22 AUGUST 2016

The 2016 Rio Olympics has seen the media reach new lows, to make what should be a celebration of what humans can achieve into another glaring demonstration that sexism is still alive and well. We’ve seen bronze medal-winning Corey Cogdell referred to as ‘Wife of a Bears’ lineman’, the online body-shaming of Mexican gymnast Alexa Moreno, a BBC commentator calling the women’s judo final a ‘catfight’, and two men on America’s NBC discussing the merits of female gymnasts wearing make-up.

Thankfully, many media outlets and the general public on social media have also been quick to point out these instances – perhaps by the time Tokyo 2020 rolls around, we will begin to see female athletes’ and commentators sporting abilities and talents the primary focus of media attention. We have also seen women across the world achieving some remarkable things and being duly credited for them. However, despite 39% of team GB medal-winners being women, it is still an arena in which women are treated as second-class competitors.

Fawcett asked our followers on social media to help us decide who were the worst #SexistOlympics offenders during the coverage so we could award them medals of their own. And the winners are…


Helen Skelton’s constant outfit appraisal

Despite the presenting from a humid aquatics centre in a humid country in August, BBC’s Helen Skelton’s skirt was deemed ‘too revealing’ by social media users as she reported on the Olympics. The tabloids took aim with numerous critiques of her ‘revealing’ and ‘daring’ dress, and continued to do so with her shoulders and cleavage.

This treatment won gold for us because it is so representative of how women in the public eye are treated; with more focus on body parts than words, and the implication that there is something wrong with a certain type of clothing or that it represents a woman’s character. It’s dated, misogynistic and still clearly very wide-spread.


BBC commentators forgetting women’s sport is sport too

John Inverdale made a huge gaff in which he appeared to forget that women’s tennis was also tennis, when he told Andy Murray he was the first person ever to win two Olympic tennis gold medals. Murray quickly reminded him that Serena and Venus Williams have four each. Inverdale also appeared to forget women’s rugby sevens, when he remarked as the men’s competition was on that ‘this will be the first rugby Olympic medal in history.’ The women’s rugby sevens had been held two days earlier.


Women’s achievements being attributed to men

Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú – now a world record breaker and a gold medal winner – had her victory attributed to her husband and coach when NBC called him ‘the man responsible’ for her win. Seeing a woman’s achievement attributed to a man is always hugely disappointing, and is incredibly belittling to Hosszú’s achievements.

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society commented:

“We’ve had some fun on social media with the #SexistOlympics but Fawcett’s medal winners are not the kind to be celebrated.

“Whilst much of the coverage has been superb to watch, team GB’s most successful Olympics ever has also become known as the #SexistOlympics. Women athletes have seen their achievements either ignored or credited to men or undermined by demeaning language. A woman commentator has seen her work disregarded by the media obsessing about what she is wearing.

“4 in 10 of our medallists were women. We simply would not have achieved our sporting success without them. They are athletes in their own right and women’s sport deserve equal status to men’s. Andy Murray recognised this when he reminded John Inverdale of the Williams sisters’ wins, and we’ll be sending him one of our ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ t-shirts as thanks. It’s sport, pure and simple.”


It is not just the world of sport where the media prefers to focus on women's clothing rather than their achievements. The Fawcett Society's Views not Shoes campaign highlights how much media coverage women politicians and women candidates got in the run-up to the 2015 election and looked at the nature of the media coverage.

More information can be found on our campaign page here: Views Not Shoes