Why men shouldn’t get the credit when women win in Rio

Sports lingo overwhelmingly treats male achievement as superior, and looks to the nearest man whenever a woman strikes gold

Canada's Meaghan Benfeito (left) and Roseline Filion perform a dive on their way to a bronze medal win in women's synchronized 10-metre platform diving at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016 (Frank Gunn/CP)

Canada’s Meaghan Benfeito (left) and Roseline Filion perform a dive on their way to a bronze medal win in women’s synchronized 10-metre platform diving at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016 (Frank Gunn/CP)

It took only a few steps from Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen during the Opening Ceremony for the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge to quickly recognize who was doing the walking. His question: “Isn’t that Mrs. Tom Brady?”

It’s not how most people would first describe a woman who was once the highest paid model in the world, and whose career earnings exceed US$430 million (that’s compared to her football-playing husband’s career paycheque of roughly US$162 million). Before Bündchen had even finished her trip down the catwalk, Rio already had its first instance of a media personality defining a woman based on her husband.

And no one had even won a medal yet.

Things haven’t gotten much better for the female athletes. American swimming superstar Katie Ledecky was dubbed “the female Michael Phelps.” When Majlinda Kelmendi became the first person from Kosovo to ever win an Olympic medal, gold in the women’s 52kg judo final, a BBC commentator described the final as a “catfight.” And when three-time Olympian Corey Cogdell-Unrein won a medal in trapshooting, the Chicago Tribune didn’t even mention her name in a tweet about her achievement—instead proclaiming that the wife of a Chicago Bears football player won bronze. (The paper later noted it was simply trying to make a Chicago connection.)

Back in Canada, the nation has reason to be more than proud of its female Olympians. As far as Canadian medal winners go, they’re the only sex thus far to bring any hardware back to the Olympic Village (one silver and four bronze). Four years ago in London, only Rosie MacLennan won gold for Canada.

Canada’s biggest story of the Rio Games so far is Penny Oleksiak, the 16-year-old swimming phenom who helped Canada win bronze in the 4×100-metre freestyle relay before winning an individual silver medal in the 100-metre butterfly a day later.

The following morning, in interview-acrobatic feat, Ron MacLean managed to steer the conversation from Oleksiak’s silver medal-winning performance to a video of her older brother’s NHL draft day. MacLean then asked if Oleksiak’s brother has ever told her stories about Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn. “I haven’t heard a lot about Jamie Benn but I’ve watched him play,” Penny answered.

MacLean also prompted a video of Penny’s brother scoring his one and only NHL goal—never mind that Penny already has two Olympic medals around her neck. And if the Oleksiak family were not in Rio, but instead back home, they could have picked up a copy of the Toronto Sun with Oleskiak on the cover with the headline: “Pretty Penny.”

Sarah Grieves isn’t surprised when she hears women in sports described in those terms. Grieves isn’t an Olympian, but rather a language researcher at Cambridge University Press, which recently completed an analysis of how men and women are talked about differently in sports coverage, including speech patterns and how certain words fit together.

Starting with a domain containing several billion words from more than 20 years—from newspapers to blogs to social media—Grieves’s team found that “man” or “men” gets three times as many mentions as “woman” or “women” in sports coverage, while the term “ladies” or “girls” appears much more frequently than the male equivalent of “gentlemen” or “boys.”

Sometimes the word “women” appears, but for the wrong reason. “You see women’s football,” says Grieves. “But for the men, it’s just ‘football.’ It’s very rare to see ‘men’s football.’ As if men own the original term for the sport. The same dichotomy occurs with cycling, horse-riding, golf and, according to the research, track and field events. So while Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is the two-time reigning Olympic champion in “women’s 100-metre,” her countryman Usain Bolt has the distinction of being the two-time reigning 100-metre Olympic champion—not “men’s 100-metre.”

On the track—or pitch, or field, or court—the coverage steps up its polarization. For competition, words often tied to men included “dominate,” “battle” or “beat.” And which verbs were used associated with women in competition? “Strive,” “compete” and “participate.”

So in addition to the plethora of upsetting anecdotal stories piling up with every Olympics, “this is empirical evidence,” Grieves says. “These things are happening. It’s backed up by this research.”

And the research doesn’t look much better when media describe the athletes themselves. The men get to be “big,” “strong,” “great” and “fastest.” But they are rarely—if ever—described with the following terms that pop up for media coverage of women at the Olympics: “aged,” “older,” “pregnant,” “married,” or even “unmarried.” Somehow, “unmarried Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt wins men’s 100-metre dash” isn’t a common sentence in newspapers.

