Gen­der Ben­der

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE -

THE RIO Olympics were ground­break­ing in one as­pect. These were the Olympic Games which saw the high­est fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion ever, at 45 per cent. Of the 10,444 to­tal com­peti­tors, 4,700 were women. And while that is just short of ac­tual par­ity, we have come a long way from 1900, when women were al­lowed into the Olympics for the first time. That year, of the 997 com­peti­tors only 22 were women (mak­ing up an abysmal 2.2 per cent).

But while fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion has changed the look of the Olympics in no un­cer­tain man­ner, what hasn’t changed is the sex­ist tone to the cov­er­age of women ath­letes and sports stars. In fact, sex­ism in sports re­portage is so ram­pant that it has even gen­er­ated its own hash­tag on Twit­ter: #CoverTheAth­lete. It was started last year af­ter a com­men­ta­tor asked Cana­dian ten­nis player, Eu­ge­nie Bouchard to “give us a twirl and tell com­peti­tors to their male coun­ter­parts. Ryan Lochte, now in the news for hav­ing made up a story about be­ing robbed at gun­point in Rio, said this about record-break­ing swim­mer, Katie Ledecky, “She swims like a guy… I’ve never seen a fe­male swim­mer like that. She gets faster ev­ery time she gets in and her times are be­com­ing good for a guy.” It was in keep­ing then, that the day Ledecky set the world record in women’s 800 freestyle, one pa­per chose to lead with “Phelps ties for sil­ver in 100 fly.” And that the Daily Mail re­ferred to her, with a cer­tain pre­dictabil­ity, as “the fe­male Michael Phelps”.

It took Si­mone Biles, the Golden Girl of Gym­nas­tics, to call out this false equiv­a­lence. Af­ter win­ning the gold in the gym­nas­tics all-around, she ex­e­cuted yet an­other per­fect land­ing: “I am not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I am the first Si­mone Biles.”

Un­for­tu­nately, it’s not just sport that suf­fers from sex­ist re­port­ing. Pol­i­tics is no bet­ter. The night Hil­lary Clin­ton won the nom­i­na­tion as Demo­cratic can­di­date for the US Pres­i­dency, you would have thought that she had earned the right to be on the front pages the next day. And you would have been quite wrong. All across Amer­ica, news­pa­pers great and small went with a larger-than-life pic­ture of her hus­band, Bill Clin­ton. Hil­lary may have shat­tered that glass ceil­ing into a mil­lion lit­tle shards but it was still her hus­band who got prime billing (pun en­tirely un­in­tended).

Clearly, we in the me­dia have still not got the hang of cov­er­ing high-achiev­ing women with­out a side-serv­ing of sex­ism. So, in the spirit of help­ing out, here’s my ready primer on how not to write about women in the news.

Try to fo­cus on the woman her­self, with­out be­ing dis­tracted by the sig­nif­i­cant males in her life. Don’t be like the Chicago Tribune, which re­ferred to Corey Cogdell-Un­rein, who won a bronze in women’s trap shoot­ing, as the wife of a Chicago Bears lines­man. (They apol­o­gised af­ter a back­lash on Twit­ter, con­ced­ing sheep­ishly that she was “awe­some on her own”.)

Don’t com­pare her to a man. Or an­nounce that she is like a man, with the air of con­fer­ring a rare trib­ute on her. (As in: “Indira Gandhi was the only man in her Cabi­net.” No, she wasn’t. She was a woman; al­beit one who kicked ass.)

Set your­self this sim­ple test: would I ask a man such a ques­tion? If the an­swer is no, then don’t ask that ques­tion of a woman ei­ther. (Sam­ple: How do you man­age a work­life bal­ance? Is hav­ing kids the best thing you have ever done? Or even: When are you set­tling down?)

Stop hem­ming a woman within pa­tri­ar­chal con­structs. She may be someone’s daughter, sis­ter, wife, mother. But that is not her defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic. So don’t act as if that is the most im­por­tant thing about her.

Don’t re­duce a woman to a sum of her body parts. If she is a politi­cian like Theresa May, it is not rel­e­vant to point out that she oc­ca­sion­ally flashes ‘a hint of cleav­age’. A woman, ev­ery woman, has breasts. Get over it. (If it’s one of the Kar­dashi­ans, how­ever, go for it; that’s ex­actly what they signed up for.)

Stop with the body-sham­ing eu­phemisms when de­scrib­ing women in the spotlight. She is flaunt­ing her curves; i.e. she has got­ten a bit fat. She is sport­ing a baby bump; as op­posed to what ex­actly? Leav­ing it behind at home? And then, there’s that zinger: She is a ‘real woman’ (which roughly trans­lates as: Oh my God, can you be­lieve how big she’s got­ten!).

And most of all, re­mem­ber, no woman is a ‘fe­male’ ver­sion of any man. Sa­nia Mirza is not a fe­male Le­an­der Paes. P V Sindhu is not a fe­male Prakash Padukone. Ev­ery woman is a per­son in her own right, with her own iden­tity. Try and re­spect that; it’s really not that dif­fi­cult.

A quick primer on how not to write about women


The re­ferred to Katie Ledecky as “the fe­male Michael Phelps”

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