Over the past week all eyes have been on Rio, and while we’ve been able to watch some record-breaking athleticism, we’ve been witnessing some jaw-dropping sexism too. In fact, it was recently reported in iNews in the U.K. that sexism in sports reporting has become the norm, and a study of Olympic articles found women’s personal lives are far more likely to be picked up on than their athletic prowess. The Representation Project has noticed the trend, and with #AskHerMore they are inspiring people to call out sexist reporting and suggest ways to re-focus the conversation on women’s achievements.
Sexism in reporting goes far beyond the Olympics. Men running for political office aren’t having their competency called into question based on whether or not they have children or grandchildren. No one examines their motives because of their choice of clothing, but women face it every day. Women in politics are not only grilled on their stance on the issues, they often have entire articles devoted to their shoe choices and whether or not they’re neglecting their family duties to pursue politics. From the red carpet to the convention floor to the Olympic podium, wherever a woman goes, she’s certain to hear comments about her appearance. The media reinforces and perpetuates this pattern by describing women more often by their marital status, familial status, emotional composure, and outfit than by their accomplishments. And sure, many stories may touch on the personal attributes of male candidates, but inevitably the extra burden women face in all careers falls even more so on women in the spotlight.
Sarah Seltzer writes in AlterNet that journalists should do unto women in politics exactly as they would do unto men. Women’s Media Center (WMC) co-founder Gloria Steinem has said there’s a “rule of reversibility” at play here, and it underlies all the rules, “The most workable definition of equality for journalists is reversibility. Don’t mention her young children unless you would also mention his, or describe her clothes unless you would describe his, or say she’s shrill or attractive unless the same adjectives would be applied to a man. Don’t say she’s had facial surgery unless you say he dyes his hair or has hair plugs. Don’t say she’s just out of graduate school but he’s a rising star. Don’t say she has no professional training but he worked his way up. Don’t ask her if she’s running as a women’s candidate unless you ask him if he’s running as a men’s candidate.”
The WMC, who have been pointing out sexism in electoral coverage through their “Name It. Change It” campaign for several years, decided to be proactive and give journalists a map to avoid such pitfalls. Being able to to identify sexism–and explain it–is crucial when it comes to issues of equality, and the change has to start here and now. The more we look to candidates for their stances and their ability to connect with voters rather than focusing on trivial attributes and “playground” gender politics, the faster we can make room for effective political leaders from all walks of life.
Whether an athlete, a politician, or a school principle, failure to level the playing field removing the gendered and slanted language and probing inquiries from our media conversations diminishes the capabilities and strong leadership qualities women bring to the table. It inhibits their ability to make their voices heard, and ultimately pushes us all backwards in terms of equality and parity. Groups like WMC have been consistent in their creed that an attack on one woman–no matter who- is an attack on all. We need to support their point of view, and change the way we talk about women to eliminate sexism in every conversation.