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 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.
All the Good, Bad, and/or also Ugly at the Rio Olympics.
- The general domination of US women at the Olympics (just US women have won more gold medals than some countries).
- Adorable human being Fu Yuanhui breaking taboos about menstruation by talking about the effect her period had on her Olympic performance. (I love you, Fu Yuanhui.)
- Kimiah Alizadeh Zenoorin becoming the first woman from Iran ever to win a medal. She is eighteen and won in taekwondo. I love her.
- Simone Biles being so awesome that news outlets started having to stretch to find new ways to describe how awesome she is.
- Simone Biles firmly rejecting having her awesomeness being compared to men’s awesomeness as if their awesomeness is dominant/as if she is a vagina’d version of a male athlete: “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.”
- Sarah Robles winning a bronze medal and becoming the first person from the United States to win a medal in lifting in the last sixteen years (the last one, a gold, went to Tara Nott in 2000. US men last won a lifting medal in ’84. Just sayin’) and also speaking explicitly about the importance of the representation of Latinx women and non-normative/larger women in sports.
- Michelle Carter being the first American woman to win gold at the shot put, and talking about how she wants girls to be themselves and consider themselves as girls even if they are not considered to be traditionally “girly.”
- Gymnast Chusovitina still competing at the Olympics level at age 41 in a sport where women old enough to drink are considered ancient.
- Simone Manuel becoming the first black woman from the US to win an individual gold medal in swimming, tying with Canadian Penny Oleksiak. This is an even more important achievement given the fraught history of segregation regarding pools.
- Katie Ledecky breaking the 800-meter freestyle record by two seconds and leading to one of the best photos of the Olympics (I genuinely can’t decide a winner between this photo and the Road Runner-esque one of Usain Bolt.)
- Katie Ledecky being so goddamn amazing at swimming that she breaks the weak egos of male swimmers, who have to be pulled out of practices with her because it hurts their spirits when she beats them.
- Lindy West explaining in explicit detail why women ogling male swimmers doesn’t have the same social meaning or impact as men objectifying women.
- (Speaking of, I don’t know if this technically belongs in the “good” column, seeing as I’m generally distrustful of the “equal opportunity objectification” argument, but I find it kind of hysterical, and thus qualifying as “good,” that male gymnasts really, really want us to objectify them—so that they start getting as much attention as the female gymnasts, and so that we can see how swole they are and realize they aren’t wusses.)
- This article refocusing all of the “Simone Biles fangirls over Zac Efron” narrative.
- The Tab making fun of the way that everyone else has been talking about Olympic athletes. (Aka, making fun of all the things I’m about to talk about. This might also not fully count as “good,” because it’s one of those “hahahaha….aw….” things.)
The Bad and/or also Ugly:
- NBC blaming their fairly ridiculous decision to time-delay broadcasts of very popular events (ensuring that they show up in primetime to all the way at 11 PM, those jerks, and also ensuring that the internet has pretty thoroughly spoiled the results of said events before you even sit down in front of your TV) on the fact that more women watch the Olympics than men, and, according to them, women don’t care about the results of sports, just the story. Right. They probably also use that to explain why they have fifty freaking “human interest” bits before and after events, instead of, I don’t know, showing more athletes and sporting events.
- Despite messing with broadcasts because the majority-women fans like the “story” so much, deciding to air every. Freaking. Michael Phelps medal ceremony as soon as they happened, deciding to delay airing Simone Manuel’s historic medal ceremony and instead air more gymnastics footage that only needed to air then in the first place because NBC made the effing decision to delay it. If NBC had decided to air the gymnastics footage earlier, they would have been more than capable of showing Manuel’s medal ceremony. Or, and this might be a crazy idea, they could have cut one of the damn filler pieces they insist on airing. I. Don’t. Care. What Matt Lauer has to say about any athlete. Ever.
- A headline that puts Michael Phelps silver medal tie in larger font, on top of the smaller font announcement that Katie Ledecky won a gold medal and broke a freaking world record.
- The Chicago Tribune deciding to omit mention of trap-shooter Corey Cogdell-Unrein’s previous medals, her full name, and, you know, her sport in their headline about her new bronze medal, in favor of mentioning that she is having marital relations with a player for the Bears. The headline does take care to note her husband’s first and last name and his position in the headline. Prioritize the important stuff, guys.
