Women in the Olympics

By WWN Intern MaryBeth Zins

Since 1900, the Olympics have been a platform for change in human rights issues, including women’s rights. The first female athletes were allowed to compete in the 1900 Paris Olympics in lawn tennis and golf events. More recently, the London 2012 games were the first ever to have a female competitor from each participating country. The 2012 games were also the first year that women could participate in boxing and 2014 was the first year for women’s ski jumping.

However, women are still treated as second-rate athletes compared to men in Olympic events in some aspects with little to no media coverage on most events. Because of the lack of publicity that female athletes receive for their athletic talents, endorsements and sponsorships are hard to come by. To subsidize the difference in revenue between male and female athletes, a growing number of female athletes have taken to modeling and playing up their sex appeal to generate publicity. Olympic skiiers are found in bikinis posing in the snow on the front of magazine covers.  The Olympics only happen once every four years, leaving a narrow window for these women to capitalize on media exposure and endorsements to fund the next four-year training cycle. Female athletes feel the pressure to look beautiful and sexy to compete for endorsements, as it’s absolutely a necessary part of the game. This holds especially true for events that have typically been seen as feminine, like figure skating.

Female athletes are also torn between the polarized ideals of athleticism and being seen as beautiful and feminine. This is perpetuated by what little airtime that women’s sports receive. She may either be seen as a gladiator or America’s sweetheart. Whether or not they personally identify with either of these values, a female athlete has more criticisms and expectations to live up to than the typical male athlete. Female athletes who spend the majority of their competition covered by a mask or helmet might spend up to 30 minutes applying makeup and getting ready for a close-up shot that is just seconds long. Not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with wearing makeup if that’s what she so chooses to do, but it’s 30 extra minutes that male athletes have to prepare themselves for an event. Skill is not enough, with looks catapulting women to fame just as much as performance does. Conversely, a woman may also be shamed for being too beautiful, with accusations of whether or not she deserves to be on the team constantly being called into question.

It is evident that looks still hold a place in athletics. Are these female athletes empowered or objectified by sexy magazine endorsements? Regardless of the answer, it’s important to remember that the Olympics are still largely a man’s world that the female athlete is just living in. In the field of women’s athletics, is any press still considered good press? Let us know what you think!  Check out some more resources here.

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