Over the past two weeks in Rio we’ve seen breathtaking triumph, devastating defeat—and a shitstorm of sexism. We probably could have predicted that an event showcasing some of the world’s strongest women would inevitably elicit reprehensible reactions—for every inspiring woman, there’s an equally uninspiring troll who wants to bring her down. And yet, this reality doesn’t excuse what we witnessed. It simply calls our attention to how much work needs to be done before the next Olympics—because our female champions deserve better.
And so, as the Rio festivities come to a close, I’ve compiled for you a list of every reported sexist incident I could find. Brace yourself: You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and if you’re like me, by the end, you’ll probably want to punch something—in a finely coordinated Olympic boxing jab kind of way.
Katinka Hosszú broke a world record, but her husband was given credit
Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú not only earned a gold medal in the 400-meter individual medley, she broke a world record. But right after her win, NBC panned to her husband / coach Shane Tusup while commentator Dan Hicks blurted out “and there’s the man responsible.” Because, as we all know, a woman can’t do anything that incredible without a man. (Side note: Hicks later said he wishes he had said things differently. Um yeah.)
Three-time Olympian Corey Cogdell-Unrein was referred to as the “wife of a Bears’ lineman”
Corey Cogdell-Unrein has competed in the Olympics three times for USA Shooting, and she won a bronze medal in Rio. However, when the Chicago Tribune wrote a story about her accomplishments, the paper referred to her in the headline as the “wife of a Bears lineman” instead of using her actual name or mentioning her sport. After all, at the end of the day, an elite female athlete is nothing more than someone’s wife, right?
Fox News panelists debated whether female Olympians should wear makeup or risk looking like “washed out rags”
It’s hard to believe this really happened, but Fox News dedicated an entire segment to debating whether or not female Olympians should wear makeup. In order to get to the bottom of this important issue, they asked two men who have never competed in an Olympics to come in and share their opinions. The commentators felt that, yes, women should wear makeup because they need to look pretty on TV in order to get sponsorships. As commentator Bo Dietl said, “Would you put money behind a gal that won the gold medal that looks like a washed out rag?” (No words.)
Commentators described the women’s Judo final as a “catfight”
Judo is one of the most brutal and difficult sports out there. It’s also a badass martial art that includes takedowns, arm bars, and deadly choke holds. However, when Majlinda Kelmendi made history and became Kosovo’s first-ever medalist by winning gold in Judo, an announcer decided to describe her final battle against Italy’s Odette Giuffrid as a “catfight”—rather than the feat of strength it truly was. Um, what?
A bunch of sexist people said Katie Ledecky “swims like a man”
Katie Ledecky killed it in Rio, winning four gold medals and one silver. In fact, while breaking a world record in the 400-meter freestyle, NBC commentator Rowdy Gaines pointed out that she’s so good, “Some people say she swims like a man.” Indeed, one of those people was Ryan Lochte, who said her strokes were “like a guy.” Luckily, Gaines later pointed out “She doesn’t swim like a man, she swims like Katie Ledecky!”
Simone Biles was called “the next Michael Phelps”
Many folks wanted to compare the great Simone Biles to men, too. As one NBC commentator said when describing her power on the uneven bars, “I think she might even go higher than some of the men.” But Biles wasn’t having it. As onlookers called her “the next Usain Bolt” or “the next Michael Phelps,” she clapped back, saying, “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.”
Twitter viciously body-shamed gymnast Alexa Moreno
When 22-year-old Mexican gymnast Alexa Moreno made it to Rio, she was already a winner, given how few Mexican gymnasts have ever competed in the Olympics. Despite this feat, Twitter trolls decided the 99-pound gymnast was too fat for their liking and hurled insults at her, calling her “gorda” (fat) and comparing her to a pig. This, of course, is completely unacceptable treatment of a world-class athlete—or any human being.
