I loved watching the Canadian women’s hockey team spill onto the ice to celebrate their gold medal win. I almost missed the chance to see the three-time gold metal champions because the coverage of the men’s semi-final round dominated the headlines. But I saw the team gracefully play their way to a gold, lead by the only female coach in Olympic hockey. This victory was only 24 hours after four Canadian women medaled in bobsled, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of the group of women ski jumpers whose frustrating journey to compete in these games has been almost forgotten. And that’s likely because, according to University of Alberta’s Pirkko Markula, “women will have received only five per cent of pre-Olympics media coverage, and will receive only 25.2 percent during the Games.”
Everyone has the opportunity to participate in dress-up patriotism, dipping their faces in paint and wearing flag capes, but not everyone gets to compete in the Olympic games the same way. The Vancouver Games have brought up many gender issues and examples of gender injustice. There is the unbalanced coverage and support of men and women’s events. (Gold medalist John Montgomery can strut through Whistler drinking a pitcher of beer, while the aforementioned champion Hockey team is being investigated by the IOC for drinking on the ice.) There is the ugly and invasive history of gender verification and medal stripping. And then there is the over-sexing of female athletes.
When the most competitive and successful female athletes must excel at their sport as well as strip down to get attention (and funding), something isn’t right. A quick Google search of Gold Medal athletes Ashley McIvor or Julie Mansuco, will offer pictures of the women kissing a medal or sporting a bikini. Lindsay Vonn’s Sport’s Illustrated cover sparked a controversy about her sex-kitten image. Even the Canadian Biathalon Team is revealing all, although they announced that in doing a nude calendar for a fundraiser “our goal is to empower and inspire women and girls by expressing the beauty of a healthy, athletic body”. We want to empower women and girls and inspire them to be outstanding in any way they’d like, but do we have to always raise money by taking it off? And if they aren’t on top of the podium or naked, women are seen crying, illustrated last week with Canadian Mellissa Hollingsworth’s teary apology for a “disappointing” fifth in skeleton. Have any other athletes that didn’t medal in their sport taken the time to cry on camera?
There is some hope — figure skater Johnny Weir, whose confident performances in pink-laced costumes shattered gender roles in sport and got people talking (which is why we adore him at HCW). Skater Elvis Stojko came out with a homophobic review Johnny Weir’s performance, asserting that “people in the gay community have to realize they’ve got to take themselves out of it” because “masculine men can’t identify with [effeminate skating]”. His cruel commentary was drowned out by the outcry from supportive fan’s arguing Weir didn’t metal because of his femininity. Gay rights groups demanded an apology after homophobic comments were made from French broadcasters joking that Weir should undergo gender verification testing. Even Adam Lambert has dubbed him a trailblazer.
As someone who grew up loving winter sports — skiing every weekend and idolizing female athletes, these stories were upsetting. So cheer loud and proud for those athletes that deserve it, and never feel guilty for celebrating on the ice and join HCW in toasting the Canadian Women’s team with a full glass of bubbly.
At the same time gender-blinders shouldn’t be part of our sporting ‘gear”. In the coming weeks we’ll continue posting blogs reflecting on the cultural and sub-cultural legacies of the 2010 games. We went out on ths streets with the SafeVibe team, we visited Pride House, and we sought out some experts in sport and gender. Watch for our coming short vidoes on these topics and visit Hello Cool World for updates.
For more on sexism, human rights and corruption head over to The Washington Post for a good read.
COMING SOON: Our HCW video interview with the lovely and articulate Ann Travers, an Associate Professor in Sociology and Anthropology at Simon Fraser University. She spoke to us about the history of gender politics and sports, her love of baseball and why individual effort in fighting gender inequality is never lost.