He Said, She Said: The Olympics and Gender Equality

All is not well in the Olympic Village.


The London Games are all anybody can talk about, and for good reason. From a stunning and hilarious opening ceremony featuring British celebrities like Mr. Bean and David Beckham, to Michael Phelps winning his 19th Olympic medal, breaking the record for most decorated Olympian, this summer’s Olympics have provided much to discuss. But some of the most interesting action has taken place out of the swimming pools. This year’s Olympics mark many firsts for gender equality, as well as shed light on deeply entrenched sexism in American culture and cultures around the globe.

Let’s start with the good. For the first time, team United States is comprised of more women than men, and Canada’s team broke Olympic records by being 55.96 percent women. There are more gold medals available for women than ever before (132 up from 127 in Beijing), while the number of medals available for men has decreased slightly (162 down from 165 at the last summer Olympics). Women’s boxing has also been added to the Games, meaning women can now compete in all of the same events as men. And, most strikingly, this will be the first year that every nation participating has sent women as part of their delegation, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei.

But as much as the International Olympic Committee has praised itself for its gender equality, all is not well in the Olympic Village. Before the Games even started, Japan and Australia found themselves in hot water when flying their men in first class and their women in coach. Female athletes have faced high levels of scrutiny for not looking attractive enough (which sparked a great response from weightlifter Zoe Smith). Leisel Jones, an Australian Olympic swimmer, has been derided in the tabloids for not looking “fit” enough to participate. Meanwhile, London Mayor Boris Johnson, referred to beach volleyball players as “glistening like wet otters,” which is as creepy as it is sexist. And Saudi Arabia’s groundbreaking female athletes met a mixed reaction on the Internet as a Twitter hash tag dubbed them “Prostitutes of the Olympics.”

So is this really the year of women at the Olympics? Yes and no. There are many steps toward true gender equality, and while there is much for women to celebrate about the London Games, there is still much for the world to own up to. Hopefully, we will have even more to praise about the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia!

Concerned Parent August 03, 2012 at 01:23 PM
I'm not about to get into a gender argument but to say that the IOC is not the EEOC. The Olympic games involves individuals from around the world to compete in both individual and team events. What we are seeing today is a larger number of women that possess an increased athletic ability to meet the requirements set to participate in the Olympic games. To make comments limiting their work to get there by simply saying there are more women than men is, IMO, a diservice. With the addition of more events open to women, I think that's great so they can show the world their talents and ability in sports which were once limited to men only. As far as other country's approach to how they treat their athletes, that's an issue that goes well beyond the Olympic games and more towards their culture. Personally, when I watch the Olympics, I see young athletes who have worked their whole life to reach their goal, which goes well beyond gender, race, nationality, or culture. That is what the Olympics is all about.
Amo Probus August 04, 2012 at 10:55 AM
These athletes are motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others We admire and respect this notion in athletics and need to teach it in our schools and homes as a mandate for all other aspects of our lives. Imagine a society where self reliance is revered.
Bob Cobb August 08, 2012 at 12:55 AM
Is "diversity" and "gender balance" the newest Olympic sports? Are my fellow Nutmeggers in favor of standing the Olympics on its head just to make it into a showcase for their political agenda?
Anthony August 12, 2012 at 11:06 AM
Ella, maybe i can't write as well as you because i am not as smart, but i am still going to comment anyway. you bring up comments that men make about the female athletes and say they are derogatory. That may be true. However, women in the media,in magazines and in life do nothing but comment on the men as well. i think it is a complete double standard that when a 30 to 40 something female comments on the body and package of the male athlete she is liberated. A man does the same thing directed towards the women, he is a sexist pig. you are very biased.
Cliff Cuming August 13, 2012 at 02:43 AM
Anthony, you are a good writer. You intelligently see thru the bluster and get to the core of the issue. Double standards are alive and well in the 'me too' community. Just laugh it off as silly babble and keep doing your best at whatever it is you do.


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