While Female Athletes Break Stereotypes, Our Sexism Is Showing And It’s Not Pretty

Posted on August 23, 2016 in Sexism And Patriarchy, Sports

 By Poornima Mandpe:

It’s usually a long struggle, beginning from the birth as a girl child to taking up sports as your career. It is followed with inadequate facilities and insufficient training space, less scope and lesser attention, and also getting marred down by cynics when you ready yourself for the fight. Yet against all the odds, Dipa, Sakshi, Sindhu and others took off.

When Sakshi’s big, burly brother from Haryana – the state with a highly skewed sex ratio – broke into tears as his sister claimed the bronze at the Olympics, we knew that some things are changing. Indeed they are, otherwise why else would the cricket loving fools that we are, be clued to the television to watch with bated breath how Sindhu’s swift strokes of badminton was creating history at Rio?

Dipa missing the medal by a few points broke our hearts, but she found a place there too.

The fear of tanning in the wicked sun, turning dark and warding off prospective bridegrooms is dwindling. The shame of your daughter seen wearing shorts in the open is receding. The way parents would like to see their daughter upholding the family pride, is also slowly but surely changing.

And yet, as many things are breaking down and breaking free, some things, running deeper than we think they are, refuse to leave our collective psyche. Even as we are celebrating our new sporting stars, the messages and the jokes that are abound, allegedly in support of these girls once again bring us invariably to square one. Here are a few examples:

1) Sindhu has given us a reason to Save the Girl Child.

Girls should not and need be saved in the hope of her growing up to bring a medal or glory or whatever. Aren’t these the very same reasons that boys are preferred to girls, that boys are believed to bring some glory to the family name? Every human being has the right to life and right to live with dignity, irrespective of your gender and irrespective of what you would achieve in the future.

2) Women are on top, time for men to go home, wear bangles or play mangala gaur (festival for brides among Marathi Brahmins).

Yes, that’s the latest. Appreciate a woman for breaking stereotypes, and then taunt the men for displaying ‘effeminate qualities’. What such comments actually mean are that women are surging ahead by following the examples of male achievers, and men are left behind because they are acting like ‘women’ or ‘acting weak’ in other words. Need I say more?

3) The relentless search for Sindhu’s caste.

If she belongs to a higher caste, the members from the community would be re-claiming and flaunting their so-called superior status. If she belongs to one of the lower castes, its members would use her name to assert their caste identity. All in the name of that individual victory for which nothing but her hard work and training can take the credit.

But we Indians are not the only ones. Sexism unfortunately is a norm at sporting events even such as the Olympics where the share of women players is far more than any other event. International news is filled with such misogynistic excerpts from commentators and journalists.

Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú won gold in the 400-meter individual medley Saturday, but one NBC commentator said her husband and coach was “the person responsible for her performance.” From describing women’s Judo final to a catfight, to praising the incredible athleticism of a sportsperson as “Wow, she swims like a man,” all is being said and done. The feather in the cap of the prevailing sexism was when one BBC commenter congratulated Andy Murray with, “You’re the first person to ever win two Olympic tennis gold medals, that’s an extraordinary feat, isn’t it?” Too bad, that for him, that Murray had to quietly remind the world that Venus and Serena Williams had broken the record way, in fact by winning four each.

I am celebrating our girls at this moment, in spite of the all these discouraging comments. Every step counts, yes, but still there’s a long way to go.