I feel like I’ve been living on a Ferris wheel these past few months. One day you are up and celebrating a new step forward to a post pandemic world and the next you are down seething at the ridiculousness of the world.
I wear a fitbit to track my steps, and recently I discovered I can track my heart rate as well. It’s a lovely little bit of data but I am troubled by the fact that my heart rate does jump when I read the news, or to be more precise, news which details once again how the patriarchy manifests itself in discriminatory actions against women.
This summer’s target is women in sport. As we near the Olympics, delayed from last year as a result of the pandemic, but going ahead under significantly different and challenging circumstances this year in Japan, the daily news offers a consistent menu of frustration and anger with a generous side of jackassery.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about structural racism in sport, looking at negative decisions taken against Black women, nursing athletes and individuals the sporting kingmakers deemed not sufficiently female enough. Let’s look at what’s on tap this week — along with garden variety sexism, we have generous servings of ableism:
- the Norwegian handball team wants to wear shorts instead of skimpy bikini bottoms, but their governing body says no. When the team goes ahead and wears them, the federation fines them.
- a ParaOlympian is told her running briefs are too skimpy and an official tells her she should cover up with shorts. (Maybe this official should have conferred with the handball officials?)
- another ParaOlympian is told she cannot take her personal support attendant with her to Tokyo. As she cannot navigate the Olympic Village without assistance, she has decided she cannot go. Others have also made this decision.
It’s enough to make your heart and mind explode.
The policing of women’s clothing isn’t new. Early in July, we saw swimming officials lose their nut over swimming caps designed to fit the heads of Black women. Once again white norms were expected to prevail because these hats designed to protect Black women’s hair might give them an advantage or something. We have also seen clothing policies that limit what female Muslim athletes can wear. Again nothing new, as France some years ago instituted a modest clothing ban on its beaches, targeting — you guessed it — Muslim women.
It seems especially egregious though that women from across the spectrum are being singled out. Officials in the case of the ParaOlympian are blaming each other when advance planning could have prevented the situation. Contradictory policies abound and no one seems to think it’s odd that one group is told to cover up and the other is told to bare all. I mean look at this picture:
Yes, the global pandemic means we have to do some things differently. However, when so-called “objective” rules affect women disproportionately, we have to stop and ask why. When we look at the decisions highlighted in the stories above, we clearly see male power at work. The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport says, “The rules of sport are meant to create a level playing field. In this respect, the rules are failing. They fail to create sport environments that recognize the dignity and even humanity of some of its most spectacular participants.”
When I look at the girls and young women around me today, they are doing amazing things. Several of my friends have daughters who played hockey, and four of them took on the goalie role. I can’t think of a single classmate of mine who played hockey at the same age, but I know quite a few who play hockey today.
Earlier this winter, a friend shared a marvelous video of a toddler snowboarding her way through the trees, her dad behind her. The confidence and the sheer joy of making it through the trail are palpable. Everyone should have that joy; everyone should have that recognition; everyone should have that support to do the best they can. Anything less is unacceptable.
–MarthaFitat55 is a writer getting her fit on in all the ways that work for her.