on the line, and use their platform to make bold political statements; it can’t be right that all we can think about is how to achieve greater butt lift.

Women athletes are still put in second place at the Olympics – it’s time to sprint towards equality
While all fields are now open to women (a fact that only came true in 2012 at the London Olympics), women are still under-represented. This piece looks at the history of women Olympians and how they are still being marginalised.

"Women compete in the eight-event heptathlon, rather than the ten-event decathlon. In swimming, the men’s longest race is 1,500 metres, while women’s is 800 metres – a fact which has not escaped fans of US swimming superstar Katy Ledecky. And even if canoeing changes its programme for 2020, the 1,000 metre “blue ribbon” event will likely be reserved for men.

These discrepancies are better explained by sociology than physiology. We have evidence that women are capable of race-walking 50km, canoeing 100, 200 and 5,000 metres, and swimming 1,500 metres. But when women compete in the same events as men, it begins to blur the boundaries between men’s and women’s capabilities – and some people don’t like that."

White Male Privilege Is Why We Laugh At Lochte And Vilify Douglas
A man lies about being held up at gunpoint to try and hide his drunken rampage and gets laughed at (he’s since lost sponsorship deals as well). A woman doesn’t put her hand on her heart during her national anthem and gets vilified.

The ignorance aimed at Caster Semenya flies in the face of the Olympic spirit
A good piece that highlights the way the controversy over Caster Semenya does not reflect Olympic ideal and also seems to be subtle (or not so subtle) racist at its core.

"Semenya’s athleticism was attributed to a single molecule – testosterone – as though it alone earned her the gold, undermining at once her skill, preparation and achievement… To be clear: the policy harms all women athletes. But it’s no secret that
it disproportionately harms black and brown women from the global
south. Women from the global north benefit from a policy in which the prevailing notion of fairness doesn’t target them. "

Hyperandrogenism and women vs women vs men in sport: A Q&A with Joanna Harper
A long but fascinating interview with Joanna Harper, who describes herself as a “scientist first, an athlete second, and a transgender person third”.



The very first post in this thread back in May of this year was an article inspired by a complaint made to British Cycling by Jess Varnish against Shane Sutton who claimed that he was sexist and used “inappropriate and discriminatory language”. Well,
British Cycling upholds complaint against Shane Sutton by Jess Varnish

British Cycling said in a statement: “Following an internal investigation the British Cycling board has upheld an allegation made by Jess Varnish that former technical director Shane Sutton had used inappropriate and discriminatory language. The board wishes to put on record its sincere regret that this happened.”



More sports that fail totally where women are concerned:

Girls give FA red card over advice to get them into football
A school writes to the Football Association to get some tips on how to get more girls involved in the sport and get a ridiculously naive (to put it politely) response.

Glass ceiling hard to crack for Lizzie Kelly despite big-race successes
You’d think that the need for light jockeys would mean that women would be favourites for horseracing but it seems that even where they arguably have the physical ‘edge’ over men they are sidelined.



Rachael Heyhoe-Flint blazed a trail for women’s cricket, but change comes slowly to the ‘gentleman’s game’
A great retrospective on an amazing woman I’m sorry to say I’d never heard of. The article also places her career in a great context and is well worth a read, even if you’re not interested in cricket. There’s also some fascinating statistics,

In 2015, about 75% of the centrally contracted male players were from independent schools and 25% from state school backgrounds. Curiously, for the women’s game, the figures are closer to 25% independent school and 75% state educated. This is against a backdrop where just 7% of the population are from public schools.



It’s funny how Wimbledon brings out the sexists…

John McEnroe says Serena Williams would be 700 on the men’s tour. Is he right?

John McEnroe double faults with non-apology for Serena Williams comment

Heather Watson tells online trolls: sport isn’t about looking perfect

Wimbledon organisers criticised over male bias on top two show courts



Netballers quit club after ‘sexist’ awards
A netball team of 12-13 yo girls got their first proper taste of sexism at their sports club award night where they were sidelined in favour of the rugby team and had to listen to awards for Dick of the week" and “Players player”. Of course, the club denies any sexism.

On a happier note,
Jamie Chadwick: British teen hoping to be first female F1 driver in 40 years
Now that Bernie Ecclestone and his regressive attitudes about women are gone I have high hopes for this teen.



Mark Sampson rumours were ‘common knowledge’, claims rival coach
I don’t pretend to know the backstory to this but from what I can gather from the article a women’s football coach was hired by the FA and then found to be having ‘inappropriate relationships’ with the women he was coaching and now another coach is claiming that this was not new behaviour but was an open secret within the sport.



Battle of the Sexes: four decades after Billie Jean King’s triumph, women still fight for equal billing in sports

The film was excellent but really made it clear just how little progress we’ve made. This piece looks at the gains made, and the many areas still left for improvement.