As you may have heard, some sexist Olympics newscasters made some incredibly dumb statements about female athletes.
There was this: “And there’s the man responsible for turning his wife into a totally new swimmer…” from NBC’s Dan Hicks about powerhouse Katinka Hosszu and husband/couch Shane Tusup (a challenging personality who has drawn concern for his treatment of Hosszu).
This gem from The Chicago Tribune:
Unfortunately Twitter doesn’t offer enough characters for this Olympian to be a wife of a football player and have a name. Bummer.
Also there was Katie Ledecky and Swims-like-a-man Gate, an announcer saying the US gymnasts look like they could be “standing around at the mall”, someone using the term “men’s cycling” for the men but “girl’s cycling” for the women, the focus on Dana Vollmer having a baby 17 months ago (the headline USA Today?!). The list goes on.
To be very clear – these are sexist statements. To figure that out all you have to do is think about them in reverse:
- “And there’s the woman responsible for turning her husband into an entirely new swimmer” (would never happen)
- “Husband of Chicago WNBA player wins bronze medal today in Rio” (the WNBA doesn’t matter nearly enough for that, according to the media)
- “The men’s gymnastics team looks like they could be sitting around playing video games” (sounds like a dumb and pointless thing to say, doesn’t it?)
- Calling it “women’s cycling” and “boy’s cycling” (my favorite)
- This USA Today headline: New Dad Michael Phelps Wins Gold Again (that will be the day…)
- Any man doing anything “like a girl” (HA!)
But what makes this situation even more frustrating is that these comments are ENTIRELY UNNECESSARY – especially coming from highly paid, supposedly media trained employees of some of the largest corporations in the world.
To prove that, here’s how these comments would look if they weren’t sexist:
- “And there’s coach and husband Shane Tusup celebrating Katinka’s incredible victory.”
- “Impressive how relaxed the women’s gymnastics team looks in between events. That is Olympic-level focus.”
- “Katie Ledecky uses a unique and powerful stroke that swimmers like Michael Phelps have used.”
- Chicago’s @CoreyCogdell wins gold. Husband @chicagobears lineman “incredibly proud”
Those examples prove that sexist Olympics coverage is, above all, lazy which makes it even worse.
These are the media’s fastest, simplest, unfiltered thoughts. They prove that this is the default lens through which many people view the world. And that proves the point of sexism even more. The fact that newscasters didn’t realize they made an error, didn’t mean to offend and were just making a valid point is exactly the point: they don’t get it.
Luckily, that argument isn’t going to hold up anymore, and that is progress. Google “sexist NBC” – the coverage is extensive. Google “sexism Olympics” – same deal.
So here’s a revolutionary thought: what if the media apologized?
I know that Rowdy Gaines said, no she swims like Katie Ledecky – that is wonderful. I know the man who made the gymnasts at the mall comment defended himself as a way to excuse the statement – that is not as wonderful. I know Dan Hicks said, “It is impossible to tell Katinka’s story accurately without giving appropriate credit to Shane, and that’s what I was trying to do” – that is not an apology.
I want NBC or The Chicago Tribune or any of the other publications and people who made these mistakes to come out big against them.
I want the head of NBC sports to give an interview with The New York Times about what they’re doing to examine and erase sexism in their coverage. I want The Chicago Tribune to issue a re-Tweet and then an apology Tweet. I want these places to make a huge deal out of understanding the issue and correcting the problem. Because it is a problem. That’s why thousands of people are upset. Their upset is progress in and of itself, but true progress would be someone in a position of power actually listening. Can you imagine how much positive press that would receive?
The tide around gender and media is changing. The fact that these comments still happen is a disappointment but public outcry is encouraging. I believe there will be a time very soon when we realize that gendered commentary isn’t necessary. There is plenty else to say, especially when it comes to the Olympics. If I were the head of a giant media organization I’d lead that charge and earn a lot of cred in the process.