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Olympic Annoyances – Gender and Race

August 11, 2008

I in no way want to diminish the seriousness of the the many human rights abuses associated with China by talking about a couple of minor Olympics-related grievances. Amnesty International has information on those topics, as does Human Rights Watch.

Now, on to the things that put a bug up my butt as I watched some of the coverage yesterday.

-Female athletes being described as “charming.” As I watched them, I saw women and girls who were athletic, powerful, graceful, accomplished – “charming?” – I just don’t care. Will any of the male athletes be described as charming? Was this charming?

-During the women’s gymnastics, the commentators were trying to figure out what was going on with an American gymnast who had been expected to compete in an event, but obviously wasn’t. Turns out she had an injury in practice. The comment was something like (as best I could quickly jot it down): “This is the biggest day of her life. It’s like having a tear in your wedding dress before you walk down the aisle.” Yeah, a tear in your dress would be totally f’ing tragic, and just like the gymnast wasn’t competing, you would definitely not end up married. And you know, working you @$$ off for years to be one of the elite in your field/sport/what-have-you only to miss out on one of your events is *totally* equivalent to a minor fabric flaw. Because unless they’re Olympians, getting married is pretty much what women have to look forward to. Jerks.

-Discussion of whether or not this girl is old enough to compete. I don’t care – she’s a damn good gymnast. It has been more online comments rather than Olympic news commentators bugging me on this one. As though all you in the peanut gallery are really specially calibrated age-detecting instruments, sensitive to within 2 years. Yes, she looks young. She’s a gymnast, which tends to minimize secondary sex characteristics. She’s also not all tarted up like Hannah Montana as some kind of parent-friendly sex symbol, as we Americans tend to do to your young performing girls. And excuse me, but she’s Chinese. I hate to break it to you, but Asian women tend to age better than those commenters coming from a mostly white perspective would expect. Here’s my Korean grandmother, at 76 years old. Here’s my half-Korean mom, at 47. You should be so lucky. This one is personally annoying to me – I remember being teased during my teens/early 20s – “you look 12.” No, I looked like what completely 100% white girls looked like at 12, when they were caking crap on their faces to look older and spending too much time on tanning. That sounds mean. I’m just annoyed that this seems to come from a perspective that doesn’t acknowledge real differences. Not everyone is like you, even in aging.

That concludes today’s bug up my butt, sponsored by humorless feminists r us. That is all.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. August 11, 2008 9:32 am

    I have the same issues, particularly around the coverage on Dana Torres. She has been identified, by media sources, as “middle-aged” (although she’s 41) and they continually emphasize the “mother of one” aspect of her life. I understand that some will argue that once one hits 40, one could be considered middle-aged. But considering Torres’ conditioning and stamina, hell no she is not middle aged!

    And I’m pretty damn sure she is not the only parent in the Olympic games. But of course, it’s all shushed shushed.

  2. earlgreyrooibos permalink
    August 11, 2008 9:38 am

    If they’re actually going to make the wedding analogy (which I don’t think they should do at all, but they did), wouldn’t a better metaphor be the groom not showing up???????

    wtf. Yep, getting a rip in my wedding dress would have ruined the whole day. that would have been so damn tragic. puh-leez. I don’t know, my groom showed up 40 minutes late, his mother was an hour late, our chuppah fell apart, it thunderstormed, and the day still wasn’t tragic. It was great. Nothing like, I don’t know, being injured during Olympic practice.

  3. August 11, 2008 10:30 am

    Rachel, I’m gonna disagree with you just a little bit about kid gymnasts. I think age does make a difference. Not in the sense of the importance of an arbitrary cut-off date, but in the sense that the little kids look like mini-robots out there: they have technique, but no emotion. I hate it that the sport has been taken over by kewpie-ization, and that older women, who have so much more grace, fire, and passion in their performance, are graded lower by the judges because they aren’t teensy weensy things. It’s the same with skating: Michelle Kwan at 14 looked like a dancing doll, but Michelle Kwan at 18 looked like the best skater you’d ever want to see. Obviously, 14 year olds have to compete against each other in order to be ready to compete when they’re 16 or 18, but I think that putting the younger ones out there with the 16-and-overs just feeds the fetishization of the look that I think hurts the sport. YMMV, of course.

    As for the wedding dress comment, ugh!

  4. August 11, 2008 10:45 am

    nm, I think you make some valid points, but I’m not making an argument about whether younger gymnasts should or should not be allowed or how older gymnasts should be scored – as I mentioned, I don’t really care. I’m just objecting to this idea that everybody looks the same as they age and a bunch of knuckleheads (frankly, a lot of white people) are excellent judges of what 16 “should” look like.

  5. deline permalink
    August 11, 2008 11:08 am

    We are very concerned about human rights abuses in China. And rightly so. This issue you highlight is important, however, there is another women’s issue about which we hear very little.

    Are ‘some’ women not human?

    Suki Falconberg: Sex for Sale at the Olympics

    Sex-for-Sale at the Olympics
    by Suki Falconberg

    Just a few weeks from now, on August 8, 2008, the Beijing Olympics will begin and sex-for-sale will probably be part of the festivities.

    When the World Cup was held in Germany in 2006, Julie Bindel wrote an article, “Foul Play,” in the UK Guardian (30 May 2006) about the explosion in sex trafficking that would be an overlooked sideline of the event. She also pointed out that other major sporting events, like the Olympic Games, are venues for this kind of exploitation. In my dumbness and innocence, it never occurred to me to connect sports and prostitution before reading Bindel’s piece; but I have since learned that sex-for-sale is rife and common, whether it be at the Olympics or the NFL Superbowl. Inevitably, girls are trafficked in, to meet the high customer demand.


  6. August 11, 2008 11:44 am

    Rachel, I understand, and I agree with your main point. I just think that half of the white female gymnasts also look too young to be competing, too.

  7. August 11, 2008 12:39 pm

    I have given this some thought and I wonder if they aren’t calculating their ages as the Chinese would — dating their age from the time of conception and using the lunar calendar. For example, in the US, I’m 41. According to the way that the Chinese calculate age, though, I would be 43.

    Otherwise, my concern is for the exceptionally rigorous training and its effects on the pre-pubescent body.

  8. August 11, 2008 12:43 pm

    Maybe the wedding comments were a poorly thought out way to relate the situation to your average person. Although that’s another kind of wrong that a wedding dress analogy was the best way they thought of to relate to an average American woman.

  9. MomTFH permalink
    August 11, 2008 5:41 pm

    Great rant! One of my favorite past times is getting my shorts frosted.

  10. August 11, 2008 5:55 pm

    I don’t like the Olympics. I’m not watching them. So I thought I’d have nothing to add, but suprisingly, I do. (hah!)

    This is one of the main things I don’t like about the Olympics. Women’s skill is repeatedly downplayed in favour of their appearance, and the desired appearance of women atheletes has become remarkably downsized. Media coverage tends to focus on the more petite female atheletes, while ignoring or making butts of jokes out of the larger women. I think the last Summer Games I watched featured Mary Lou Retton–and all of the fat jokes about her.

  11. August 12, 2008 10:44 am

    Notice that Nike is using “Happiest Girl in the Whole USA” (a song sung by a happy newlywed to her groom) as the background music to their women’s softball commercial, again equating getting married with winning gold?

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