If you don’t like watching women in “aggressive” sports, don’t watch
How long has it been since you last tried to burst a blood vessel?
Too long? Let me help you out with that. I mentioned this article briefly in yesterday’s tribute to Mary Kom but I thought I’d lay this shit out for you a little more because it’s fucking infuriating and misery loves company. Andrew M Brown writes for the Telegraph about mental health and addiction, he edits the Sunday Telegraph’s comments section, and at the Olympics this past week he’s been fanning himself in dismay and clutching his pearls because apparently women aren’t as soft and delicate as he thought.
“Watching Gemma Gibbons gaining Britain’s first judo medal in 12 years, I found myself wondering: is women fighting each other violently a perfectly wholesome spectator sport? This wasn’t a bit of pretend wrestling. Gemma and her American opponent, Kayla Harrison, were properly grappling with each other, throwing each other with full force onto the mat. They both showed pure, naked, fierce, animalistic aggression of a sort that one doesn’t naturally associate with women – or girls for that matter.”
I didn’t watch the judo (India wasn’t competing) but I’m sure that both Gemma Gibbons and Kayla Harrison did show as much pure, naked, fierce, animalistic aggression as possible. I’m sure that they were judo masters at the top of their game and I’m sure they both displayed as much skill and artistry in their sport as they possibly could. And when it was done, and the match was decided, and the winner had congratulated and been congratulated, I’m sure they were proud of themselves for what they’d achieved and where their determination, perseverance, training and dedication had gotten them. They are sportswomen, they are Olympians, and they are masters. They are not little girls; they do not need some delicate flower posturing about how their talent isn’t of the kind he doesn’t naturally associate with women.
The whole comment sort of makes me sick. You read it at first, and then again, and it becomes pretty clear that Mr. Brown is just sort of scandalized that women aren’t relegated to the Olympic sports of flower-arranging and bonsai. Because, in his mind at least, it’s just not proper for a woman to be competing in a sport that involves tackling or actual physical contact of any sort that’s not, I don’t know, a light push.
“With those judo contestants – and I realise this will probably sound appallingly sexist – I couldn’t help wondering about their soft limbs battered black and blue with bruises. Would it bother me to see one of my own daughters savagely attacking another woman on a judo mat for people’s entertainment? I’m really not sure. Possibly. On the other hand I might be proud of her skill. I know full well that, as a bloke, it’s none of my business, but it’s what I thought and felt. After a few minutes I’d got used to it. But, then, you can get used to anything, can’t you?”
Fuck off Andrew. You’re right on one count – it is appallingly sexist. Because the women competing at the Olympics aren’t soft. They are hard and strong and amazing, and they’ve trained and practiced and gotten injured and recovered and eaten right and suffered and overcome personal demons to be the best at what they do. They’ve earned the right to display their skill in a sport they love on a world stage.
And because those comments are so insulting to women in all the other Olympics sports: women who have trained just as hard and just as long to make a sport like swimming or diving or gymnastics look effortless, graceful, easy. Does Andrew Brown mean to say that these sports are somehow ‘softer’? That they are less of a risk to a woman’s delicate constitution?
And finally because, if the violence is so offensive to him when a woman does it, how is it any less offensive when these sports are performed by men? If it is just a question of violent sport being unsuitable for public demonstration, what difference does it make if the “aggressive” sport is undertaken by women or men?
To be perfectly honest, Andrew Brown can take his misplaced, syrupy concern and shove it – and if he doesn’t want to watch, he can change the damned channel. I’m proud of these women, each and every one of them, and I watch them slack-jawed in open, sweeping awe. I’m glad they are competing in sports that aren’t widely considered to be “women’s sports” – whatever the hell that means. They are exquisite in their disciplines and beautiful in their moments of glory. And none of them look beaten at the end of their matches. They look proud.
On a related note, Team GB’s teenage weightlifting wunderkind Zoe Smith wrote an excellent blog about sexist criticism via Twitter last month:
“The obvious choice of slander when talking about female weightlifting is “how unfeminine, girls shouldn’t be strong or have muscles, this is wrong”. And maybe they’re right… in the Victorian era. To think people still think like this is laughable, we’re in 2012! This may sound like a sweeping generalisation, but most of the people that do think like this seem to be chauvinistic, pigheaded blokes who feel emasculated by the fact that we, three small, fairly feminine girls, are stronger than them. Simple as that.”