Gender Sexy

Has Olympics 2012 made gender equality a ‘sexy’ aspiration and policy direction for decision-makers, politicians, the IOC and other movers and shakers, such as the mainstream media? Ahead of the pack (if there turns out to be a pack) UK shadow Olympics Minister ,Tessa Jowell , has shrewdly been the first to head up a campaign for Rio 2016 as the ‘gender equality Olympics’. This has received a rather muted response so far from the IOC who will ‘do their best.

The possibility of their field acquiring some status could come as an exciting prospect to ‘gender experts’ who are accustomed to labouring in a ‘sector’ which is under-resourced, under-recognized and under-valued. And not always supported by women who arguably have the most to gain. Women’s and Gender Equality Ministries are often the weakest and least interesting to donors or ambitious young civil servants looking to make a good career; the post of gender officers or gender focal points in other institutions is very often occupied by the most junior female staff member, intern or volunteer who however capable or committed they may be have least access to decisions and budgets.

Whilst countries work for parity in non-controversial areas such as equal access to education or health care… and the somewhat more controversial area of contraception and reproductive health… gains in these areas have not been mirrored in gains in gender equality overall where many other ‘values’ issues come into play. But if supporting gender equality becomes a contested area where everyone wants to shine this could certainly change the picture. The Sports sector traditionally the domain of men and youth may provide the unexpected ‘tipping point’.

Gendercentric has been following gender equality issues throughout and even before the games in terms of participation, access, coverage (and un-coverage as in beach volley-ball). Most people agree that the participation of women from all countries..including Brunei, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia… was a triumph. Even though athletes from these three countries were ‘un-medalled’ they were loudly cheered by the euphoric crowds. Olympics 2012 saw an unprecedented number of Arab women athletes take part. Predictably not everyone was happy; the collective of NGOs Justice for Women protested at ‘the inclusion of veiled women in contravention to (sic) neutrality principles’ ; and called for a ban on male only delegations, though not, we note, on female only delegations such as that of Bhutan?

Boxing and taekwondo were opened to women for the first time though not yet canoeing,and overall more events and more medals are available to men than to women….30 more medals being available in men’s events.Nevertheless, two-thirds of USA medals were won by women.

The UK men’s swimming organization Out To Swim Angels continue to protest their exclusion from the synchronized swimming competition.

The issue of testosterone-testing which peaked rather early turned out to be a damp squib with only one athlete ( a German cyclist) being reported as having failed the test, and Caster Semenya, the presumed target of the testosterone police, running a decorous 800 meter race to come second. But a decisive position on the utility and ethics of testosterone testing needs to be arrived at before Rio 2016.

Maybe the Out To Swim Angels have too much testosterone to enter the synchronized swimming though so far only women are targeted for the test.

There are other issues of gender balance in decision-making bodies in national sports federations and in the IOC itself which we hope that the energetic Ms Jowell and others like her…including some men….. will address.

Overall the media coverage has been a model of even- handedness and it was striking that almost all commentators reflected on the issue of women and gender balance in a serious way. And many women athletes spoke up about the discrimination in funding, equipment, exposure that they had experienced BBC ‘body match calculator’ was a brilliant attempt to show the range of possible athletic body types to encourage all of us !

In the light of this euphoria some of the usual knee-jerk feminist grumbles look a little tired & even mean-spirited.

We think that no-one but no-one complains about being called ‘hot’ including the Dutch field hockey team (& anyway ‘hot’ has more than sexual connotations?) ; or at least let us get equally upset by the ‘girls’ who think Tom Daly is ‘hot’ & let’s also criticize the great Usain for collecting Swedish hand-ball players!

Gender equality need not mean the end of sex-as-we-know-it. We just need a few more female medallists to start behaving badly, or to praise Boris, Mayor of London for being ‘as sleek as a wet otter’.