Wednesday August 10, 2016

Rio 2016: Female Olympians face sexism in media

(R-L) Silver medalist Kathleen Baker of the United States, gold medal medallist Katinka Hosszu of Hungary and bronze medalists Kylie Masse of Canada and Yuanhui Fu of China pose on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Women's 100m Backstroke Final on Day 3 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

(R-L) Silver medalist Kathleen Baker of the United States, gold medal medallist Katinka Hosszu of Hungary and bronze medalists Kylie Masse of Canada and Yuanhui Fu of China pose on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Women's 100m Backstroke Final on Day 3 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. (Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

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The 2016 Rio Olympic Games are in full swing and so far, all five of Canada's medals have been won by women. However, even with the accomplishments of female athletes from around the world, there have been accusations of sexism in media coverage of their achievements. 

From women athletes being referred to as "girls," to undue attention being paid to their appearances, to being introduced as "Mrs. So-and-So" — sexist media coverage is not new, according to Sarah Grieves, language research project manager at Cambridge University Press. She says things like age and words like "married" and "unmarried" are more prevalent in sports reporting about women.

Sarah Beauchamp, a freelance writer for the Huffington Post, finds the media coverage for this year's games disappointing, but not surprising.

"We've all sort of been socialized to believe these certain things about women, that they're not as strong, they're not real athletes — you know, sports are for men and women are just sort of a part of that. That's why [the media is] constantly comparing them to their male counterparts," Beauchamp says.

While there has been social media backlash, as well as articles and critics calling out the sexism they've been seeing and hearing, Beachchamp says she's disheartened by the defensiveness and push back coming from networks like NBC.


Cassie Campbell-Pascall, a three-time Olympian who now works for Rogers covering women's hockey and as an analyst for Hockey Night in Canada, believes context is important to keep in mind when deciding what is and what is not sexist in sports coverage.

"I think that ["girls"] legitimately is a sports term within female athletes ... I can understand maybe from the outside looking in, or looking at it from a bit more social context, it may look like it's derogatory, but it is a very common term within the sporting culture," Campbell-Pascall says, though she adds she found the mall comment directed at the U.S. women's gymnastics team to be disrespectful.

Cassie Campbell-Pascall

As for the debate about referring to female athletes through their relationships with men, Beauchamp says it's further evidence of a society that's more comfortable seeing women as wives and mothers rather than competitors and equals. However, Campbell-Pascall says it's part of the human interest story that draws audiences in. 

How well do you think media organizations are covering female athletes at the Rio 2016 Games? 

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Listen to the full conversation at the top of this post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Sarah Grant, Kristin Nelson and Joshua Flear.