And yet, as Jessica Ennis Hill returns to Rio to defend her Olympic gold medal in heptathlon from London 2012, plenty of media coverage from the U.K. is focused on her recent marriage and “post-pregnancy” performances, not her attempt to repeat her gold-medal performance.

But winners aren’t treated much better. When Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu broke the world record in the pool for the 400-m individual medley over the weekend, the cameras turned to her coach (and husband) celebrating in the crowd, to which NBC announcer Dan Hicks said: “There’s the guy responsible for turning Katinka Honsu, his wife, into a whole different swimmer.’

And in the face of accusations of sexism, Hicks replied later, saying: “With live TV, there are often times you look back and wish you had said things differently.” He then added: “It is impossible to tell Katinka’s story accurately without giving appropriate credit to Shane, and that’s what I was trying to do.”

If only the coaches behind victorious male Olympians were given such credit on live TV.


Why men shouldn’t get the credit when women win in Rio

  1. Thank you Mr Hutchins.

    And it’s a ‘runway’ not a ‘catwalk’

  2. There is a reason so few watch womens athletics. People are drawn by nature to the highest level of human endeavor. I said HUMAN ‘not’ female.

    The only female pro sports, or Olympic sports, that are somewhat successful are the ones where the nature-made, fertile, feminine form is on glorius display. And, both men and women are drawn to that equally, but in their own way.

    Female physical performance prowess has never been a desirable, or needed, genetic trait for human’s survival or in our evolution. That is the real reason there is no big desire to watch women’s sports. Plus, why watch 2nd rate, slower, weaker, lower jumping, less skilled and emotionally weaker human atheletes?

    • Try to tell that to Serena Williams.

      And Bob, I don’t seem to recall seeing YOUR name anywhere in the annals of sport… so maybe walk the (cat)walk before you type your next stream of consciousness.

      • Mary…..I can understand your disgust with what bob is saying…..but he is factually correct.

        Take all of the gold medal winning women in the history of the Olympics, and stick them in a pool with all the male althletes who just barely made the cut….and the men will still kick their butts. It’s not being cruel or sexist to say it, it’s just the truth.

        same for Serena Williams….stick her and her sister against the 100th Seeded men’s tennis players, and the men would still do most of the winning.

        Women in sports is still competitive, and still entertaining, but if you can’t see the difference in the sheer power of the performance, then you haven’t been watching.

        Frankly, I don’t watch much sports, I just want the Canadian althletes – male or female to win.

        • Well see James, it was kinda hard to swim and ski in hoop skirts and corsets

          Hasn’t taken women long to catch up tho, you notice.

          • Emily-you slay me. I suppose you’ll next surmise that the men forced the women to wear hoop skirts and corsets back when you were a young girl.
            As for Serena, ever wonder why Sharapova was not as good as Williams but got twice the endorsements to become the highest paid female athlete ever? It’s because she doesn’t look like she’s just finished bench pressing dump trucks.

          • Actually Jerome you slay yourself through ignorance….but you don’t want to learn so there’s nothing anyone can do for you

            I know many men can’t face the idea that the dominance era is over…..but you’d better get used to it…as we are the majority

          • This is for Jerome…sorry, he doesn’t have a reply button. Jerome..you are a buffoon. Sharapova was only in the game because she was cheating. She was doping and got caught or she would never have been competing at the level she was. She is banned. You holding her up as an example of someone to emulate, is disgusting. As for Serena, she has large breasts. Her sister Venus was just as successful as she was but was built completely differently. Venus has been less successful in recent years because she got ill. Serena is built the way she is. Stop with the body shaming. I don’t hear you going on about Stan Wrawinka. He is built just like Serena. You think he can help it?

          • Gage, you should understand what you are saying before you call someone a buffoon.
            Sharpova wasn’t cheating throughout her career. The rules were changed to ban something that had previously been considered legal.
            And the reason she received the endorsements is because of her looks. Shooting the messenger won’t change that fact buckaroo

          • DC – The only reason the drug Sharapova was taking never made the banned drug list for the IOC and the ITF until recently is because no one in the Western Hemisphere knew of its existence. Hence, there was no test for it. It was obviously performance enhancing. Apparently, Sharapova took it for 10 years claiming a vague illness and then claimed she didn’t get the notice of the banning. Wake up and smell the coffee. Why do you think the IOC initially sought to ban the entire Russian team but then didn’t because, like Sharapova, the evidence indicates, the athletes were drugged by their own govt. Sharapova, however, did not live in Russia. She and her family lived in the US. She should have questioned what she was taking…just as Lance Armstrong’s team-mates should have questioned.

