Things to Celebrate at the Olympics

I have spent a lot of time being angry about misogynistic decisions in the lead-up to the Olympics. I’m not done, but I need to enjoy some of the good news.

Woman in a red and white unitard flying above the parallel bars. Photo by Ashley Landis
  1. The German women’s gymnastics team and their unitards, chosen to push back against the sexualization of women gymnasts.
  2. The Norwegian women’s handball team’s fine for wearing shorts instead of skimpy bikini bottoms will be paid by the Norwegian Handball Federation. The European Handball Federation, which imposed the fine, has acknowledged the media blowback and will be donating the fine amount to a foundation that promotes equality for women and girls in sport. Pink offered to pay the fine and her involvement significantly increased attention to the issue. I anticipate this rule will change, eventually.
  3. Oksana Chusovitina, the 46 year old Uzbek eight-time Olympic gymnast (gold in Barcelona and silver in Beijing, plus eleven world championship medals), retired after she narrowly failed to reach the finals. She was cheered by fellow competitors who rushed to embrace her and acknowledge her impact for breaking stereotypes about the sport.
  4. The Canadian women’s softball team, which won its first medal (bronze). Softball has not been part of the Olympics since 2008, and four of the women were on that team and have continued playing for the past 13 years. That is dedication!
  5. Maude Charron, who trained as an acrobat and then competed in crossfit before taking up weightlifting and competing in her first competition in 2015. Her gold medal in weightlifting is a high-profile demonstration that you can take up different sports, learn new things later in life, and be successful.
  6. Meaghan Benfeito and Caeli McKay, the synchronized divers who barely missed the podium despite McKay’s badly injured foot. Benfeito carried McKay out of the press conference after their last dive. This picture speaks volumes about team spirit to me.
Young woman carrying another woman piggyback, surrounded by three other people. Photo by Devin Heroux

Of the almost 11,000 Olympic athletes in Tokyo almost 49% are women, according to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), marking the first “gender-balanced” games in its history. At the Paralympics, at least 40.5% of athletes will be women. New competitions have been added, both mixed gender and specifically for women. There are also new sports, with a requirement that there be equal representation. Women’s sports are being given better timeslots and media coverage. And the head of broadcasting has committed to “sport appeal, not sex appeal”, by avoiding close-ups on on parts of the body.

But there is still a lot to do:

  • better funding for female athletes from recreational through elite levels;
  • better marketing of women’s sports;
  • an end to sexist uniform/pregnancy/maternity policies;
  • uniform policies that are culturally insensitive and disproportionately affect women (hijabs, modest uniforms, swim caps); and
  • changes at the IOC itself. That organization has never had anywhere near equal female representation on its board or among its committee members, there has never been a female head, and some of the men on the IOC have undermined its promises of commitment to equality.

Now I’m getting grumpy again, so I am going to close by celebrating the widespread condemnation of the nasty sexist things leading up to the Olympics and remembering that comedy can be a tool for change, starting with The Kloons, and their YouTube video “If Men Had to Wear Women’s Beach Volleyball Uniforms”. You can watch it here: