Women at the Olympics

There are a lot of things wrong with the Olympics, but it is not without its accomplishments. They exert no small amount of pressure on countries to represent themselves with women athletes, and the 2012 Olympics has achieved the milestone of being the first Olympic event in which all (some 200) countries have female athletes competing. The U.S. team even has more women than men this year. With the new addition of the women’s boxing discipline, this will also be the first Olympics where women can compete in the same disciplines as their male counterparts1.

The Olympics create a clear incentive to send female representatives, and in doing so breaks gender constrictions and provides women all countries with role models.

As for countries who’ve come comparably far in women’s rights, it unfortunately seems we’ve reached a plateau.


Female contenders in beach volley now have the option of wearing less skimpy clothing, much to the chagrin of creeps, stock photographers in arrested development, and NBC who air the sport in primetime—which could explain its status as the most tweeted-about Olympic discipline.

Although Western countries might take the majority of the Olympics medals, we might want to ask ourselves whether we have shown ourselves at our best—leaving out the entire discussion of Americans’ jingoistic chants, paraphernalia, and self-congratulatory exceptionalism.

The IOC have not been unerring in their revision of the athletic wardrobe. As Liz Clarke laments in the Washington Post:

Much like boxing, badminton’s international governing body was forced to retreat from a new dress code that would have required female Olympians to wear skirts rather than shorts. The stated goal: to attract more fans through “a stylish presentation of the players.”

Following howls of protests, skirts were made optional.


If there is anything the Olympics have taught spectators and athletes alike, it’s that sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. But we can always try to do better next time.


Update: I added a footnote that clarifies the state of equality betweeen men and women in their respective disciplines.

The article linked also cites an IOC spokesman who states that the female participation is now at 44%, bringing the representation closer and closer to absolute equality. What an impressive and surprising statistic.

The statistics for women’s share of sponsorships and media coverage are less inspiring, though—albeit completely expected.


  1. The Guardian notes that female athletes are not eligible for as many medals as their male counterparts who partake in a larger number of events:

    But campaigners point out there are 30 more medals available to men than women and nine sports still have unequal representation.