Get off my Podium: Sexism in the Olympics

I really hate public marriage proposals. Talk about pressure!  And what ever happened to a quiet moment between two people?  Fortunately, this has never happened to me.  I’d like to believe that I live in a world where men (and women) who do this all know their partners well enough to be sure this is something they’d enjoy, but there is enough footage of public rejection floating about on youtube to suggest otherwise. In any case, I’m going to assume that some people absolutely love proposals in front of family or friends or the entire universe.

I really hope that Chinese diver Qin Kai is one of those people because in case you missed it, her boyfriend of 6 years popped the question during her silver medal ceremony in Rio. During the ceremony! Dude!  Get. Off. My. Podium.

It is really difficult to read this as anything other than a sexist pig dick move.  But maybe I am a hopeless romantic because I’m still trying-almost as hard as the BBC which reported the proposal was “an even bigger prize than the silver medal.”   But perehaps that was a bit presumptuous. Who is to say that a moment of silver glory is or isn’t a bigger achievement than the promise of everlasting love except Qin Kai herself?  I really want to give the happy couple the benefit of the doubt.

But I can’t.  That’s the problem with sexism and really all our other isms.  It’s not about one act or one couple or one clumsily-timed marriage proposal.  It’s about a macrocosm of values to the detriment of others. It’s about a million subtle messages women receive every day about what is valuable about them.

That there is sexism in the Olympics is hardly surprising, but it’s getting a lot of press this year, and that has to be a good thing.  What does surprise me is the level of denial by a good segment of the population.  By “good,” here, I mean “male.” Feel the irony.  And Jesus.  No, I don’t mean ALL men.  Get a grip.

Take the Colorado paper announcing swimming medals.  Here they are talking about Katie Ledecky (F) and Micahel Phelps (M) and  and their accomplishments.headline

Thank you, Colorado newspaper, for the simple visual explanation of sexism.  Now I won’t have to go around explaining how women athletes are not valued like their male counterparts.

But wait! The immediate and appropriate backlash received by the Colorado paper was met with an excessively loud collective whine from fragile males who cried: This is not sexism!  There are many many other reasons for this editorial decision.  For example, Michael Phelps is really really important.

Right.  Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt because you know, Michael Phelps has greater name recognition than Katie Ledecky, and he has more medals and an 18 foot wingspan. The fact that Katie, in addition to setting a new world record, is the first woman to win Gold in the 200, the 400, and the 800 since the 60’s is naturally not as interesting.

Or-  Let’s not give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s not sweep every offensive headline under the carpet.  Let’s not assume the best of intentions.  Let’s not make excuses just because oh, we men didn’t mean to hurt your little feelings.

I don’t have to prove that each and every incident I perceive as sexist is the result of a male dominated society.  I don’t need to do that because I have plenty of actual provable facts on my side.

For example, male athletes receive $179 million more in athletic scholarships than female athletes.  And despite Title IX which was supposed to end sexual discrimination in schools, universities spend only 24% of their athletic budget on women’s sports.  You still want to tell me sexism is just women being over sensitive?

No.  It is not ok that three-time Olympian and Bronze-winner Corey Codgell-Unrein was identified only as “wife of Bears lineman.”  And no, I don’t care if you live in Bears country. And no, it’ not ok that Gold medalist Katinka Hosszu’s win was immediately credited to her husband.  And no, I don’t care that he was her coach.  Yes, I do find it belittling that the women’s Judo final was called “a catfight,”and I don’t care if the commentator who said it, “didn’t mean to offend.”

So you can whine all you want about how sexism isn’t a real thing.  I’m not convinced, and I find your arguments shallow and desperate.  By “you” I mean “men who are not going to get laid anytime soon.” See how I clarified “not all men” there for you?  What I really mean is “men who are not feminists,” but that’s another blog.

If you’re on the fence about it, though, I am pretty sure that this clip From Fox’s Sports Court (because of course it is from Fox’s Sports Court) about why women should wear makeup while competing in the Olympics should throw you on your ass on the side of women are not making this shit up.  Extra points to the male commentators if they’ve ever worn mascara in a pool. Don’t miss the part about how lipstick is especially important so that men are not subjected to seeing female lip zits while watching sports.

I would like to end this piece with a picture of Katie Ledecky. Because she’s awesome. And it’s my blog.





Robel the Whale, Olympian

We are all fascinated with Olympians.  What does it feel like to win a gold medal?  What amazing confluence of life trajectory events have to align for one person to be that much better than everyone else? What sacrifices?  What motivations? What combination of natural ability, supportive family, great coaching, insane training, and dumb luck does it take?

It’s not surprising that Olympians are our heroes, but they’re not exactly relatable.  Until now.  May I present Ethiopia’s Robel Kiros Habte, Rio’s slowest Olympic swimmer. So he’s a little chubby, having gained weight, he says, after a car accident.  Some people have been less than kind, and the moniker “Robel the Whale,” has been bandied about.  Really?  What is wrong with you people?  I hope he embraces it.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to swim like a whale?  If people said you ran like a whale or walked the balance beam like a whale that might be insulting, but whatever…

For the most part, the Ethiopian underdog is a crowd favorite in Rio. As well he should be. Who’s to say that coming in 59th doesn’t take more drive than coming in first?  Would Michael Phelps have quit if he couldn’t taste Olympic Gold from the time he donned his first pair of speedos? What better example of Olympic Spirit than showing up knowing that you’ll be the last to touch the wall?

Just how slow is Robel?  Well, if you have never swum competitively, and you think maybe you could beat him yourself, you can’t.  If you could swim 100 meters in less than 1:04:95 minutes, you’d know.  Which makes any extra flab that much more remarkable.  The man is far from out of shape.

Still, it’s not an Olympic time or a National time or even a State time.  The state record for High School boys in Florida, for example, is under 45 seconds.  But Robel the Rebel is not from the United States, he is from Ethiopia, the land of runners. “Everybody, every day you wake up in Ethiopia, you run, he said. “But I didn’t want to run, I wanted to be a swimmer…It didn’t matter where I finished.”

I started swimming my freshman year of high school for one reason.  My dad made me.  I was not pleased. The first two months or so I put my anger into my lap swimming.  How dare my father interfere with my right to be a couch potato?  But then it actually turned out to be kind of fun.  I loved the water, and I got in shape for the first time, and no one on the team ever made me feel like I was any less valuable than the top swimmers who’d been training since preschool.  I think this is evidence of exemplary coaching, and I found this same dedication to team building in the other coaches I swam for.  I am very grateful for it.

But I still came in last.  Every damn time. Heat after heat.  Meet after meet.  Dead last. Eventually I got better, and I moved to a new state with a much less competitive swim culture.  After that, sometimes I came in second to last. I tried hard to remember that despite being slow for a competitive swimmer, I was a much better swimmer than anyone who was not actually on the team.  The average person cannot, after all, swim a mile and a half every day after school. So it’s pretty cool if you can do this, even if your teammates have already showered and are eating sandwiches by the time you get done.

So I know what it feels like to come in last.  And you know what would be totally awesome?  Coming in last at the Olympics.  “I am so happy because it is my first competition in the Olympics,” said Robel.    He sure looks like an Olympian to me.