GIRLS ON TOP OLYMPIC GENDER BATTLE

By Amy Poulston
Published: FEBRUARY 28, 2014
Capilano Courier


As the Olympics draw to a close, we have seen that there has been a lot of controversy in Sochi. Everything from the ridiculous living conditions of the press, corrupt officials and the killing of stray dogs, to the big elephant in the room – homophobic laws. But while these are all significant issues, especially the last one, another interesting aspect of the Olympics that often gets less attention is gender bias and its history in the Olympics.

Men’s ski jumping was introduced in 1924 and now, 90 years later, women are finally able to compete in ski jumping for the first time. Why the delay? In 2005, the Ski Federation President Gian Franco Kasper was quoted as saying that the sport of ski jumping “seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.” Kasper argued that this was because of the high risk of injury, but since so many other Olympic sports women compete in have a high risk of injury, is there another reason? As competing U.S. ski jumper Lindsey Van understands, it’s because people think her uterus might fall out due to the impact. She’s legitimately been asked that question “multiple times.”

Rewind back to the first modern Olympics in 1896 and we find that women weren’t allowed to compete because it was a common belief, at the time, that if a woman did, she “wouldn’t be able to bear children” and that “[her] uterus would fall out.” Sound familiar? It’s actually shocking that antiquated “knowledge” from almost 120 years ago is still causing restrictions for women’s sports in our modern day of science. Last time I checked, pretty sure my uterus can’t just fall out, bro.

But ski jumping isn’t the only hurdle women have had to overcome. When the Olympics first allowed women to compete, they were only allowed to compete in tennis and golf (1900), and then swimming (1912). It wasn’t until 1960 that women were allowed to run races over 200 metres, having been previously barred because it was felt longer distances made “too great a call on feminine strength” and that the level of endurance would make them “age too soon.” It was only in the year 2000 that women were allowed to compete in weightlifting, even though there had been official world championships for women for 13 years. In fact, it was only at the 2012 Olympics that every sport had a male and female equivalent for the first time. That’s only two years ago!

I know some people will argue that certain sports are not popular enough with women to garner a spot at the Olympics, but it is only by having this higher competitive level available that these athletes receive funding and the sports have a higher chance of becoming popular in the first place. This is because, unlike male sports, the Olympics provide the highest level that female athletes can achieve while also holding the best chance for recognition and financial reward. A great example of the struggles women have to contend with in order to compete at elite levels can be seen in the legacy of Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke. It was only after becoming the first half-pipe world champion at the Freestyle World Ski Championships in 2005 and winning four gold medals at the Winter X Games that she was able to successfully lobby the International

Russell Poulston 2013