It doesn’t take an athlete to follow the Olympics. In fact, it is almost impossible not to in this day and age, given the constant media coverage that floods Facebook and takes over every sports bar’s flat screens. Every other summer or winter, it seems as though the world suddenly cares more about badminton, diving and table tennis than the underlying issues surrounding the Olympic Games. Sexism, for example, remains at the forefront of male-centered headlines and chauvinistic commentary, despite this year’s record-breaking female accomplishments in Rio.
Two of these headlines in particular are receiving heavy criticism online, as they continue to circulate social media platforms weeks after they were published. On August 7, the Chicago Tribune tweeted, “Wife of a Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics,” which includes the link to an article written by Tim Bannon that discusses the couple’s relationship much more thoroughly than Corey Cogdell’s accomplishments as a three-time Olympian. The second headline under scrutiny, an Associated Press article by Paul Newberry, praises Michael Phelps for tying silver in the 100 meter butterfly in bold print above a much smaller sub-head that reads, “Ledecky sets world record in women’s 800 freestyle.”
The recurring issue here should be obvious and appalling to anyone who values egalitarianism of the sexes in every aspect of life—including historically male-dominated spheres like athletics. In both cases, the female Olympians’ headlines were obscured by a male reference, therefore implying to them and the rest of the world that even a woman’s record-breaking victory is dismissible in the wake of a man’s lesser one and that even women who earn Olympic titles are not immune to sexist misattribution. Rather than insulting them straightforwardly, this kind of chauvinistic and dismissive rhetoric seems to be a growing trend among those who refuse to acknowledge that women are as capable of anything as their male counterparts. How unfortunate that sexism has evolved into something so habitual and easily camouflaged that it continues to pervade the ethical boundaries of major publications.
With the exception of famous athletes like Simone Biles and Serena Williams, women are not getting the same attribution and praise for their accomplishments as many of the male Olympians, and the cause is certainly not a lack of participation or talent. According to USA Today, the women on team USA won “29 out of 46 gold medals (63%) and 58 of 103 total medals (56%)” in the 2012 London Olympics and sent a majority female team to Rio this summer. There, women from all over the world dominated the Olympics, but not without incessant coach-praising and other misattributions by the commentary.
On August 6, for example, Katinka Hosszu of Hungary set a new world record in the 400-meter individual medley, but NBC announcer Dan Hicks accredited her husband/coach, Shane Tusup, as “the man responsible.” Since then, Hicks has responded to a flood of criticism by claiming he wasn’t trying to be malicious, however I almost find this even more appalling due to the fact that something so sexist could be excused as an accident. In this way, misogynistic undertones continue to permeate our everyday language with such frightening normalcy that accountability will become even lesser if a new standard of value for women is not achieved.
As women, we should be given full credit for our own achievements in academia, the workforce and in athletics. Newspaper headlines should boast our names without the need for some kind of male association and our achievements should be given the same recognition as if we were men. Yet until enough voices speak out and are heard, we will remain captive to a patriarchal society in which a woman’s success too often prompts the question, “Where is the man pulling the strings?”
Collegian Columnist Laurel Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @laurelanne1996.