The Olympics Is A Reminder Of The Rampant Sexism We’re Still Facing


By Jillian Stacia

I’m always floored when people say sexism doesn’t exist anymore, because in my mind, it very clearly does. We’re surrounded by sexism every single day.

Look no further than the Olympics. 

A female swimmer breaks a world record and the commentators credit her husband for his tremendous coaching. The US gymnasts were compared to girls “standing around at the mall.” Women athletes were told to smile. Numerous women were body shamed. During the opening ceremony, NBC apologized for the tape delay and packaging, claiming that women are not real fans of sports – but they do like reality shows!

It’s ridiculous and frustrating. But as a woman, it’s not surprising.

Women deal with this kind of stuff every single day, regardless of their career or lifestyle. We’ve all been stereotyped, objectified, overlooked for job positions, body shamed. This sexism thing? It isn’t an Olympic problem. It’s a universal problem that is being highlighted on the world’s biggest stage.

Which is why it’s so unbelievably flabbergasting when people refuse to acknowledge that it’s actually happening.

Michael Phelps tied for silver. Katie Ledecky won gold, setting a world record. We’ve seen the headline. Michael Phelps is first, in big, bold font. And Katie is underneath, smaller and overshadowed.

As University of Denver law professor Nancy Leong tweeted when sharing this news clipping: “This headline is a metaphor for basically the entire world.”

Because that’s how it can feel to be a woman: underneath, smaller, overshadowed. Not good enough for the top spot.

And yes, I know how newspapers work. I know that the goal is to sell papers. It is simple math: Michael Phelps is a household name, Katie Ledecky is not. Therefore, Michael Phelps will sell more papers and deserves the top spot.

It’s the whole chicken and the egg scenario all over again. What came first: the fame and recognition or the media coverage? The media tells us who and what is important. How powerful would it be if our media made a concerted effort to tell us that women are important? That they deserve our attention and recognition? That they’re worthy of the top spot?

This is what sexism looks like today, right here, right now. This is the form it takes. Not a 1950s housewife with an apron and a rolling pin, but a 19-year-old Olympic gymnast who is body-shamed. It’s being ignored in a meeting. It’s being passed over for a promotion because we might have kids one day. It’s being critiqued for our outfits, our makeup, our hair, the way we age. It’s being underneath, made smaller, overshadowed.

And yes, we’ve come a long way. We’ve shrunk the problem of sexism into this tiny, insidious, shape shifting thing. We went from not having women’s sports at all to complaining about the political correctness of the commentary. We’ve made significant progress.

Unfortunately, people confuse that progress for believing that the problem has been solved, or is no longer valid or justified. When things are kind of okay, you are more likely to settle and less likely to advocate for change. You’re hesitant to rock the boat, to push for greatness, to demand more.

We have to demand more.

To solve this problem, to get rid of sexism once and for all, we cannot settle. We cannot stop here. We have to push forward, even if it’s uncomfortable. Each time we call out a sexist comment, we are demanding more.

To quote the great Dr. Phil, you cannot change what you don’t acknowledge. The Olympics was crawling with sexist comments from well-intentioned, probably not sexist, people. I don’t think they meant to upset anyone. I don’t even think they knew they said anything wrong or offensive. The overarching ideas and themes of sexism have infiltrated their way so deep into society that we don’t even notice when it’s happening. Sexism has become part of our cultural lexicon, which is why nice, nonsexist people can occasionally do something sexist.

So the question remains, how do you stop sexism? Call it out. Shine a light on it. Do so in a way that does not demean or belittle, but simply acknowledges the problem

Take Andy Murray. During a recent interview, he was asked how it felt to be the first person to win two Olympic tennis gold medals, to which he replied, “I think Venus and Serena have won about four each.”

That’s all it takes. That’s it. A polite correction. An acknowledgement. That’s the only way we will solve this problem. That’s the only way we can move forward.

Jillian is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty On Tap. To apply to become a Contributing Writer, please click HERE.

{featured image via NBC Olympics}

One thought on “The Olympics Is A Reminder Of The Rampant Sexism We’re Still Facing

  1. SilvrMoon says:

    Yes, yes, YES! The amount of frustration I feel when someone, especially a close friend or relative, says that “sexism no longer exists” or “men and women are already equal” is unbelievable. What’s even more unbelievable is that they shut their eyes to what’s around them.


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