Olympic sexism roundup: from ‘soft limbs’ to bikini shots

By Maura Judkis

Kayla Harrison of the United States (in white) competes against Gemma Gibbons of Great Britain for the gold medal during the women's 78-kg judo competition. (Paul Sancya/AP)

London 2012 may be the most female-friendly Games ever — it’s the first Olympics with women competing in all 26 events and with women from every country represented — but that hasn’t stopped the onslaught of sexist commentary. In fact, as these examples of Olympic sexism imply, it may have encouraged more of it. Here are the five worst offenders thus far:

  1. “With those judo contestants – and I realise this will probably sound appallingly sexist – I couldn’t help wondering about their soft limbs battered black and blue with bruises.”
    Yes, yes it does, Andrew Brown. He’s a Telegraph writer who was shocked — shocked! — to see that women in this day and age compete in judo, instead of competitive laundry-folding.  Brown seemed to think that judo bouts were for his “entertainment,” rather than for sport, and the commenters in his post rightly called him out on his antiquated beliefs.
  2. Beach volleyball coverage centers, as always, on the bikinis.
    It’s an Olympic rite of passage by now: Ever since beach volleyball became an Olympic sport in 1996, coverage has centered around the hotness of the female athletes, and the sexism of said coverage. It was particularly fraught this year, as the Games allowed a change of wardrobe: players could opt for shorts and shirts instead of just bikinis.
    The Metro Web site published a photo essay that about what other sports would look like if they were covered like beach volleyball: all the images cropped up close and personal on male body parts. It mocked the professional photography at the Olympics that focused a little too closely on women’s bikini bottoms. That’s why, according to the Independent, “The debate around the Olympics has descended in some quarters as to whether Prince Harry has been ogling girls in bikinis or not this fortnight.”
  3. Male Japanese soccer players flew business class, while the female soccer players flew coach.
    “It should have been the other way around,” 2011 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Homare Sawa told Japanese media after arriving in the French capital, quoted in the National Post. “Even just in terms of age we are senior.”
  4. Saudi Arabian female athletes were called “prostitutes” on Twitter
    A hashtag that translates to “Prostitutes of the Olympics” became a place for Twitter users to rant about the first-ever female Saudi athletes, whose participation depended on them being permitted to wear their veils. When users elsewhere realized what the hashtag meant, they used it to show support for the athletes.

  5. “[We] don’t lift weights in order to look hot, especially for the likes of men like that.”
    British weightlifter Zoe Smith said in response to men who criticized her appearance, in a blog post. After receiving tweets about her looks, Smith write an awesome rant about the types of dudes who would criticize a female weightlifter: “We, as any women 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.” Read the whole thing here.

One Olympic sport that’s relatively sexism-free? Equestrian events, according to competitor Beezie Madden, in an interview with Betty Confidential. “Some horses are better suited for women and some for men, but in the industry as a whole, men and women are very much on equal levels and are treated that way and treat each other that way.”