Women and the Olympics

During the opening ceremony I tweeted about the fact that London 2012 is the first games with female parity and that prompted much discussion.  That combined with the fact that a woman, cyclist Lizzie Armitstead, won team GB its first medal today; women’s football was the first event of the 2012 Olympics; and the personal fact that OH and I headed to the Olympic park in Stratford today to watch the opening matches of the women’s hockey got me thinking about women in the Olympics and how proud we should be that London 2012 is such a gender equal games and yet how we cannot rest on our laurels and assume we’re there and feminism is now complete.

Women can complete in all sports

Thanks to the addition of women’s boxing, London 2012 is the first Olympic Games where women can compete in all the sports in the Olympic programme. When women were first allowed to compete in the games in 1900 they could take part in just five sports:  tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrian and golf.  Various sports have been drip fed into the women’s Olympics along the way, although many were considered too strenuous for women until relatively recently. I was surprised to find that the women’s marathon was only introduced into the Olympic programme in 1988. More information here.

Even today, however, the women’s marathon is controversial. It is claimed that sexism is still alive and well in the IOC. The men’s marathon gold medal will be presented this year by the president of the IOC Jacques Rogge, but the women’s will not.  We have to ask why the men’s event merits such a high profile awards ceremony and the women’s does not.

Another interesting fact about potential Olympic inequality is raised by the International Working Group on Women and Sport.  They state that “two sports disciplines in the 2012 Olympic program feature only women: Synchronized Swimming and Rhythmic Gymnastics, widely considered “feminine” sports. Can the 2012 games be truly heralded as offering “full parity” between the sexes? Surely the cause of gender equality in sport applies to both women and men?” An interesting question for us women if we take feminism to mean true equality for both genders.

All countries are bringing female competitors

It is not just the ability to compete in all sports that makes 2012 the most gender equal, however.  This is the first games where every competing nation will be sending female competitors; a fantastic step towards gender equality in states such as Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Qatar. And yet, as noted by @Blonde_M, the Saudi women still walked several paces behind the men and the BBC notes “Officials have also said that female competitors will need to dress in such a way as “to preserve their dignity”.”  This may be a step in the right direction, but it is by no means the final word.

Not there yet

London 2012 is the most gender equal to date and I am proud that this is the case.  I would have to say however, that we still have a distance to go before we can consider the Olympics, and life in general, to have full parity of the sexes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *