Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Objectification of Athletes: An Issue Across Gender Lines

By Tess Halpern

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(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

It may sound corny, but I am genuinely a huge fan of the summer Olympics. Every four years, I find myself cheering for my country as athletes that I’ve never heard of compete in sports that I’ve never heard of, feeling satisfied after the 16 days of competition that I have watched enough synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics to tide me over for another four years.

These games showcase the best athletes in each nation as they achieve their lifelong goals and strive for greatness while also inspiring young athletes to dream big and uniting the world in healthy competition.

And yet, this year I felt that a lot of the positive feelings that I usually associate with the Olympics were diminished when I noticed a startling and divisive trend in the way these athletes were discussed and portrayed in the media.

An article published on Cosmopolitan.com entitled “14 of the Most Sexist Moments From the 2016 Olympics (So Far),” highlighted many of these instances, such as a BBC reporter referring to the women’s judo final as a “catfight” and a Fox News panelist discussing whether or not women athletes should wear makeup, saying “when you see an athlete, why should you have to look at some chick’s zits … why not a little blush on her lips and cover those zits.”

Although it’s almost redundant, I will note that the aforementioned comments were made by men, along with a majority of the comments that were covered in the Cosmopolitan article.

However, the instance that stood out as the most shockingly blatant display of objectification of Olympic athletes was an article that was actually written by a woman and it was not included in Cosmopolitan’s list as one of the most sexist moments from the Olympics.

In fact, it was an article that was published on Cosmopolitan.com only 12 days prior to that list.

This article, entitled “36 of the Greatest Summer Olympic Bulges” included a secondary headline that eloquently stated “These peens deserve the gold,” and didn’t improve much from there. The online photo gallery featured images of male athletes in various stages of competition, some even while they were receiving their Olympic medals, but did not focus on their achievements or, to be quite frank, anything about them other than how their uniforms emphasized their physiques and genitalia.

Cosmopolitan is a magazine that targets young women and features, among other things, articles about relationships and sex, so I could see how the writers and editors involved may have felt that this article included content that was appropriate and geared toward their target audience. The author may have even felt that by objectifying male athletes, it would, in a way, counteract the sexism that is so often focused on women, but this article took objectification to a new level.

While scrolling through the images, I couldn’t help but imagine how I would feel if I saw an article in a magazine targeted to men that objectified female athletes’ bodies in the same way. I know with near certainty that an article like that would be criticized much more widely than this Cosmopolitan article was and in fact, I’m sure that article would even be criticized by Cosmopolitan.

So why is it considered acceptable to blatantly objectify male athletes but not female athletes? The argument can be made that there is a long and involved history of sexism and objectification of women whereas men do not have that same history. Female athletes have had to work extremely hard to be considered equal to men, and even today they are still fighting for equal rights, pay and respect. Unfortunately, every time someone makes a sexist comment or undercuts the achievements of female athletes, that only hinders their progress.

However, that in no way justifies doing the same thing to male athletes. By criticizing those that sexualize female athletes without holding those that sexualize male athletes equally accountable, we are being hypocritical. Objectifying men does not somehow even the score of sexism and gender inequality. It only further divides the sexes and muddles the message of equality that feminists have fought for decades to spread.

These Olympic athletes are in peak physical condition, not so you or I can ogle and objectify them, but so they can compete to the best of their abilities on the largest stage in the world. It goes without saying that in this day and age it is not okay to objectify women and sexist remarks in the media or anywhere else should not be tolerated, and it is sad that the same is not said about the objectification of men.

Tess Halpern is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

About the Writer
Tess Halpern, Opinion & Editorial Editor

Tess Halpern is the head editor of the Opinion and Editorial section at the Massachusetts Daily Collegian. She is a senior English major with a double...

2 Comments

2 Responses to “Objectification of Athletes: An Issue Across Gender Lines”

  1. Rob on September 13th, 2016 10:34 am

    You’re too sensitive. People have evolved to be attracted to the opposite sex. It helps with reproduction and to keep the species alive. You can’t change that.

  2. David Hunt 1990 on September 14th, 2016 2:10 pm

    Further, people want healthy mates. Looks are – regardless of content of character – an overall and first-impression indication of a person’s health and, by inference, an indication of the kind of offspring they will produce.

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