It’s only one day into the Olympics and I’m already feeling put off by the sexism female athletes still face as they compete  in the games.

First, it was the revelation that many countries were flying their male athletes first class while the women’s teams (even those with much more success in their respective sports) flew economy.

Second, Australian newspapers decided to focus on the weight, rather than amazing Olympic career, of swimmer Leisel Jones. Thus reminding us, as Chloe at Feministing points out,

that no matter how accomplished a woman is, no matter how talented, how skilled, how strong, how tenacious, how gutsy, she is not exempt from the rules of modern femininity. Not even during the Olympic Games. She has to be skinny and beautiful before she can be recognized for being any of those other things, and if she isn’t skinny and beautiful, we’ll ignore her guts and tenacity and talent and dedication and waste our time debating whether or not she’s gained weight during the twelve years she’s been in the public eye.

And today I read an article in the LA Times about how Hope Solo, goal keeper for the U.S. women’s soccer team, is in a “catfight” with Brandi Chastain on Twitter over comments Chastain made while broadcasting the U.S.-Colombia match. Because when a woman expresses an opinion involving another woman they are like screeching cats. While the sexist term “catfight” does not appear in the article, it not-so-well hidden in the URL.

Who doesn’t love a good catfight? Erin Gloria Ryan dares to pose this question over at Jezebel in her post, “America Loves a Crying Gymnast.”

America loves a crying gymnast because a crying gymnast cries because she’s beaten someone, or lost to someone, another girl who is probably also crying. They’re the end result of a female-female rivalry — who doesn’t love a good catfight? — and the media loves to manufacture catfights even where they don’t necessarily exist.

Let’s hope this list doesn’t just continue to grow as we get deeper into the Games (it will). After all, this is the first Olympics in which women are represented on every team and the U.S. team consists of more men than women. Let’s cover them as athletes, rather than lady athletes, mmmkay?
UPDATE (7.30.12): Check out this great piece by Meg Heery about sexism in the Olympic coverage: London 2012, Day 2: Women Win, Not Unicorns. It reminded me of the finding that female athletes’ successes are attributed to luck, while male athletes’ successes are attributed to skill by the commentators.

What have you noticed about the Olympics coverage?

Thousands of people in 46 states rallied this past Saturday against the ‘War on Women.’ Though the marches received relatively little coverage from the so-called ‘liberal media’ (ha!), the issue of the GOP attacks on women are not going away.

Speaker Boehner will have you believe that the ‘War on Women’ is feminist hysterics. He’ll even throw a temper tantrum on the House floor to prove how upset it makes him. Steven Benen would like him to know that he could make the whole issue go away pretty simply: change your anti-woman policies.

Boehner can shout, point, and pound the podium to his heart’s content, but if he doesn’t want to be criticized for Republican measures that undermine women’s health, he should change his party’s agenda, not whine about Democrats shining a light on that agenda.

Rachel Maddow also recognizes that the GOP attacks on women is about policy. She put together a great segment highlighting the attacks and Republicans’ subsequent denial here: Maddow: GOP Denies War on Women. I encourage you to watch the whole thing.

Where I think Maddow really hits the nail on the head is when she points out that conservatives and progressives seem to be working from different facts. Just as the Republicans are currently denying they are waging a war on women, the same days/weeks that they are passing anti-woman legislation or taking money from women’s health programs, they seem to be clueless as to why they are being accused of this ‘war.’

As Maddow attempted to make a point about Equal Pay on yesterday’s Meet the Press, she was interrupted and treated condescendingly by GOP strategist and well-known sexist Alex Castellanos. He insisted that women don’t earn less than men by cherry-picking a small data point about single women ages 40-64. But he flat-out denied that women earn less than men, which is a well-documented fact.

Because the GOP is unwilling to change their policies that hurt women, they have to deny that any problem exists. They need women’s votes, as we are the demographic that elects the president. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if they choose to lighten up on the attacks in recognition of the political toll they are taking, or if they will double down and alienate the most important voter block at the risk of losing their jobs.

It’s time to stop talking about women and start listening to women. Or you can laugh at us and interrupt us like Alex Castellanos. It may be good television, but it’s bad politics.

This video is a little old, but sadly still perfectly relevant.

After Tiger Woods got busted for serial infidelity, my 90-something-year-old grandpa concluded that would probably be the end of his career. My mom and I countered that would probably not be the case, as he had only wronged women. Just look at Kobe, we told him. The Pro-Am just concluded and sure enough, nary a mention of Tiger’s ‘personal problems’ as he continues to struggle back to peak form in golf.