A commentator painted the gold-medal winning women’s gymnastics team as silly teenage girls
The women of the USA gymnastics team are the best in the world by miles. Not only did they take home gold in the all-around competition but they did so in a landslide victory. Yet when NBC commentator Jim Watson spoke about them as they waited for results on the sidelines, he said, “They might as well be standing around at the mall.” LOLz. Get it? They’re not elite athletes; they’re silly little girls. Silly little girls who could kick your ass, Jim.
NBC said women don’t like sports, they like reality TV
During the opening ceremonies, some viewers wondered why the spectacle wasn’t being broadcast live. Don’t worry—NBC had a wonderfully sexist reason: women. Specifically, the notion that women don’t like sports.
“The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans. More women watch the Games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey,” said John Miller, NBC Olympics’ chief marketing officer. “It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and mini-series wrapped into one.” Great job insulting the biggest demographic watching the games. Two thumbs up.
A BBC reporter totally forgot all about Venus and Serena Williams’ accomplishments
When tennis player Andy Murray won his second gold medal in Rio, BBC reporter John Inverdale congratulated him, saying, “You’re the first person ever to win two Olympic tennis gold medals. That’s an extraordinary feat, isn’t it?” In reality, Murray is the first man to accomplish the incredible feat, but not the first person. He shot back, “Venus and Serena [Williams] have won about four each.” This so-called simple mistake is indicative of a larger problem: Too many people see men’s sports as “real sports,” so the accomplishments of female athletes are diminished.
Katie Ledecky broke a world record. Michael Phelps won silver. Guess which was considered more important?
Two things happened: Swimmer Katie Ledecky broke a world record in the 800-meter freestyle and Michael Phelps won silver in the 100-meter butterfly. Despite Ledecky’s greater accomplishment, however, it was Phelps who got the headline in many publications—because apparently, a woman’s gold medal is outranked by any medal earned by a man.
Media outlets implied that getting married is a bigger accomplishment for women than winning an Olympic medal
When Chinese Olympic diver He Zi was on the podium accepting her silver medal, her boyfriend—fellow diver Qin Kai—decided that would be the perfect moment to propose. But worse than Kai hijacking Zi’s glorious moment was the way the media boasted about her proposal as the best thing that could ever happen to her. The BBC called the proposal “an even bigger prize,” and CBC Canada tweeted out, “What’s better than an Olympic medal? A proposal.” No, no it’s not.
A fan mansplained to an Olympic cyclist how to get better at her sport
During an Olympic road race in Rio, dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten suffered a horrible crash in which she fractured three vertebrae and got a concussion. So of course some man on Twitter decided to mansplain how to cycle properly—because men know best!—despite the fact that she is a freaking Olympian!
A news outlet speculated volleyball player Kim Yeon-Koung couldn’t get a boyfriend because she was too tall
Rather than praise her accomplishments, the English-language Korea Times decided to run a story on Korean volleyball star Kim Yeon-Koung’s dating prospects, titled “Boyfriend a tall order for 192cm South Korean volleyball star.” In it, the Times speculated about her love life, or lack thereof, claiming that Kim was “looking for a boyfriend” but unlikely to find a South Korean man willing to date such a giant.
This dude complained about volleyball champion Kerri Walsh Jennings’ “side boob”
You might think Olympians’ uniforms are designed to optimize their performance—but at least one Twitter user suggested American Kerri Walsh Jennings’ volleyball uniform, a two-piece bathing suit, was actually designed to titillate male viewers. Last Sunday, a Twitter user named James Carroll wrote (and later deleted), “Why has NBC decided that beach volleyball is fascinating? I’ve seen enough of Kerri Walsh’s side boob. Scantily clad=big ratings? Please.” Shortly after, the champion herself shut this dude down:
An Olympic equestrian was referred to as “blondie” and “scaredy-cat”
When introducing an interview with rider Julia Krajewski, a commentator for Germany’s ARD TV named Carsten Sostmeier said, “Let’s see what the blondie has to say.” This descriptor, of course, is totally demeaning and disregards Krajewsk’s athleticism. But that wasn’t even the worst of it: Later in the interview Sostmeier called Krajewski a “scaredy-cat” and said she was so fearful of the race course that “there was a brown stripe in her panties.” Which is just beyond awful. He later apologized. (P.S. Krajewski and her German equestrian team took home silver).