        • Yes, men are physically stronger and are faster but that does not make female athletes less worthy then the male athletes. Plus, right now it’s the weak women that are that are winning all the medals for Canada. Serena Williams may not be able to beat the best male tennis player, but millions of people will watch her play. Bob was trying to make the point that people don’t want to watch female sports because it’s boring, unless they’re in bikinis, which many will disagree. Many who love watching Serena Williams for example. Not to mention that depending on the sport, you really aren’t going to see that much of a difference unless you’re looking at a timer the whole time. For example, the fastest time for men’s marathon is 2h02min to women’s record of 2h15min. A rather small difference when simply watching the sport. I have been watching, and while the sheer power of men’s weight lifters is obviously more impressive then the women’s, I can’t help but be much more impressed by the women. Enjoyment of sport is emotional and visceral, the sheer power of the performance is only part of the equation.

        • You are obviously not a history buff either. Fanny (Bobby) Rosenfield was one of Canada’s most accomplished athletes, male or female. She was an Olympic star, a hockey star, a basketball star. She competed for decades on an international stage.
          The other thing you and your friend Bob do not realize is that women have a much higher pain tolerance than men. In med school they do a little experiment where they put a blood cuff around their arms, pump them up and immerse the arm in very cold water. It is excruciatingly painful. The women can stand it for much longer times than the men.
          Woman are not built for sheer power because they do not have the hormone testosterone but they are not competing on a field against men. They are competing against other women. The women do not whine, they do not flop on the field when tapped or take a flop. They get up and get the job done. They aren’t sucking on a bong after winning medals in swimming or being complete a-holes to the press like some male swimming stars. They deserve the respect. The ones that make the olympics are incredible athletes. They deserve the respect. They earned it. My mother laboured, pushed out nine babies. She returned to work when the last one was 2 months old. She worked full time, raised the kids and went to night school part time when number nine was 8 months old and go her degree at age 42. She is 89 and for sheer power, the would say, the know no one who could match her…mentally or emotionally. She lived with a man who never changed a diaper, washed a dish or swept a floor. It perhaps is a good thing that men see women as weaker. Keep believing that and the women will keep on bringing home the medals.

    • Is that you, Bobby Riggs. I thought after Billy Jean King kicked your a** on the tennis court we heard the last of you but I guess blow hearts have to blow or in your case, suck and blow. Well now, there are quite a few of the events, like diving, where strength, is not a determinant and we have all seen the you tube video showing just how much tougher female soccer players are than the male soccer players (you know the one where the women get bloody noses and keep on playing but the men get touched and take a dive, rallying around on the ground and crying). In tennis, the women are bringing in crowds to watch them, the statistics show, they bring in as much revenue as the men. I would guess quite a few are watching the women play beach volleyball. If you don’t enjoy watching women who are elite atheltes perform, that is up to you. After all, I would never be one to judge your sexual preferences but the rest of us enjoy and we appreciate the medals they are bringing back.

    • Oh…my.

      First, the article is about how the women who win, are not being covered appropriately in media, instead reporters are looking around for any man, no matter how peripheral. Even Giselle, Bundchen, who in your own argument succeeded at the ‘only female pro sport’ that counts, is treated this way.

      Second, I’ll give you slower, less power. But not on the scales of endurance, or emotional strength (heart).

      Go back to ogling the divers and beach volleyball players, hoping for a wardrobe malfunction, if that’s your bag. We’re discussing sports coverage, not bikini coverage.

  3. So if the coach is a female, it is OK to give credit? And if an unkown female athlete happens to be married to a very famous female (singer, actor, athlete, etc), it is OK to refer to the female athlete as “wife of [famous person]”? Is it still wrong to do so even though we can no longer blame it on sexism? How do you know when sexism is the motivation for taking focus off the athlete?

    • It’s not sexism, it’s misogyny.

      I HIGHLY doubt a female coach would be announced as “the woman who made this all possible” for a winning man. There was one note of the girlfriend of a Brazilian athlete proposing to her girlfriend after soccer (?) but that’s a one-off. We probably won’t see the opposite occurring on screen because, “ewww, two men kissing? Ick! But two women… now that’s hot!”

