Female Athletes and Social Expectations

The 2012 Olympics were important for female athletes everywhere. For the first time since, well, ever, every nation competing fielded at least one female athlete. Which was great. Of course, we also had Hairgate, where Twitter users got their collective panties in a bunch because Gabby Douglas was more concerned with winning two gold medals than with the state of her hair. Scandalous!

Unfortunately, it’s also typical. A young woman makes Olympic history and people complain about her appearance. That most of the people posting smack about Douglas’ hair on Twitter were female isn’t lost on me either: both men and women still seem to think that appearance matters when judging female athletes and that certain sports are more appropriate for women than others. Instead, let’s look past the girls uniform on the female track member and focus on her accomplishments and attitude.

Hockey and Physical Sports

Women who play hockey, wrestle or engage in any full-contact sport tend to take the brunt of these attitudes. People seem to think all female hockey players are muscle-bound goons who can carry classroom furniture with children still sitting in them.

Chances are those same people will make assumptions about the athlete’s sexuality as well. Just as some people assume all male figure skaters are homosexual, so too is there a trend to assume women in contact sports are gay. Some are, but that’s beside the point. A person’s sexuality has no influence over the sports they like to play. Nor should it matter.

Still, people seem to cling to that belief. Women apparently shouldn’t practice martial arts, wrestle or check an opponent into the boards. The harshest comments, however, are generally reserved for female weightlifters.

YouTube Agony

As a social experiment, I selected a YouTube video at random about female weightlifters and went to the comment’s section. I only had to scan down to the fourth comment before I found the first insult, which I’ll post with in all its grammatical finery: “if thats a woman then im jesus.”

I have to agree: the poster is most certainly not Jesus. Nor is he functionally literate. What he is (I’m assuming masculinity from the poster’s username) is an ass. I found even worse a few comments down the page. These women were called all manner of names, had their femininity questioned, and their very existence ridiculed. I wasn’t off the first page of comments before I found the inevitable “make me a sandwich’ and “get to the kitchen comments.”

Still, I’m glad I checked the comments, because the Internet surprised me. Other commenters (both male and female) weren’t shy about telling the trolls to shut up. They expressed admiration for the competitor’s strength and dedication. They understood that these women were athletes, and more importantly, that women could be strong and fit and muscular.

They gave me hope for the future.

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