That is not to suggest that cheating is even in the same ballpark as battery. Rather, I mean to point out the willingness to forgive high profile men for their bad behavior toward women. Just look at Charlie Sheen, who continues to be one of the highest paid actors in television and has a new show coming out in June.

Shortly after Sheen’s estranged wife is granted a restraining order against him, Sheen was welcomed at the Emmys. At the time, Heather Tooley suggested:

Hollywood and fans have a way of cutting celebrities a lot of slack for bad behavior if they play nice long enough.

No. The court of public opinion has a way of cutting celebrities a lot of slack for bad behavior against women. Period.

I didn’t watch, but I hear Chris Brown performed not once, but twice last night. He also won Best R&B album. A lot of people made light of his triumphant return, while still others glorified the abuse (TW for physical abuse at those links).

As Jay Smooth said, and you think you’re being persecuted?

What is Chris Brown complaining about? I’ve never seen someone complain so much, about getting off so easy, for doing something so bad. …You brutally, physically assaulted a woman, a woman you supposedly loved, that you beat to a pulp and then left there alone in that car so you could go get a head start on your PR strategy.

Rachel Maddow – An Exercise in Fertility

(Having difficulty with the video embed today, please click the link for video)

Currently all four Republican presidential candidates have taken an extreme stance on birth control. Birth control? Are we really arguing about women’s ability to plan their families in 2012? Yes. As Rachel Maddow points out in the spot on segment above, they are taking a stance on this issue that is even too extreme for the electorate in Mississippi.

Why has birth control become such an issue all of a sudden? I think Rachel hits the nail on the head that the beltway pundits are really missing the point on this one.

I realize that a lot of 60-something male pundits look at this and think it’s bad politics for the Democrats on the Catholic side. There is another way to look it.

That other way to look at it is as a woman. Novel concept! Except that it shouldn’t be, considering women have elected every president since JFK. Or another way to look at it could be as a Catholic woman, 98% of whom have used birth control.

In this economy, Rachel breaks it down to the bottom line.

Hey, women of America! Under a democratic president your birth control pills will be covered by health insurance, and if you don’t have health insurance you can go to a clinic and get subsidized birth control there. If a republican is elected your insurance won’t cover birth control, and if your insurance doesn’t cover it there are no clinics to go to any more to get birth control pills. Planned Parenthood defunded. Title 10 gone altogether. So you can’t get it from insurance, and you can’t get it from a clinic. You are paying cash, out of pocket, retail cost for birth control…$600 to $1200 a year. That’s if you’re lucky. Because if you’re not lucky, you live in a state where birth control has just been declared illegal. Do you want a democratic or republican president women of America?

Last week I participated in a book discussion at the college where I work. We were discussing a book by a journalist who was kidnapped by the Taliban while reporting on the war in Afghanistan. During our discussion, one of my colleagues mentioned how dangerous these combat zones have become for journalists. She then said, “Look what happened to Lara Logan in Egypt. I mean, what was she thinking?”

Today as I listen to reports of the filmmaker and photojournalist killed in Libya, I can’t help but notice that not a single person has questioned their decision to be there. Instead, these men are lauded for bringing us the truth and taking risks in the process. Despite the fact that they chose to put themselves in harm’s way without protective gear, no one is questioning their judgment.

Several reports I’ve heard have pointed out the sensitivity with which Tim Hetherington captures images of war. I dare to suggest that Lara Logan brought a similar sensitivity to her work in Egypt. Simply due to her gender, she was better able to gain access to Egyptian women’s experiences, a perspective often overlooked in the coverage of that story.

The recent loss of these brave journalists in Libya is tragic, and I am not suggesting that they should not have been in a combat zone. I do, however, wish to draw attention to the very different narratives surrounding male and female journalists in conflict areas. With Lara Logan, the story was about her appearance and her gender, and it was chock full of victim-blaming. Newsweek immediately did a story about “Women in Harm’s Way.” Some even suggested she was enjoying all the attention her assault would bring her. She was not viewed as a brave journalist willing to venture into a dangerous situation to bring us the truth, but rather as a woman who took an unnecessary risk.

Over the next few days as you learn more about the story unfolding in Libya, please notice the narrative surrounding Tim Hetherington and his colleagues. They are described with praise, admiration and dedication. All of these words are undoubtedly appropriate, but should not be attributed selectively, based on the person’s gender.

“We have an epidemic here,” [Rep. Jane Harman] said. “Women serving in the U.S. military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq.”

That was 2008, yet little has changed.

Kori Cioca, 25, of Wilmington, Ohio, tells about how she was raped while serving in the U.S. Coast Guard.

