They’ve been calling London 2012 the Title IX Olympics. This year, for the first time in history, every country participating in the Olympic Games sent female athletes to compete. Certain delegations like the United States and Russia even boast more female than male Olympians. And let’s not forget that London 2012 is the inaugural Olympics for women’s boxing — meaning that women, finally, compete in every Olympic sport.
Watching women take part in a collision sport as grueling as Olympic boxing should really drive home the message that women can excel in any athletic pursuit men can, and don’t have to act feminine while doing it. But female boxers at the Olympics may still have to battle for the respect they deserve.
Just a few months ago, the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA), which pushed so hard for women’s boxing to be added as an Olympic sport, was discussing whether female boxers should be forced to wear skirts in the ring. Because of the uproar that ensued, and an online petition with over 55,000 signatures organized by British boxer Elizabeth Plank, AIBA ruled that wearing skirts would be optional, not required, for female fighters after all.
On top of that, Cuba, long recognized for its powerful performance in Olympic boxing, refused to send a women’s boxing team to the Games. Cuban coach Pedro Roque justified the decision by saying women should be “showing off their beautiful faces, not getting punched in the face.”
Naturally, these sorts of slights and gender-based expectations aren’t only a problem for female boxers. Female athletes in all disciplines contend with stereotypes and pressure to look and act feminine. As Scott Rosenfield notes in a recent article for Outside magazine, female Olympians are often called “girls” and “ladies” in the media. Those kinds of names make female competitors sound soft, genteel and less threatening. Nobody would dream of calling a male Olympian a “boy.”
So, while the “Title IX Olympics” marks some major triumphs for female athletes in terms of opportunity, those female athletes aren’t necessarily being treated as complete equals just yet. While numbers of female participants in the Games grow, their social treatment isn’t exactly fair or even-handed yet.
The same goes for the group that America’s Title IX law was actually designed for: female student athletes.
Title IX took major strides to open up equal opportunity in school athletics. 100,000 women participate in intercollegiate athletics today, a number that has increased four-fold since Title IX was signed into law in 1972. And women can now receive athletic scholarships, which was impossible before Title IX. But what female student athletes have left to worry about now are the things that can’t be legislated away: stereotypes, stigmas and unequal media attention.
The so-called Title IX Olympics has brought about unprecedented new opportunities for female athletes, just as the real Title IX law opened new doors for women in college athletics. The next issue female Olympians and collegiate athletes alike have to contend with is a more amorphous, harder-to-target pressure to stay feminine and girlie.
But as Elizabeth Plank helped prove with her successful petition against compulsory skirt-wearing in women’s boxing, female athletes are ready for the fight.
Powered by Facebook Comments