      There’s no need to comment on that stuff. Period. And I’m absolutely ashamed of Ron McLean for turning the interview away from Penny’s achievements to talk about her brother! What if I were interviewing Ron and started talking about HIS sister/wife/daughter instead? It’s insulting to Penny’s hard work. It takes away from her medal and makes a bronze at Rio seem less important than a goal in the NHL. I’m surprised she didn’t get up and walk away. But at 16, we’re taught to ‘shut up, be NICE, and don’t do anything that will make you look like a bitch’. At 50, I don’t really care about all that anymore.

      • Some truth to that Mary.

        My wife and I went to the dealership to find a new vehicle for her to drive. She told the salesman the car was for her, but he kept asking ME the questions.

        That is now one sorry car salesman. He didn’t make a sale…..and she made him cry like a weenie by the time she was done tearing a strip off of him.

        • You are suprised at this? Women pay different prices than men. Woman are quoted different prices to get car fixed and especially to get clothes dry cleaned. Men have shirts and pay significantly less than women pay to have their “blouses” cleaned although the “blouses” are likely smaller. Men have pants and again pay significantly less than women pay to have “slacks” cleaned. Same with in hair salons. The prices for cuts for men and women are completely different, even if the woman has short hair and the cut takes the same time. It is complete sexism but it is accepted.

    • Bills Wife is going to be president come November.

      At least I hope so…even though I think she’s a disgusting and sleazy liar.

      Far better than Melania’s hubby though. He’s just nuts.

      • Peter Mansbridge is never going to be called Mr. Cynthia Dale. Bill Clinton is never going to be called Mr. Hiliary Clinton and The Donald is never going to be called Mr. Melania Trump. To call Ms. Bundchen, Mrs. Tom Brady is asinine on so many levels. She is more famous than him globally. She is richer than he is. She is Brazilian, he isn’t and the Olympics are in Brazil. Her face has much more recognizability. He wears a helmet and faceplate to work. She dated Leonardia DiCaprio and he didn’t. It is like calling Angelina Jolie, Mrs. Brad Pitt. It is inappropriate. She has earned the right to be recognized by her own name.

      • Peter Mansbridge is never going to be called Mr. Cynthia Dale. Bill Clinton is never going to be called Mr. Hiliary Clinton and The Donald is never going to be called Mr. Melania Trump. To call Ms. Bundchen, Mrs. Tom Brady is asinine on so many levels. She is more famous than him globally. She is richer than he is. She is Brazilian, he isn’t and the Olympics are in Brazil. Her face has much more recognizability. He wears a helmet and faceplate to work. She dated Leonardia DiCaprio and he didn’t. It is like calling Angelina Jolie, Mrs. Brad Pitt. It is inappropriate. She has earned the right to be recognized by her own name.

    • You are completely missing the point. They are not slavering praise right after a race on Michael Phelp’s coach or any other man’s coach because a male athlete wins a medal. They give the male athlete the credit for the hard work. Except of course in the case of Milo’s Raonic at Wimbledon when all they could do was heap praise on John McEnroe for Milos making it to the finals. It was nauseating but that is what Americans do…take the credit. It wasn’t right then and it isn’t right for a commentator to give an athlete’s solely to a coach unless the commentator is going to do it to every athlete and we know that isn’t going to happen.

      • Coaches always get heaps of credit for the victory of their players. The only difference is, the social justice warriors of the world don’t get their panties in a wad when it is done to male athletes, so it goes unnoticed. Ours girls are doing great. Let’s just enjoy it rather than pulling out the microscope and looking for insult in every rose bush.

        • The day that Mr. Cynthia Dale (Peter Mansbridge is married to a Canadian actor) pans Michael Phelps and gives his coach the credit for Michael’s success (the coach that started training Michael at 12 years old and acted as a surrogate father), we will bow down and say that male athletes’ coaches get the same amount of spotlight following a winning Olympic performance as the female athlete’s coach did as revealed in this article. Once that happens, the panties will become unbunched.

  4. What a crappy headline.. why try and divide Canadians and turn in it into a gender war? You can always pick out negative things people say if that’s what u want to do but I feel like this takes away from Canada with a petty headline and story like this.

    • So it isn’t the reality of the situation that bothers you but the revealing of the reality. Why start a gender war by revealing that the Canadian press don’t treat successful women except as extensions of their male relatives, whether they be husbands or brothers? I have news for you. There won’t be a gender war. All women already know this.

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