For some reason, there’s been a remarkable online effort to paint the Rio Olympics as a bottomless pit of sexist drivel. The evidence in favor of this is thin to the point of nonexistence, and today it reached comical proportions. Here is Emily Crockett at Vox:
It’s no wonder that this unfortunate Olympics headline, from the Colorado paper the Greeley Tribune, caught fire on social media this week. It seemed to be the perfect encapsulation of exactly how the coverage of this year’s games is going when it comes to women — and the way women are treated in society more generally:
This headline is a metaphor for basically the entire world. pic.twitter.com/5WpQa04N0o
— Nancy Leong (@nancyleong) August 14, 2016
Seriously? Our latest outrage is a headline at the Greeley Tribune, circulation 25,000? Given Phelps’ fame and his quest for six gold medals—along with the fact that Ledecky was breaking her own world record (for the fourth time), making it barely even news that she won—you could argue that the Tribune made the right call. But even if it didn’t, who cares? One small newspaper in one small town wrote one headline that was perhaps slightly misconceived. That’s what’s generating outrage today?
It’s the internet that’s made this kind of thing possible. If you dedicate yourself to trawling every bit of media in existence for arguably sexist coverage, you’re going to find something every day. When you have literally millions of items to choose from, it’s inevitable. But it’s also essentially meaningless. What’s actually remarkable is that the folks desperately looking for sexist coverage have found so little.
I’ve been watching the Olympics every night, and what I’ve seen is extensive and highly respectful coverage of women. Women are everywhere, they’re getting at least as much attention as men, and the announcers have all been treating them as the tremendous athletes they are. But it’s true that if you try hard enough, you’ll find occasional brief bits of sexism here and there. And you can then turn these brief bits into yet another internet outrage campaign. And then, a few months later, you’ll wonder why most people don’t take charges of sexism as seriously as they should. It’s a mystery, all right.