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The Rampant Sexism on Display at the Rio Olympics


The Rampant Sexism on Display at the Rio Olympics

Mary Alice Crim

On Thursday night, American swimmer Simone Manuel tied with Canadian Penny Oleksiak for a historic gold medal in the 100m freestyle. NBC didn’t air Manuel’s medal ceremony right away — even though she’s the first African American woman to win gold for an individual swim.


Having given up cable, I’ve turned to the CBC’s coverage of the games on the internet. I’ve mostly been watching the swimming and basketball, sports I competed in when I was young, but have also seen some of the women’s gymnastics. Canada is hardly free from sexism, but it is easy to watch entire sessions of each of these sports (and I’m assuming most of the others) and I can tell you that the women have been celebrated just as much or more than the men, Simone Manuel and Penny Olesiak just as much as Michael Phelps (whose performances really have been worthy of celebration).

I suspect, though, that the TV broadcasts have tended to focus on the Canadian athletes to an extent that would drive me crazy – there are so many wonderful athletes from all around the world, including the large number who have no chance of winning a medal, and to see the delight on the faces of people who swim a personal best, even if it’s a very long way from the times that will be posted in the finals, has been one of the real pleasures of my viewing.


Thanks Mary Alice Crim for your insightful writing on this very important issue. The San Jose Mercury News is dreadful for not acknowledging Simone Manuel accomplishment Olympic Gold Medial Winner in the 100m Freestyle Swim, and NBC disrespect of Simone Manual on the medal ceremony. Of course, I never liked The San Jose Mercury News for what they did to Investigative Reporter Gary Webb. And for NBC, they are what they are, a piss poor excuse. Lets just all turn them off at once, and for all!


All this, yes-- and further imagine, perhaps, a world entirely without the Olympics. A world without their obsessive idolization of winning, losing, and ranking. Without their deification of a hyper-rare subset of athletic bodies over all other human bodies. Without their inevitable manufacture of dozens of downcast, disregarded losers for every hero with a medal. Without their grotesque nationalism, their marketing-driven profits, their trail of debt and displacement. They undeniably create occasional moments of great beauty – but so, no doubt, did the Coliseum.


Who is paying for all this fanfare if not the publicity and sponsorship mob? How could it happen without them? Hate it as you might, sex and sexism sells and these people know it. I do not condone it - just asking how you could have all this without the influence of their money… which does of course corrupt it. Also, the article does read a bit like looking to find what you want to find to make a case.


Imagine: instead of a sequence of athletic musical chair events where there is only one winner, which makes losers of everyone else…each nation in the world nominated their best biologist, engineer, teacher, musician, physician, etc. to a collaborative games. Then the teams can, over the next four years, develop projects that will benefit humanity and our world. What could we be? What would our world look like with collaboration as a base instead of competition? That would be a global event I would surely support.




Well, Matt, it matters because language matters. And the choices that writers and editors make in using language do matter. The headline that says “Phelps and African American”… so there was no other way to say it? Like, how about “Phelps and Manuel”? The editor(s) made the choice that it’s about race and/or sex. Oh, and they continue the notion that the default is male, white, and hetero.


CBC’s not completely free of the unconscious sexism displayed by NBC either.
Ron Maclean’s interview with (just turned) 16 year old Penny Olesiak after she shared gold with Simone Manuel was a shocking example.
One minute of the 3 minute interview involved talking about her brother, an NHL player, including a VIDEO of her brother’s first NHL goal.
I hope that he interviews her brother on a hockey telecast and shows a video of one of her medal swims.


PS. Regarding focus on local athletes, I watched an entire (court) Volleyball match between Italy and Brazil last night on CBC. My experience of US coverage (and Australian and British coverage) when I’m there is that they are much more parochial… but I can understand that they must serve what their markets want.


As I said in the first sentence of my post, Canada (and by implications the
CBC) is hardly free from sexism. I didn’t watch the interview with Olesiak,
but can’t say that I’m surprised by what you describe. Pretty sad.


I’m with you.