Sexist comments toward female Olympians

The 2016 Rio Olympics have so far been wonderful, especially for women. From Simone Manuel becoming the first African American woman to win gold in an individual swimming event to Simone Biles being named the world’s best gymnast, there has been no shortage of amazing talent and incredible achievements among female Olympians. However, along with breathtaking displays of athleticism, a theme of extremely sexist remarks has emerged.

Swimmer Katie Ledecky has been referred to as “the female Michael Phelps” countless times, as if she is not able to make a name for herself outside the context of a male counterpart. With this title and others similar, it is made clear that female athletes are constantly being compared to males. But where are the claims that Max Whitlock is the next Mary Lou Retton? They don’t exist because women aren’t mentioned when people watch men’s events. Katie Ledecky doesn’t swim like a man: she swims like an extremely talented woman who has trained hard to achieve her own success. Constant, one-sided comparisons to male swimmers (even one as legendary as Michael Phelps) undermine the successes she herself has made.

After the 400-meter individual medley, the camera briefly showed Hungarian gold-medalist swimmer Katinka Hosszú’s husband, who also happens to be her coach. NBC commentator Dan Hicks said, “and there’s the man responsible.” Though he later apologized for his phrasing, the comment was not justified because it made it seem like all of her hard work was for naught: she owed her achievements to him.

The list of sexist comments does not end there. During women’s gymnastics, an unidentified commentator said that the women, “might as well be standing in the middle of a mall,” when the camera showed the athletes talking and enjoying themselves on the sidelines. Commentators would not talk about male gymnasts in this manner. Simply because they were laughing and chatting, the athletes were reduced to stereotypes.

On a segment of Fox Sports Court, host Tamara Holder brings up the topic of whether or not female athletes competing in the Rio Olympics should wear makeup. Holder invited two men – Bo Dietl and Mark Simone – onto the show as a means of giving an inside look at the male perspective on the subject. The two go on to make no shortage of sexist comments.

For starters, Dietl said, “I think when you see an athlete, why should I have to look at some chick’s zits?… Why not a little blush on her lips, and cover those zits! I like to see a person who wins that gold medal go up there and look beautiful.” What does it say about society that a person’s accomplishments are taken more seriously if they are conventionally beautiful? It’s disturbing that the athletes are not fully respected unless they meet society’s beauty standards. Dietl is even degrading enough to refer to professional female athletes as “chicks.”

Dietl continues on to address host Tamara Holder with a comment about how beautiful she looks, suggesting he would rather “have her” in that moment than when she had just rolled out of bed. He goes on to say, “I really believe that we all have opinions, and, when someone looks better, people support that more. Would you put money behind a gal that won the gold who looks like a washed-out rag? No.”

Simone went on to say, “the better you look, the better your career as an athlete.”

The two stated that men should also put makeup on if they, according to Dietl, “look like they’ve crawled out of a crypt.” However, for female athletes, the criticism for not looking a certain way far exceeds the criticism male athletes face. Comments like these undermine the achievements of female athletes, turning the Olympic games into a beauty contest rather than a competition of athleticism that these women have trained their entire lives for.

As if all of that weren’t enough, several mainstream media sources have even curated lists of  “the hottest female Olympians.” Sean Abrams, writer for Maxim made the subhead of his list, “even if the games themselves prove to be lackluster, we’ll still have something to keep our eyes on.” Surprise, Mr. Abrams! Believe it or not, female athletes are not competing for your gaze.

Thankfully, female Olympians have been taking action to show people the recognition they deserve. Gymnast Simone Biles, 19, took home a gold medal in the female all-round finals and has been named the best gymnast in the world. When asked about what her win, she said, “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.” Her comment is a step towards fighting sexism in the Olympics, and the problems she addressed should be recognized on a larger scale.