Long story short, I was raped.

When I told my command they waited. They didn’t do anything to help me. It’s like they didn’t care. It wasn’t important. I wasn’t important.

The coast guard’s a lifesaving service yet they didn’t save mine.

Military doctors say that 40% of women at veterans’ hospitals report being sexually assaulted during their service.

[Rep. John] Tierney said, “what’s at stake here goes to the very core of the values of the military and the nation itself.

“When our sons and daughters put their lives on the line to defend the rest of us, the last thing they should fear is being attacked by one of our own.”

Will we kick the can down the road on this, as victims of sexual assault in our own military suffer in silence? Will we continue to hold hearings and listen to the military say it takes these issues seriously, while the evidence in these cases proves the opposite to be true. We must listen to these women’s stories. We must believe and trust them. And we must demand justice.

Please check out the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) for more information and ways to get involved.

University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team won their 89th straight NCAA game last night, breaking John Wooden’s UCLA men’s streak of 88 games from 37 years ago. Congratulations to these world class athletes. Your hard work and dedication is inspiring. Here’s to other teams being compared to you (instead of vice versa) for a while.

My first question is, had you heard about it?

The sports columnist for my local paper wants to assure you that the reason this story isn’t getting much press has nothing to do with sexism or misogyny, but rather, apathy.

Geno Auriemma imagines an enemy that doesn’t exist. Running short of worthy opponents, Connecticut’s all-conquering women’s basketball coach has constructed a straw chauvinist, a mythological misogynist who can’t bear the thought of females surpassing the record winning streak of John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins.

Frankly, your typical testosterone-laden troglodyte is not threatened by UConn’s success because it has barely registered on his brain. He was not ‘having a heart attack,’ as Auriemma put it Saturday, ‘because a bunch of women are threatening to break a men’s record,’ nor did he wail or gnash his teeth when that threat was carried out Tuesday night in Connecticut’s 93-62 thumping of Florida State.

Neanderthal Man is not angry, agitated or anxious. What he is, at his primal core, is apathetic.

Mr. Sullivan admits that it’s a pity that sports fans are uninterested in the Huskies’ accomplishments, but he defends their right to be indifferent. But how can he explain the media’s lack of coverage of this very newsworthy event? Where he goes wrong is his inability to make the connection between apathy (or anger, even though he denies it’s there) and the gender of the athletes. That’s sexism. It’s so ingrained in him that he can’t even see it.

Imagine for a moment that you have a son and a daughter who are both talented musicians. They perform concerts on separate days and the local newspaper only covers your son’s concert. Would you tell your daughter not to worry, that people aren’t angry with her musical talents (or the fact that she’s better than her brother), they just don’t care about girls’ accomplishments. Is this an explanation you would expect your daughter to understand?

Does my example seem far fetched and exaggerated? Tell that to Alissa Johnson, one of the US’s top five women ski jumpers who was forced to attend this year’s Olympics in support of her brother rather than as an athlete, because there is no women’s team. The women ski jumpers were not allowed to compete in this year’s Olympics, despite the fact that the record for the longest jump is held by a woman, Lindsey Van. The gatekeepers, usually men (in this case the IOC), are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy with regard to women’s sports.

As veteran jumper Jessica Jerome, 23, of Park City points out, without being in the Olympics, it’s tough to develop to the level that the IOC seems to want of her sport. “People don’t understand the seriousness of a World Cup title, or a World Championship medal; they just want to see people at the Olympics. So without the Olympics, you’re not going to get the funding. You’re not going to get the support,” she says. “It’s a catch-22.”

The fact is that there are many men, sports reporters even, who feel very threatened by the accomplishments of women athletes. David Whitley of FanHouse wrote:

“Rule No. 1 in determining whether an activity is a sport: If the best female in the world can beat the best male in the world, it doesn’t qualify.”

Mark Potach feels so threatened by the idea that women could ever beat a men’s record that he feels the need to attack the team’s physical abilities, to remind them of their place:

But if Geno wants to continue the charade of breaking the men’s record, he’s going to have to start playing some men’s teams. I think he knows how ugly that would get. There are probably 10 high school teams in the city that could beat the Connecticut women.

David Whitley and Mark Potach are not straw chauvinists, Mr. Sullivan. And that’s not apathy Potach is expressing. These two men are actively working to keep women’s sports less popular than men’s. Perhaps what some don’t realize about apathy is that it can be feigned. If we pretend not to notice women’s accomplishments, we don’t have to admit that they are just as good, if not better, than the men. Another thing he overlooks is the danger in this perceived apathy. The news media makes decisions every day about whose accomplishments matter. Our daughters are paying attention. By accepting the idea that people don’t care about UConn’s record, you’re making it so.