This commentator suggested tennis star Eugenie Bouchard was more interested in selfies and fashion than the Olympics
After Canadian tennis star Eugenie Bouchard lost to Germany’s Angelique Kerber, former Olympian and sports commentator Adam Kreek had this to say: “And I go and look … on her social media, and she’s holding pictures of herself, she’s holding up the toothpaste, and she’s trying out different hairstyles. And … maybe she wants something different than to be a competitor.” Because there’s no way a professional athlete could be interested in both their sport and their public persona. All major athletes sign endorsement deals—but only women are faulted for it.
After this cyclist became the most decorated female Olympian in British history, a commentator offered a totally unwarranted analysis of her marriage
When cyclist Laura Trott won gold in the Omnium—a multiple race event in track cycling—she became the most decorated female British athlete ever. After the event, she ran over to her fiancé, Jason Kenny—who had also just won a gold medal—to celebrate. That’s when BBC commentator Chris Boardman said this: “She’s doing the emotion for both of them really, he’s looking at her going, ‘What’s for tea?'” It’s a weird comment for sure, and one that kind of suggests Trott’s value to her husband is making him tea. Try again, Boardman.
Swimmer Simone Manuels made history—and AGAIN Michael Phelps got the headline
Swimmer Simone Manuels became the first ever African-American woman to win an individual swimming event when she took home gold in the 100-meter Freestyle. The same evening, Michael Phelps won his 22nd Olympic medal. So of course a California newspaper reported the accomplishments like this: “Michael Phelps shares historic night with African-American.” No mention of Manuels name, her sport, or even why the night was historic.
The New York Times credited a man for Katie Ledecky’s accomplishments
You’d think The New York Times would know better after NBC gave swimmer Katinka Hosszú’s husband credit for her win. Yet the Times still decided to run a story suggesting that Katie Ledecky was a man’s creation, titled “His Latest Innovation: The World’s Best Swimmer.” The article focuses on Ledecky’s coach, Bruce Gemmell, and reads, “His latest project, Katie Ledecky, has thrived under his tinkering, becoming stronger, faster and more versatile”—as if Ledecky had little to do with her own swimming. Just another example of casual sexism.
This BBC reporter was slut-shamed for wearing a dress while covering the Olympics
BBC reporter Helen Skelton was insulted and harassed on Twitter for—wait for it—wearing a dress while reporting on the Olympics. Some trolls criticized her for not wearing enough clothes, while others made crude, sexual comments about her body, saying things like “So far the Olympics is a festival of nice female thighs. Helen Skelton now contending ….” Gross.
The treatment of Gabby Douglas versus Ryan Lochte
When The Star-Spangled Banner played for the five American gymnasts who took home gold, Gabby Douglas didn’t put her hand over her heart; instead she stood at attention. This made a lot of people angry, and the star gymnast was harassed on Twitter for her choice. (She was also told to fix her hair and smile more.) Meanwhile, swimmer Ryan Lochte fabricated a robbery story, may have falsified a police report, and basically lied to America—yet many people still came to his defense. Even the U.S. Olympic Committee, when speaking about Lochte and several of his teammates’ behavior, said “Let’s give these kids a break.”
Finally, it was brought to our attention that more gold medals are available to men than to women
In the Olympics, there are 161 gold medals up for grabs for the men, while there are only 136 gold medals available for women. To put this in practical terms: Katie Ledecky holds the world record in the women’s 1500 meter freestyle, but can’t compete for it at the Olympics because it’s a men’s only event.
So there you have it. These, of course, are only the moments that made headlines. If you spotted ones that I missed, let me know in the comments. Here’s to a less sexist Winter Games.