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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Sex may sell but ability matters

    With the XXII Olympic Winter Games in full swing, it’s a time for excitement and the hope that people will come together peacefully and show their passion for competitive sports. It is a time to celebrate astounding athletic talent regardless of race, nationality, religion or gender.

    This year, women’s ski jumping is included in the games for the first time. In the past, many sports have been reserved for men because of ridiculous worries about the uterus falling out or being damaged. It seems like we’ve finally made progress toward gender equality in sports. Unfortunately, that’s jumping ahead of where we really are.

    Female athletes should not be subject to societal norms that pressure them to choose between being feminine and being athletic, nor should they be punished if they do or don’t fit stereotypes.

    For female Olympians, their talent alone is not sufficient for viewers and sponsors. In order to get endorsements to continue training, they still need sex to sell. But what about ability? They’re some of the greatest athletes of our time, but not seen as such. Instead, they’re “sexy and athletic” women who just happen to have a gold medal or two.

    As the world watches competitions like women’s figure skating, their eyes will not be on the talent displayed by the athletes but the amount of sex-appeal they ooze in skin-tight, hyper-sexualized uniforms designed to play up all their best assets. Rather than enjoying the moment at hand, these women must worry about not only their appearance, but also about their performance.

    Mikaela Shiffrin, an alpine ski racer, said in an interview with “The Today Show” that she spends at least 30 minutes putting on make-up and doing her hair, because for the few moments after she takes off her helmet, all cameras are on her.

    Shiffrin’s appearance in those photos or interviews can mean the difference between landing a sponsorship deal or missing it. If she were a man, there would be no question about sponsorships or her physical appearance.

    Female athletes blur the line between athleticism and femininity, but their talents should not be overshadowed by looks or socially demanded justification for how women compete or what they look like doing it. They’re subjected to the highly dichotomic and sexist system of being beautiful or “butch,” with athletic ability coming second. This limits women to a cycle in which they fully recognized for their athletic talents.

    Lolo Jones, an Olympic hurdler turned bobsledder, faced a scathing attack from a New York Times journalist who felt she gained too much air time for her looks, rather than her performance.

    However, if a woman is not sexual enough, she’s labeled “butch,” or her gender is even questioned and tested. Middle distance runner Caster Semenya’s gender was publicly scrutinized during 2012 Summer Olympics because of a gender test she took in 2009 when she did not fit the “sexy woman athlete” standard. Rather than a celebration of her massive victories and multiple new records, old rumors began circulating again.

    The sexism faced by female Olympians is an unfortunate mark on a competition that is supposed to celebrate talent and personal triumph. Such norms perpetuate femininity as one of the best qualities a woman can have, and not being feminine is an obvious deviation from what society considers normal.

    Title IX, passed by Congress in 1972, finally initiated the slow and painful change of such binary norms. While women are now allowed to compete, they’re still measured against the achievements of their male counterparts, and female-dominated sports never receive the same hype or publicity that male dominated sports are entitled to. It’s not that female athletes are not worthy of the same reverence, our sexist norms just perpetuate such discrimination.

    The Olympics are supposed to be a celebration of athletic talent and ability, not a double-edged sword to hurt, shame or exploit its female participants. There needs to be less focus on what women look like and more on what they do and who they are: Inspirational role models and true competitors in the games.

    — Mackenzie Brown is a pre-physiology freshman. Follow her @mac_brown01

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