As my community is plastered with the face of yet another missing teen girl, I can’t help but ponder the interconnectedness of things. A registered sex offender is in custody, and there is a strong possibility he was involved in at least one other attack on a jogger nearby. As I read about the outpouring of support for the family and the search effort, something just doesn’t add up on a deeper level. The amount of energy and support put into the search for Chelsea King should now be put into preventing such a thing from happening again.

People don’t connect this incident with larger-scale issues like sexism and misogyny. Some of the same people whose hearts go out to this girl and her family would turn around and deny the inequality that women face. They don’t associate this negative viewpoint of all-things-girly with other examples of hatred towards women and girls. And if you try to connect the dots, they come at you with anger and more personal hatred. If you doubt the anger that women face on a daily basis, just take a look at the comments in articles such as this or this one. Many feminist sites have recurring features about the hate mail they receive. As Jessica Valenti points out in a response to the comments on her Washington Post piece (emphasis in original),

As irritating as it can be to read comments like these, they prove a valuable point: Sexism is not only alive and well; it’s angry. These comments are not taking issue with my article with a ‘well, I don’t really agree women have it that bad’ kind of argument. They’re furious and they’re hateful. And they’re an excellent reminder for why feminist work is so important.

Another example of a connection that’s not being made is the widespread practice of treating women’s bodies like objects (see here and here). There is such a clear connection between this kind of objectification and a sexual predator who uses his victim and throws her away.

If you are genuinely concerned about this young girl and others like her, you have to acknowledge that sexual assault does not happen in a vacuum. We live in a society that teaches men that success can be measured by access to women as sexual objects (Tiger Woods). A culture that sexualizes young girls, laughs at rape jokes, blames victims or turns the other cheek breeds these predators.

A refusal to acknowledge deep-rooted sexism and pervasive violence against women makes you part of the problem, rather than the solution. If you care about your sisters and daughters, you have to make the connections between these incidents and the bigger picture. Every time. It can’t be selective. It’s got to be consistent. The same people who were out there searching for Chelsea should be dedicating their time and energy into preventing future sexual assault. It can’t just be when it hits close to home, but maybe the close to home ones will open people’s eyes.

Yesterday, in Tiger Woods’ apology for (getting caught in) his marital infidelity, he made the following statement:

I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn’t have to go far to find them, he confessed. I was wrong. I was foolish. I don’t get to play by different rules.

He felt he was entitled. To what? To having any woman that he wanted be sexually available to him. Why? Because he is a wealthy, famous male athlete and that gives him the proverbial all-access pass to what he wants whenever he wants it. It is widely known that high school athletes on recruitment trips to prospective colleges are often offered women as part of the ‘perks’ of attending that college. Current Legal Developments in the Cal State system note:

…part of the strategy for recruiting high school athletes to play football at the university was to promise them alcohol and sex during their campus visit. Female ‘ambassadors’ were asked to escort the recruits around campus and to make sure that they ‘had a good time.’ One ambassador apparently arranged for several football players and recruits, who had been drinking, to visit Simpson’s apartment. Ms. Simpson and Ms. Gilmore were allegedly sexually assaulted and were too intoxicated to consent.

According to this same article, the media has reported on this widespread policy of ‘showing recruits a good time’ since (at least) 1983, yet the practice appears to continue unchecked today. Woods hit the nail on the head with regard to his sense of entitlement toward women, but he is wrong about male athletes and the rules. We clearly judge male athletes’ behavior by a different set of standards.

“There is a mentality among athletes that ‘we can get away with this, that no one is going to challenge us because we are student athletes,’” said Richard Lapchick, professor at the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. (ABC News)

The general population has a conviction rate of 80%. The conviction rate of an athlete is 38%. (Benedict/Crosset Study)

The discourse surrounding male athletes’ transgressions sends them a clear message that we’re willing to turn the other cheek, as long as their behavior does not get in the way of their athletic performance or, as in Tiger’s case, their sponsors’ ability to package and sell their image for millions. But is this true only for athletes?

But former college athlete and coach Peter Roby, director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society, disagreed that this is a problem for athletes specifically. The former basketball player for Dartmouth College said damning the athletes misses the larger point. This is how society instructs men in general to behave, he said, and athletes have merely achieved the pinnacle of that goal. (ABC News)

The society that teaches male athletes to view women as prizes they’ve earned is incapable of viewing women, female athletes included, as anything but sexual objects for consumption. Just ask Lindsey Vonn.

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