#FeministFriday At The Olympics: A Special Round-Up | Vol. 3 / No. 42.6

A special, extended Saturday edition on what we saw at the 2016 Olympics in Rio | Photo: Pierre de Coubertin, CC0; and Hector Garcia, CC BY-SA 2.0


Last week (before the Headaches of Doom descended) Richard had suggested that I write about the Olympics, as at that point a few weird sex/gender/sexuality-related things had happened. I happily agreed, then descended into the world of wishing that decapitation was a valid pain-relief option, and ended up with last week’s post about Trump.

This turned out to be a good thing in some ways, in that the ensuing week has resulted in many more weird incidents. And it was also a bad thing, in that Oh my God so many weird sex/gender/sexuality things happened at the Olympics. It got so bad that I had to call upon my friends and family on Facebook to help me collect all of the stories. They rose to the occasion.

And rose.

And rose.

And kept rising. I waited until Wednesday night to start writing, as the links kept coming in. So when I settled myself down to begin writing, I first had to open all of the links as new tabs. Around tab number 10, I started thinking “Oh my God, this is a lot of links.” When I got to tab number 15, with my computer starting to slow and without even having finished going through all of the links that my friends and family had collected, let alone the ones I knew I wanted to include from my own research, I thought “….this is terrible…. I wonder how many tabs my computer can handle….. I wonder how many tabs I can handle.”

Thus determined to “do science” to both my laptop and myself, I cracked open a beer, and devoted myself to spending the next half hour opening links and despairing over humanity. So now, separated into the good and the bad/ugly (I refuse to try to differentiate between the two) I present you the stories associated with the 38 tabs I had open between four windows on my laptop. And then some more that got added in the intervening days. I’ll talk about them after the list.

The List

All the Good, Bad, and/or also Ugly at the Rio Olympics.

The Good:

The Bad and/or also Ugly:

So that’s… a lot. To be fair, a little more than a third of the stories I found were good. The fact that so many stories are very much not good is… yeah. Fun fact, this post is already 12 pages long, and I haven’t even gotten to most of the analysis part. There’s a reason that this post ended up happening on a Saturday.

There are a couple of these stories that I want to focus on. These are of course two of the bad ones, because what would this post be if I’m not getting angry about stuff? And so:

An Inconvenient Proposal

The first I want to talk about is the public proposal. Now, the “stealing the silver” proposal was not the first public proposal at the Olympics, but as Sunny Singh points out, the other proposals weren’t stealing attention away from a medal ceremony. It’s worth reprinting a large portion of Tom Spender’s recitation of London-based author Sunny Singh’s points:

…Singh tweeted that the proposal revealed a sense of male entitlement. She described it to the BBC as “a dick move, and definitely not romantic”.

“It’s a control mechanism, a way of saying ‘You may just have won an Olympic medal, or be a CEO or have designed a spacecraft, but really the most important thing is you’re my wife’,” she said. “Imagine if it was someone like Michael Phelps receiving a medal and a woman came up and proposed – people would laugh at her. When men experience success, women are expected to stand aside and cheer from the background.”

Mr Qin had also taken advantage of what must already have been an emotional moment, Ms Singh said.

“You would also have to be extremely brave to say no at that point. You’ve won a medal, you’re in public, you’ve worked your whole life for this. Even the best human being is likely to be emotionally shaky and vulnerable at such a moment. And women are taught from an early age to be nice and not to say no,” she added.

To all of which I say: yeeeeeep. As a general rule, I hate forced displays of public affection, from kiss cams to public proposals. Public proposals I find are especially emotionally manipulative (and I include “promposals” in that. Seriously, screw those things).  As Singh points out, women are conditioned to be nice, to avoid public embarrassment, to avoid causing a scene, to avoid causing pain.

Proposing in a public place raises the odds that the woman will say yes, if only to avoid the painful spectacle of a public refusal. It’s bad enough when the proposal happens in front of 100 people at a restaurant. What happens when it is in front of a stadium full of people, on global television? He Zi would be castigated by millions of people if she refused under such conditions, even though the man who supposedly loves her more than anything essentially usurped one of the largest moments of her life to make everything about him. What would it have hurt if Quin Kai had waited until after the ceremony? If he had congratulated his girlfriend on her stupendous achievement, celebrated her with everyone else, and then, in private, proposed to her, to cap off an amazing day? Nothing, except for Quin Kai’s sense of importance.

So there’s that. And then there’s this:

Nico Hines’s “Gay Baiting”

Words can’t actually express how disgusted I am by what Nico Hines did. Or how disgusted I am by the Daily Beast for letting it run, letting it run in an edited form after the first outcry, and waiting a really fucking long time before taking it down at all.

Of course, since the internet is forever, the damage had already been done. I compared their halfheated attempts at editing to standing a horse up after it has already been shot; yes, technically it is on its feet, but it’s not exactly in good shape, now is it? Hines acted recklessly, stupidly, and homophobically.

People much more talented than me have already raked him pretty effectively across the coals, but I want to reiterate here: Nico Hines is a disgusting excuse for a human being, who turned a juvenile game of “gay chicken” into a publicity stunt with no journalistic merit, and purely for his own titillation. He’s supposedly been recalled from Rio, but if he, and whatever editor thought this would be a good idea, don’t face further consequences (at the very least a goddamn education program) then there’s really nothing resembling journalistic integrity at the Daily Beast.

Parting Thoughts

A final thought, on much of what went wrong in Rio: it may seem hypocritical to decry the judgement of people, and of athletes’ bodies, in what is the most competitive physical event in the world. But there are different types of judgment. Judging someone’s ability to pole vault is different from judging whether someone is “woman” enough. Judging someone’s speed is different from decreeing that a woman should wear makeup or put her hand over her heart while receiving a medal. The eyes of the world are on the Olympics, for good or for ill. I’d really like it if we actually saw something good.


Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not exhaustively detailing All The Things that happened at Rio, she studies gender in popular culture.


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