By Scott Brayall
Since the close of the Olympic games, I have been searching the web for anything Olympic related. Suspicion arose because of general conversations in my Olympic Studies class with Dr. Fred Mason. Curiosity peaked and I decided to look into gender coverage during the Olympics. The first hit to come up on Google was “A Brief History of Sexism in TV Coverage of the Olympics”. Safe to say this title is bold enough to catch anyone’s attention. The recent, most highlighted topic was how NBC’s primetime drew immense criticism for what the commentators were saying. During the coverage of the women’s ski halfpipe, the commentators repeatedly called women skiers “girls”. Both men and women alike quickly took to social medias such as twitter to voice their displeasure. I personally think my favorite tweet was by Dan Ciskey who said “Somebody please teach the folks at @NBCOlympics the difference between girls and women. A 29 y.o. skier with kids and a bar is not a girl.”.
I found a study conducted by Andrew C. Billings and Susan Tyler Eastman who wrote about gender representation of the 2000 Olympics. What I found actually shocked me. This is not the first time Olympic telecasts have referred to women as “girls”. Not only did the telecasts refer to women in a demeaning way, they also commented on their attractiveness more often than they referred to men’s attractiveness. Having missed this year’s halfpipe, I decided to watch some of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. What I noticed was when the women landed their maneuvers, the commentator made remarks such as “elegant, beautiful, graceful” whereas when men competed, the comments were “smashed the landing, stomped the landing, got huge air”. The event was the same yet somehow they almost made it sound as if men were doing it more aggressively.
Because the clock time for televised sports during prime time such as the Olympics can take a couple years to add up (due to all the events going on simultaneously), I decided to look into the coverage of women during prime-time of the 2000 Olympics. Although this data is 14 years old, it is sad to say that the percentage of coverage hasn’t changed much. During the 2000 olympics the coverage time was scaled at 53% and 47%, with men’s coverage taking the majority. The journal article also brings light to the fact that the majority of the women’s broadcast comes from sports seen as more feminine such as diving, gymnastics, swimming and not surprisingly volleyball (for the summer games). For the winter games they show hockey, figure skating, speed skating, and some snowboard/skiing events.
After boring everyone with the statistics of coverage and demeaning terms used by commentators, you ask yourself, what does any of this matter? The reason this matters so much is because it reinforces a stereotypical dominance that the male athletes are better than females. Our current society is now, more than ever, geared towards trying to live healthier. How are our mothers, our sisters and our daughters supposed to try and be active when all they see in the media is the oppression of women in major sporting events? This definitely needs to change, because the notion that men don’t like watching women in sport can be argued. The proof can be found on CTV news where more people took to social media on February 20th about the women’s hockey team claiming Olympic gold than about the men’s hockey victory on Friday.
CTVNews.ca Staff (2014), Women’s hockey gold creates more buzz than men’s semi-final win at Sochi Olympics. http://www.ctvnews.ca/sochi/women-s-hockey-gold-creates-more-buzz-than-men-s-semi-final-win-at-sochi-olympics-1.1699094
Feeney, Nolan (2014), A Brief History of Sexism in TV Coverage of the Olympics. http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/02/a-brief-history-of-sexism-in-tv-coverage-of-the-olympics/284003/
Selective representation of gender, ethnicity, and nationality in American television coverage of the 2000 summer Olympics. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 37(3), 351-370.