It’s not just the Olympics where women are taught to be an afterthought to men
It’s in everything we do
You may have read the headline “Phelps ties for silver in 100 fly” with “Ledecky sets world record in women’s 800 freestyle” in small print underneath, the controversy that arose from the marriage proposal on the podium or the “Congrats girl! Fiance of former Miss California scoops his 25th medal” article that gave a taste of journalistic role reversal.
It seems this Olympic season, people are finally paying attention to gender inequality in sports media coverage. The prevalent message is that female athletes are seen through a lens of the men around them.
After a woman just won a gold medal, announcer literally said, "And there's the man responsible," as camera showed her husband/coach.
— Elizabeth Picciuto (@epicciuto) August 7, 2016
It is important that we have begun to point out and recognize these stark inequalities in treatment of world class athletes. But it’s just one symptom of a far greater problem. Here is a (far from complete) list of the ways in which this way of speaking about women permeates everyday life.
The words female and women
Both are words created by adding a prefix to the words male and men. A prefix is defined by Oxford Dictionary as “an element placed at the beginning of a word to adjust or qualify its meaning”. Women are grammatically a subcategory of the dominant “male” type.
Women are expected to adopt the last name of the man they marry. All of these women are referred to literally in terms of the man that they are with. Before this, they have their father’s last name. For the entirety of a woman’s life, she is called by the name of the “most important” man close to her.
Popular music like Rude by MAGIC!
This song was the 9th best selling song of 2014, and global sales reached 8.6 million. It is a story told first person by the singer of a man who wishes to marry a woman.
He asks her father if he can marry his daughter. The father says “no” which is the first problem: it is still normal for a father to have a say, whether symbolic or literal, in who his daughter marries.
Second problem, the singer’s response is “I’m going to marry her anyway.” At no point in the song is the woman’s choice taken into account. There is an assumption made that women don’t matter in their own marriage.
The ‘girl you like’ meme
There are plenty of awfully sexist memes out there but this one takes the cake for its subtly and the endless versions of it. All it deserves is one question: why the hell do her brother, father, and ex matter?
This meme communicates that the only thing in the way between the guy posting it and the girl he likes is the men in her life. Her voice isn’t valued as much as the voices of the men around her.
I confidently assert that if I don’t like a guy, it’s because of who he is and has nothing to do with my dad or exes.
Every time a woman is call a slut, a value is placed on her based solely on interactions with men. Her identity is dependent on the men she has encountered and the way men view her.
Even if it is just the way she dresses, it’s the potential for the attention she would get from men that changes her value as a person.
Women are not able to be interested by certain things without that interest becoming an asset to her sexual appeal. Take video games, football, exercise, or cars for example. If a woman is interested in any of those things, it is guaranteed that she has heard “wow, guys must love that” after expressing her enjoyment of any of the activities on this list.
A woman who decides to get a college education has either been told directly or heard at some point that she should try to find a man while in college.
Whatever the excuse for this may be, it is clear is that her growing independence and formation of her adult self are in a shadow of the importance that she finds the right man as soon as possible.
It is a fact that women make less than men for the same work and same qualifications. So God forbid a woman does find herself in a position where she makes a lot of money, she is going to be asked if her potential or current male partner will feel inferior.
This infers the insane notion that a woman should be taking her male partner’s feelings into account when planning her own financial success.
It’s not just the Olympics
This list is far from exhaustive but you get the point. I don’t see anyone coming up with a new name for “woman” or “female” any time soon, it doesn’t mean we can’t take conscious steps to change dialog about women.
Sleep with whoever you want, keep your last name, yell “fuck the patriarchy” if that’s what makes you happy.
Personally, I sure as hell won’t marry anyone who asks my dad’s permission first.