Sex­ual vi­o­lence in sports

The per­va­sive­ness of sex­ual vi­o­lence in the world of sports

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Christina Bal­danza Sports Writer

Con­tent warn­ing: sex­ual as­sault, gen­dered vi­o­lence, sex­ism

The “Me Too” move­ment be­gan over ten years ago with ac­tivist Tarana Burke, the pro­gram di­rec­tor for Brook­lyn-based Girls for Gen­der Eq­uity, an or­ga­ni­za­tion fo­cused on em­pow­er­ing young women of colour. Only over the past month has it gone vi­ral. Cat­alyzed by the Har­vey We­in­stein al­le­ga­tions, thou­sands of women have come for­ward to ac­cuse men of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault, both in Hol­ly­wood and other in­dus­tries such as busi­ness, me­dia, and pol­i­tics.

On Novem­ber 10, this mo­men­tum reached the sports world when U.S. goal­keeper Hope Solo ac­cused the for­mer pres­i­dent of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, of sex­ual ha­rass­ment. In an in­ter­view with Por­tuguese news­pa­per Ex­presso, Solo re­counted that she “had Sepp Blatter grab [her] ass” be­fore they went on stage to present at the Bal­lon d’or awards in 2013. This com­ment came af­ter be­ing ques­tioned on the preva­lence of sex­ual ha­rass­ment in women’s soc­cer. Dur­ing the in­ter­view, Solo also spoke about the nor­mal­iza­tion of this be­hav­iour amongst agents, coaches, doc­tors, and train­ers. She later told The Guardian that she be­lieves sex­ual ha­rass­ment in sports must be dealt with, and that while many al­le­ga­tions, in­clud­ing hers, in­volve pow­er­ful men, ha­rass­ment oc­curs at ev­ery level.

Solo’s com­ments are an ex­tremely im­por­tant step in ex­pos­ing the reign­ing pa­tri­archy in sports. It’s par­tic­u­larly telling that, prior to Solo’s story, Sepp Blatter was only crit­i­cised for his fi­nan­cial mis­man­age­ment and the cor­rup­tion within FIFA, not the count­less sex­ist and de­mean­ing com­ments he di­rected to­ward women through­out his pres­i­dency. When call­ing on newly elected women in the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, he said, “You are al­ways speak­ing at home, now you can speak here!” Just be­fore, he had re­ferred to a newly elected wo­man as “good, and good-look­ing.” The most no­to­ri­ous of his sex­ist com­ments is a sug­ges­tion he made in 2004: that fe­male soc­cer play­ers should wear tighter shorts so more peo­ple will watch them play. While ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion and sex­u­al­iza­tion oc­curs for all ath­letes, it dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fects women.

Sports could be an op­por­tu­nity to tran­scend and change gen­der norms. Un­for­tu­nately, this isn’t even close to the re­al­ity. In­stead, the di­vi­sions be­tween ideal body types of men and women are re­in­forced be­cause the qual­i­ties of the hu­man body we glo­rify in sports — strength, en­durance, speed, even size — are ones that our so­ci­ety as­so­ciates with men. More­over, this per­cep­tion is only the re­sult of our con­structed no­tions of gen­der. Sports cul­ture seems to reify these ideal types, and thus fu­els a cy­cle of toxic mas­culin­ity.

Is­sues of un­equal treat­ment and mis­treat­ment of women in the sports world are par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing to ad­dress be­cause they oc­cur within a field with sys­tem­atic de­mar­ca­tions be­tween sexes, which em­pha­sizes stereo­types. We can — and must — am­plify the im­pact women and other marginal­ized groups have when speak­ing against sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault. This in­cludes the le­niency of­ten given to male ath­letes in cases of sex­ual as­sault and the man­ner in which these is­sues are ap­proached. When gymnastics gold medal­ist Aly Rais­man, along with 125 other women, re­cently tes­ti­fied to sex­ual abuse by a team doc­tor, USA Gymnastics pres­sured him to re­sign with a $1 mil­lion sev­er­ance pack­age. Cases like this show how far be­hind the sports world is when it comes to ac­count­abil­ity and punishment for dan­ger­ous men.

The ‘Me Too’ move­ment not only pub­li­cizes the ex­tent of wrong­do­ing, but lays the ground­work for women and non-bi­nary peo­ple to more com­fort­ably com­bat sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault. This is an im­por­tant is­sue that must be raised in sports and all other in­dus­tries.

Sports could be an op­por­tu­nity to tran­scend and change gen­der norms. Un­for­tu­nately, this isn’t even close to the re­al­ity.

Nelly Wat | The Mcgill Daily

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