Aside from all the female badassery on display throughout the 2 weeks of the Rio Olympics which just came to a close, there was an important lesson many of us learned: that sexist media coverage toward women is frustratingly well and truly alive. And to be honest, similar to the way Geena Davis has explained sexism in Hollywood is mostly due to the continuation of what has been tradition for so long, the same could be said for sports coverage of women.
And during the past 2 weeks there have been a lot of people bringing the sexism to the forefront of Olympic discussions in a way that could potentially shift the way journalists start covering women’s events. From the UK, to the US, and even Canada, there were a number of viral stories about broadcasters who blatantly blurted out statements that wouldn’t be said about male athletes in a million years.
One of these sexist blunders was made by Canadian Adam Kreek, an Olympic champion boatsman who was a guest on CBC television talking about Canadian tennis player Eugenie Bouchard (who was told to “give us a twirl” at the Australian Open Tennis tournament in 2015 by a TV presenter much to the annoyance of many around the world) and what they thought prevented her from being seen as a serious athlete.
Want to know what their highly-researched and intelligent fact-finding produced? Actually it was just an opinion, one that was steeped in sexism, where Adam claimed Eugenie’s interest in social media and fashion automatically counted her out as a serious contender on the tennis court (meanwhile, Serena Williams has her own fashion line…).
It wasn’t just women who were expressing frustration and anger at the ridiculous assertions of Adam Kreek. In fact Adam’s fellow Canadian and Olympic champion kayaker, Adam van Koeverden expressed his dismay at the sexism in an essay on his blog, VanKayak.com. In a piece titled ‘Feminism in Sport’, he did a fantastic job of explaining why the fight to end sexist sport coverage is men’s responsibility too.
“This week my friend and fellow Olympic Champ boatsman, Adam Kreek made a mistake that I hope can prove to be a learning experience…To add fuel to the fire, when three fellow Olympians whom I admire very much; Marnie McBean, Chandra Crawford, and Annamay Pierse, expressed concern over twitter, he emphatically defended his commentary,” he began.
Van Koeverden reiterates that a woman like Eugenie, who has done more for tennis than any Canadian woman in generations, being reduced to sounding like someone who cares more about her social media profile and her looks than winning on court clearly shows he has no idea what he is talking about yet is given a very public platform to influence many viewers with a completely false equivalency on Eugenie’s abilities.
“Since when is having a pastime a bad distraction?..This is the kind of tired, regressive, paternalistic, arrogant and sexist commentary that female athletes put up with all the time, and it needs to stop,” said van Koeverden.
We can also add the champion kayaker to our list of “woke baes” because of the way he was able to differentiate men standing up for women and men talking in place of women.
“I don’t know three athletes more capable of defending themselves in a conversation around feminism and sport than Marnie, Chandra and Annamay. Honestly, if you asked me three days ago who I’d want on a panel to discuss women in sport (but you shouldn’t, you should ask a woman), those three would tie for the gold. So I want to make it abundantly clear that I am not sticking up for them, or defending women, they don’t need my help. However, I don’t think the burden of defense rests solely on the capable shoulders of my female teammates,” he said.
He is not the only male athlete to speak up about feminism and the erasure of women’s accomplishments (whether by accident or on purpose) in the sports world. British-Scottish tennis player Andy Murray, (who has also previously written his own essay about the need for more feminism in sport after receiving backlash for hiring Amelie Mauresmo as his coach – God forbid a woman could ever teach a male athlete anything!) made headline news during the Rio games when he had to correct a BBC reporter who gave him credit for an accomplishment that actually belonged to a woman.
BBC reporter John Inverdale praised Andy for being the first “person” to win two Olympic medals in tennis, and this is how the current world. no. 2 (at time of writing) responded:
FYI, John Inverdale is the same reporter who said tennis player Marion Bartoli was “never going to be a looker” following her Wimbledon triumph in 2013…
As Mic.com‘s Marie Solis points out, John Inverdale’s comment would’ve been right had he used the word “singles”.
“Doing some on-the-spot fact-checking, Murray clarified he had only made history for being the first to win two consecutive gold medals for the singles title, not in Olympic tennis overall. Indeed, Venus and Serena Williams each have one gold in tennis singles and three in doubles, the latter hardware earned as a team,” she writes.
The fact that this clear distinction was overlooked by a man who is also a Radio Wimbledon presenter (in other words, a supposed authority on the sport) it’s easier to look at it as ignorance toward women’s accomplishments in sports rather than a rookie error.
Andy calling out the mistake, when he certainly wasn’t obliged to, is what Adam van Koeverden says needs to be happening more often.
“If men don’t call out men when we are being sexist, then we are not a part of the solution, and the problem persists. So here I am, calling out my friend Adam Kreek. Adam, you were sexist on television last night. Feminism isn’t for females. It’s for everyone. Good men should feel comfortable challenging each other’s prejudices, and accept criticism when those prejudices get the better of us, or when we make a mistake,” he said.
He is also very aware of the way the media in general places pressure on female athletes’ appearance, in a way that they don’t with men, a root cause which could really impact the level of coverage of female events if weeded out, in our opinion.
“No journalist has ever asked me if I’ve been doing something different with my hair lately (despite the fact that I AM, thanks for noticing). Nobody has ever asked me to twirl in the mixed zone. I’ve never read that I “put on a little too much weight” in the off-season, even when I have, and I haven’t heard of one male athlete that didn’t perform well because they spend too much time on social media. But I can confirm, that a lot of us waste plenty of time staring at our phones,” he points out.
Adam goes on to praise Eugenie for her incredible accomplishments, saying absurd it was when she was painted as a “disappointment” for being the runner up at Wimbledon when she was world no.2.
“I’m sorry everyone, she was second IN THE WORLD. That’s number 2 out of about seven billion. How is that anything short of amazing? I am inspired by Eugenie, and I think she’s awesome,” he said.
And similar to the Geena Davis explanation we mentioned earlier, Adam does make a point of saying the blame shouldn’t only fall on the shoulders of someone like Adam Kreek for the sexist comment he made on TV.
“I don’t think Adam is a sexist man, but I recognize that we all grew up in an inherently sexist world, and that we carry around biases and stereotypes that play into a recurrently sexist rhetoric. When someone points out that you’ve been a little ignorant, much less three leaders of our female Olympic network, you dispense with the defense, check your male privilege at the door, say sorry and walk through it enlightened, having embraced a learning opportunity,” he concluded.
It starts with awareness, and then a willingness to admit bias exists when we see it. There is just no excuse for it anymore. If we want the next generation of boys and girls growing up in a world where they are not hampered by gender barriers, especially in the athletic world, it starts now and it starts with us. We need more Adam van Koeverdens raising their voices to really make a significant change in this area.
For a quick wrap up of some of the most ridiculous sexist moments of the Rio Olympics, allow Vox’s Elizabeth Plank to break it down for you in this episode of her 2016ish series: