I haven’t been watching the Olympics; it’s not my thing. But I’ve certainly seen the coverage. Sadly, many of the commentators have not done a great job when it comes to covering the female athletes. There’s a running list of the comments some of these men (yes, they’re men) have made. Attributing successes to husbands, identifying athletes as the wife of someone (first and foremost), and comparing them to men (“wow, they’re better than the men”). I’m sure these comments are nothing new, but now, instead of people just getting outraged at home on their couch, they can take to Facebook and Twitter, and their blogs and shine a pretty bright light on them.
Most of these comments are what might be labeled microaggressions, not so egregious in the grand scheme of things, but taken together, they send a pretty powerful message and feel deflating. This is what happens to many women (and other categories of people not in the majority). Someone says something that seems innocent enough, but is actually insulting. If you’re in an environment where these kinds of comments happen regularly, you might find yourself exhausted at the end of the day. Or just start to feel like some of the comments are true. Maybe you aren’t as good as a man. Maybe you do owe your success to your husband.
This is where we are with most sexism. Most of the time, it’s not the blatant sexism of Mad Men.* It’s entrenched in the culture in a way that it comes out in everyday commentary, often when women are doing some “atypical” for women, like killing it at the Olympics. And it’s frustrating for those of us still having to put up with it. Pointing it out the way people are doing during the Olympics is a step in the right direction. We still need to root this out early, which means providing more examples of women achieving for kids early on. It means creating an environment where men and women are treated truly equally, where we don’t see the differences between men and women as indicating that one is better than the other, but just as differences. It’s why I think girls’ schools are still relevant. Because while we need to work on the boys, we need to give girls a chance to thrive where they’re not facing these issues while they’re learning. So when they do face comments like the ones we’ve seen the last few days, they won’t internalize them or feel they’re true. They’ll be among those taking to Twitter and Facebook to rail against the comments.
Unfortunately, the comments coming out of the Olympics are minor compared to what’s being said about Hillary Clinton. (And on the other side, what’s being said about other women and women generally.) We’re in for a long haul on that front. And if Hillary wins, the likelihood of sexism going away or becoming less is slim. Look at racism and Obama. But maybe, just maybe, it will be a one step forward, two steps back situation. Maybe, eventually, we’ll get a little further. I can dream can’t I?
*Of course, sometimes it is, e.g. Roger Ailes.