How to talk about female Olympians without being a regressive creeping- a handy guide | Lindy West

Want to avoid gaffes when reporting on female athletes? Do write on the athletics they did. Dont bring their makeup, very small shorts and marital status into it

As ever, this years Olympics an international bacchanal of physical perfection and triumphant will swaddled in human rights abuses and environmental catastrophe are providing fuel for public delight and disdain in abundance. Constructing a strong showing in the scorn category already is the press, which, less than a week in, has been possible to insult, demean and erase female athletes in a cornucopia of bungles.

The Chicago Tribune announced American trap shooter Corey Cogdell-Unreins medal win with the headline Wife of a Bears lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics , not even bothering to mention her name. In the afterglow of Katinka Hosszus world-record-breaking swimming, NBC sportscaster Dan Hicks pointed out Hosszus spouse and gushed: And theres the man responsible. Another NBC commentator described the powerhouse US female gymnastics team as looking as though they might as well be standing in the middle of a mall. People Magazine called Simone Biles the Michael Jordan of gymnastics, as though we cant possibly comprehend female greatness without a male proxy. Rightwing media co-opted Ginny Thrashers gold medal win in the 10 -metre air rifle competition, dubbing her a girl with a firearm, as a cudgel in their crusade against gun safety. In a Twitter exchange that rapidly went viral, Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten lamented her traumata after a accident, inspiring some random man to explain to her how to ride a bike: First lesson in bicycling, keep your bike steady whether fast or slow.

Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten during the womens road race at the Rio 2016 summer Olympics. Photo: Bryn Lennon/ AFP/ Getty Images

The Olympics offer up womens bodies for public scrutiny on a massive scale, but to astonishingly constructive effect, relatively speaking: Its one of the only hit TV shows that celebrates female strength, ability and excellence without sexualising female existence. And its not that I think the authors of the aforementioned gaffes are vicious, deliberate misogynists. Its more that they were raised in a culture as we all were that has almost no notion how to process competent girls( insure also: Americas current presidential election ). You can feel a faint disarray pulsing behind every term. A girl doing things !?

Simone Biles wows in women gymnastic squad final to assistance USA clinch gold

So, as a public service, here is a handy guidebook for how to talk and/ or write about female Olympian without being a regressive sneak who is constantly getting screamed at by feminists on the internet.

DO write about the sports they did! Ive put together a rapid and easy template for your basic reporting needs( cribbed and accommodated from a piece I wrote about coverage of female politicians in 2014, because you could basically have this conversation about any industry, and I do ):

NEWS REPORT:[ Female Athlete] did[ sports] today.[ Describe athletics .] THE Aim. Sportswriting accomplished!

DO write on female athletes the style you write about male athletes ie without mentioning their gender except maybe in the name of the athletic. Can you imagine if we brought up gender every time we wrote about humen? Perky male point guard Isaiah Thomas, stepping out in a flattering terrycloth headwrap, proves that men actually can play ball and look cool-summery-sexy doing it! Insure how unbearable that voices? Chase that feeling.

DONT spend more day discussing female athletes makeup, hairdos, very small shorts, hijabs, bitchy resting faces, voice pitch, thigh circumference, marital status and age than you expend analysing the incredible accomplishments of strength and skill they have honed over a lifetime of superhuman discipline and restraint.

DONT refer to women in terms of men they know, are related to, work with or have sex with. Women are fully-formed, autonomous people who do things. We are not pets or gadgets or sex-baubles.

DO write of gender when its relevant, such as when youre discussing gender discrimination for instance, the pay gap in womens basketball and soccer, and the garbage style the media covers( or doesnt) womens sports.

DONT bring your sex impressions into it. And, yes, I am aware that there are more than several women on Twitter with passionate sentiments about the shoulder-to-waist ratios of the pilings of trapezoids on the mens swimming roster. But there is not currently a vacuum of serious, well-rounded coverage of mens sports. There is not a historic precedent of mens bodies eclipsing their accomplishments, and, in turn, undermining their credibility and hobbling their upward mobility in every major industry. It is OK to have sex feelings. Just watch where youre spraying them.

Of course, there is plenty of smart-alecky, nuanced, neutral Olympics coverage out there too, and live TV is hard, and people make missteps. But the way we talk about females particularly women at the top of their fields, women whose power and prowess is undeniable has a tangible impact on the way we treat female colleagues, female job interviewees and female chairmen. This is not an accident. It is the system running as designed.

Athletes are athletes. If you care about sports, write about athletics. If you care about gender equality, write about sports.


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