An ABC’s sports Journalist based out of Melbourne named Amy Banbridge is obviously out of her comfort zone in the UK and logged the following article:
Gender inequality of Olympic proportions
| Author: Amy Bainbridge | Date: 26th July | Link to On-Line Story. |
Women were not allowed to compete in the first ever Olympics back in 1896.
Indeed, when women first started competing in the early 1900s, their dress was so modest that their swimming costumes or gymnastics outfits could have been considered more of a hindrance to performance than anything else.
Of course, things have changed significantly since those early days. So dramatic are the changes that Western countries can now barely imagine what it was like to be among a small minority of women on an Olympic team.
So you wouldn’t think that sexism would have much of a place in the London 2012 Olympics. Except, it does. And it’s appalling.
Every now and then I feel embarrassed to be a part of the media profession, and yesterday was one of those days. Leisel Jones, our golden girl who now has an impressive medal haul from three successive Olympics, is now in London as a veteran.
Gender equality means that women should receive the same treatment as men. So raising questions about the fitness of Leisel Jones is something that could be spoken of any professional athlete.
I don’t have a problem with that – these questions are legitimate. But here’s the rub. I attest that it is only a female athlete that would be spread across two taboid-size pages in an array of unflattering pictures. For years Leisel Jones has been a top-level athlete, leading by example as someone for young swimmers to look up to. But all that is forgotten for the first chance to ridicule.
News Limited pictured Leisel Jones in various poses by the pool. I’d love to know how many were taken, and what the selection process of those photos was.
Ridiculously, the paper then compared those pictures to one taken when she was just 15 years old back at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Tell me anyone – professional athlete or not – who was not a slimmer version of themselves when they were a teenager.
At first blush, Fairfax seemed to treat the story a little more tastefully, hidden inside the sport section. However, their website told a different story, with a distasteful gallery of pictures to demonstrate that Jones is not at peak fitness. Cruelly, she was standing, bent over, near the lithe Kenrick Monk, whose abs make him look like he’s swallowed tennis balls.
Fitness for the top sporting event is a real issue. We fund our athletes with the public purse and we expect them to use that money to get themselves into peak condition. So as I sat on the train on the way home from work, I questioned why I was angered by the media’s treatment of Jones.
It’s because I don’t believe a man in the same situation would have been treated this way.
Yes, when Thorpey was on the comeback trail, eyebrows were raised about him not being in peak fitness. Geoff Huegill had his fair share of attention when he retired the first time, and was overweight. But this time, the papers went really hard on this issue.
I believe its shock value is tied up in the constant battle for women to look aesthetically, rather than actually be, ‘fit’ per se for a swimming race. We are still judged differently to men. There is still a ready nastiness to criticise a woman for her appearance.
The articles about Jones’ fitness had a limited description of changes to her training regime. They didn’t highlight the power required for her event. They quote “questions” being raised about Jones fitness. By whom? Journalists?
Jones’ coach says she is training well. The articles included no direct quotes from Leisel about her fitness, only to say that she’s happy and enjoying the lead up. This time she’s not stressed out.
So why aren’t we celebrating that? Why aren’t we happy that a highly strung teenager has blossomed into a comfortable woman who’s happy with her life? She recently swam even faster than she did in her Olympic trials. So why isn’t that the story? Why go to such lengths to publish so many photos?
Leisel is a breast stroking powerhouse. Indeed, our correspondent in London said she’d never seen Leisel looking so happy and relaxed. The papers interpret that to mean she’s not taking her preparations seriously. But they’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to publish why they think that. It was unnecessary, cruel and a distraction.
This leads to the question, how far have we really come in gender issues on the sporting front? Beach volleyballer Natalie Cook was vilified this week for suggesting a woman should be our flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony. It’s sad that she even had to raise this as an issue. And there was the appalling article about the treatment of our female basketballers flying to London.
I suggest there are many thousands of women around the world who would have loved to have been afforded the opportunity to become a top-level athlete. But due to their place of birth, race, religion, or a combination of these or other factors, have not been exposed to the opportunities our Western female athletes enjoy.
Keep this in mind when you hear petty criticism of a woman’s appearance, attitude or performance. Many other women would have loved the opportunity to be at an Olympics at all.
Leisel Jones will no doubt let her performances at these Games speak for themselves. In the end, we should be celebrating the longevity of an athlete’s career, not finding the first chance to criticise.
I fear that if we just accept media behaviour like this, then we are doing women a disservice. Don’t forget how far we’ve come. At the moment, it seems too easy to take steps backwards.
Amy Bainbridge is an ABC journalist based in Melbourne. View her full profile here.
The Olympics will be the central focus of the Media ‘horde’ for the next 2-3 weeks – this is a fact. The world loves to watch elite athletes in their prime to live their own forgotten dreams of a misspent youth. Journalist still trying to work out the geography of Olympic events in these early days, still have to log a story.
In the last months or so we’ve had the ‘Hooker’ failures, in more recent weeks we’ve had the Women’s Basketball team flying economy, and the men business class, the liberated squabble over who is going to carry the Australian flag, the racist comments over the mens 400m event – it’s been anything but positive stories.
And today – we have this crab of a story on ‘how fit is Leisel Jones.
As journalist’s go – the quality of the above story tells us who she is – some women’s libber with insecurities, who needs to write about her issues made up from other people’s issues.
Leisel Jones is happy with herself – why write about other people writing about her … but then that is what this post is all about – writing about someone who wrote about someone who wrote about someone.
Amy Bainbridge – go get a life and go back and get a refund on any money you may have paid to teach you how to be a journalist.