- The Mercury News declaring “Olympics: Michael Phelps Shares Historic Night With African American.” First, this is literally referring to Simone Manuel by just her race. Second, this makes it sound like Michael Phelps and Simone Manuel were boning. Third, the article is at least half about Manuel. It’s like if someone retitled Thelma and Louise as Thelma and White Woman Take Unforgettable Car Ride.
- An NBC commentator saying that the women’s gymnastics team looked like they could be chilling in a mall.
- An NBC commentator attributing Katinka Hosszu’s success and gold medal in swimming to her husband/coach.
- NBC suddenly not caring about human interest stories and the spouses of athletes when it comes to homosexual partners.
- NBC not being able to understand that your parents don’t have to be the people that donated their genetic material to you.
- The BBC writing about the fact that Chinese diver (and bronze medalist) Quin Zai proposed to his girlfriend, diver He Zi, right after she won a silver medal. (Please, never, ever do a super public proposal. I’ll talk about that later. But definitely don’t do so in a way that attempts to overshadow your would-be spouse’s incredible achievements.) The BBC article A, didn’t even mention Zi in the headline, and B, called the proposal ‘“an even bigger prize.”’ Now, as Rachel Vorona Cote points out, Zi might consider the proposal a bigger prize than winning silver. But she didn’t say such. The BBC decided such, which continues narratives about how women should consider domestic achievements more important that career achievements. And is just generally freaking presumptive. (Also, while Cote is very careful to say that Zi could consider marriage more important than a silver medal, I’m going to be presumptive on my own and say no, it’s not. Marriage is awesome and cool and wonderful for many, many people. But that’s just the point. Lots and lots of folks can get married. Statistically speaking, only a few women can win a silver medal in the Olympics. That’s just math.)
- The ridiculous pearl clutching over the fact that Simone Biles made a very human mistake and “only” won bronze on the beam. Dude. She made a fairly big mistake and still won bronze. Don’t worry, she’s still incredible.
- People bringing Gabby Douglas to tears because of their criticism of her performance, and even their determination that she’s not patriotic enough. I’m sorry, are we having the McCarthy-era patriotism tests again? Because I will probably not pass. Richard will have to smuggle me into Canada. This is likely due at least partly (largely) to racism, seeing as Ryan Lochte is getting less negative attention for lying about vandalism and trying to create an international incident than gabby Douglas got for not putting her hand over her heart during the national anthem.
- The endless. Fucking. Debate. About Caster Semenya’s gender. An argument that is about “fairness” as much as Gamergate was about ethics in gaming journalism. An argument that relies on essentialist notions of gender and only has one participant whose opinion really matters, and that’s Semenya’s.
- The internet harassing Alexa Moreno for being “fat.” Moreno weighs less than 100 pounds and is 4 feet, 10 inches tall. Fun fact, for every inch that I’m taller than Moreno, I’m roughly 11 pounds heavier than she is. If Moreno is fat, then I’m Jabba Desilijic Tiure. And since I don’t speak Huttese, I suppose that just makes the internet full of mean idiots. That’s right, I just schooled internet trolls with Star Wars knowledge. Come at me, internet.
- The fact that the super-amazing US women’s soccer team is having to fight in court to be paid as much as their male counterparts, who weren’t even good enough to qualify for the Olympics. At all. The women make less for a win than the men do for a loss.
- Conservatives trying to make a story that probably has more to do with sexism and the general unpopularity of shooting sports into a story about how liberal America Hates Guns.
- Fox News commentators talking about how female Olympians should be forced to look pretty and wear makeup.
- This. Just…. All of this:
- When Andy Murray had to point out to the man interviewing him that Venus and Serena Williams had four times as many gold medals as he did. (I almost put this in the “good” category, because good on Andy Murray for being honest, knowing math, and acknowledging the incredible women who hit a milestone before he did. But it goes in the bad/ugly category because a man whose job it is to talk to athletes, specifically tennis players, didn’t consider two of the most incredible tennis players of all time. Because nothing matters until a guy does it.)
- Nico Hines doing one of the sleaziest things I’ve ever heard of a journalist doing, and posing as a gay male on Grindr in the Olympic Village to lure gay Olympians into wanting to have sex with him, then describing them in enough detail in the piece to out them. Some of the men are, as Hines admits, from homophobic countries. There will be much, much more on this later. It will involve curse words.
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.
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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