I am pleased to welcome another highly talented addition to the writing stable here at Modern Age Revolution, Jillian Pfennig. Jillian is a freelance photographer based in Los Angeles, and will be writing with an eye on women’s rights, sexuality and exploitation, and what it’s like to continuously realize that the world is infinitely more fucked up than you could have ever imagined. — Teddy Tutson
The Olympics are the talk of the world right now–Twitter is literally blowing up about it–yet when it comes to female athletes, how come the only thing that seems to be mentioned is their bodies, either positive or negative?
For instance, Women’s Beach Volleyball players no longer have to wear bikinis while playing, a rule that was changed by the International Volleyball Federation, motivated by cultural sensitivity. Although no countries were listed, a spokesman said, “Many of these countries have religious and cultural requirements, so the uniform needed to be more flexible.” Furthermore, since London is not the warmest of climates, bikinis will be unsafe during most of the games. Cold weather causes pulled muscles and lack of movement, so the outfit change benefits both the players and the game. This has caused quite the uproar, resulting in men complaining about the change in outfit. The worse part is that they are not even trying to be subtle.
According to a press release from Virgin Atlantic, “Virgin Atlantic has come to the rescue of red-blooded males across the UK by offering to provide banks of patio heaters around the courts…so that competing beauties will continue to wear bikini bottoms.” It is appalling that they call the women “beauties” instead of “athletes.” It is even more appalling that they aren’t even trying to hide the only reason they watch the sport is to view women as sex objects. During a press conference with Olympic female volleyball players, there were no questions about how they are preparing for the games, or strategies around winning–the uniform dominated all questions. Not to mention that every picture in the media of Women’s Beach Volleyball is from behind or women hugging. This poses the question of whether or not people will continue to watch if the players change their uniform. However, due to the new rules, it is the athletes’ time to decide how they want to be viewed. They have the power to wear the correct clothes for the climate, risk a lack of viewership, but gain respect for the sport, or give the “red-blooded males” what they want and continue to make a mockery of their sport.
Another example of conversations surrounding Olympic women athletes’ bodies involves Zoe Smith, a British Olympic weightlifter. A twitter user, “Infidel1978”, first remarked on the women’s appearance after “Girl Power- Going For the Gold,” a BBC documentary aired. “I wouldn’t even look at you,” infidel1978 tweeted attacking Smith and teammates Hannah Powell and Helen Jewel. “I’d think you was a bloke and so would 9 out of 10 lads.” After a few tweets back and forth, both Twitter accounts have been deleted. However, Smith followed up by writing a blog post explaining the scrutiny women in her field have to deal with.
“We don’t lift weights in order to look hot, especially for the likes of men like that,” Smith wrote. “What makes them think that we even want them to find us attractive? If you do, thanks very much, we’re flattered. But if you don’t, why do you really need to voice this opinion in the first place?
“Shall we stop weightlifting, amend our diet in order to completely get rid of our ‘manly’ muscles, and become housewives in the sheer hope that one day you will look more favorably upon us and we might actually have a shot with you?
“This may be shocking to you, but we actually would rather be attractive to people who aren’t closed-minded and ignorant. Crazy, eh?! We, as any woman with an ounce of self-confidence would, prefer our men to be confident enough in themselves to not feel emasculated by the fact that we aren’t weak and feeble.”
Once again, this girl works her entire life to make it to the Olympics and has to put up with unwanted attention about how strange men are not attracted to her, which doesn’t matter in any way. It’s infuriating how the conversations have strayed so far away from the athletics and what the Olympics are supposed to be about.
Finally, another example of the inequalities that female athletes have to worry about involve Australian hurdler, Michelle Jenneke. At only 19, she should be on top of the world right now as she gets ready to run hurdles at the Olympics. Yet instead of anyone talking about her hurdling abilities, the only thing people are talking about is whether or not she will pose nude for sex.com. They have offered to make a sizable donation to the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) if she says yes to their offer. Sex.com’s Martin Ellison told XBIZ, “Michelle Jenneke has shown a sex appeal that’s uncommon in female athletes and we want Michelle to know that she can use her sexuality to not only raise her profile but also benefit athletes all over her country.”
It is time to recognize female athletes for the amazing talents they have and stop treating them like pieces of meat. It shouldn’t and doesn’t matter what female or male athletes look like, it should only matter how they play their sport. Michelle Jenneke posing nude will only go on to make a mockery of her and female athletes in general. Zoe Smith has the right idea by keeping her focus on her sport and not listening to what others are saying about her. Let’s hope Jenneke and the beach volleyball players also do their part for female athletes, as well as females all over the world in putting a stop to the inequality. Although they can not control how people view them, or what people say about them, they can and do have control of continuing to play into stereotypes and how they respond to interviews, offers, etc.
It is time for female athletes to take back the Olympics and finally make it about their athletic abilities.