As a female athlete, sports fan, and inhabitant of this planet, I am pumped for the Olympics. They begin this evening. The media provided a good deal of anticipatory coverage, looking at the games from many angles: London weather, steroids, sponsorship agreements, projected outcomes, and the list goes on and on. A few headlines about women in the games held my attention longer than the others:
- More women than men representing the US
The US will send more female than male athletes to the games for the first time this year. The female total reaches 269, eight more than the men on the roster.
- But not so in Saudi Arabia
This conservative country only recently lifted a ban on female participation in the Olympics. Keep in mind that women cannot legally drive in this country, and they’ve only recently been granted suffrage. They will vote in their first election in 2015. Sporting leagues for Saudi women often remain underground. Considering such barriers to athletic practices, it’s not surprising that the country has few athletes of Olympic caliber able to compete now that the ban is lifted. A conversation continues around Saudi Olympian Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani and whether or not she can wear a headscarf during her judo competition.
- Ban lifted for women’s boxing
This will be the first year that female boxer’s will be able to compete in the Olympics. This sport held out as the last with no female counterpart until this year. Female boxers finally have the opportunity to demonstrate they have a place to fight in the ring, and not just ornament it as bikini-ed ring girls.
- Sexism remains
Not surprisingly, female athletes are still held to traditional standards of beauty. Regardless of the sport or skill, Olympians tend to get extra attention if they’re considered beautiful or hot. One article on the US women’s soccer team faced criticism for its focus on looks and disregard for skills. That article began, “All of a sudden, the Olympics have got sexy. Really sexy.”
- There are only two genders in the Olympics
While the beautiful and feminine athletes get attention for their looks, the less feminine athletes face scrutiny. South African sprinter Caster Semenya had her gender called into question in 2009. After a series of confidential sex verification tests, Semenya was found to have high levels of testosterone and submitted to “treatment” to place her on more equal footing with her female competitors.
Regardless of the controversies humming around women and the Olympics, I am looking forward to seeing weeks of gender balanced sports. I like watching men compete too, but this is the only time every two years when female athletes vie equally for international attention.