Perhaps it was inevitable that the Olympics, an event showcasing some of the strongest, most inspiring women on the planet, would bring forth a shitshow of sexism. From news outlets to social media trolls, for the past eleven days, onlookers have degraded and condescended Rio’s female competitors, exposing the infuriating double standards women everywhere face: You better look good, but not too good. You’re responsible for your performance, until you win. You may think scoring professionally is your goal, but actually, it’s scoring a husband.
While media have not been shy in pointing out this sexism, we’ve heard less from athletes themselves. But late last week, one super woke Olympic champion (and my new man-crush) decided to take a bold stand. In a scathing blog post, Adam van Koeverden, a member of Canada's Olympic Canoe-Kayak team, lamented: “We can do better.”
Van Koeverden was moved to write the post after fellow Canadian Adam Kreek, a former Olympic rower and motivational speaker, suggested Canadian tennis star Eugenie Bouchard was more interested in selfies, sponsorships, and “trying out different hairstyles” than succeeding in her sport. Because how could a woman possibly care about professional success and her appearance?
Van Koeverden was not having it. In his op-ed, titled Feminism in sport, he wrote:
I don’t think Adam is an expert on tennis. I’m certainly not. So I initially questioned why he was commenting on Eugenie’s game at all. But at around the one minute mark, I realized it wasn’t a lesson in tennis Adam needs, it’s a lesson in feminism.
And thus began the greatest clap back ever. Blessedly, van Koeverden didn't take on the role of white knight sent in to rescue the poor girls who couldn't speak for themselves. He was perfectly aware that Bouchard and all the other female Olympians subjected to sexist comments can—and do—take care of themselves. Instead, he made the bold assertion that men also need to join the fight:
I don’t think the burden of defense rests solely on the capable shoulders of my female teammates. If men don’t call out men when we are being sexist, then we are not a part of the solution, and the problem persists. So here I am, calling out my friend Adam Kreek. Adam, you were sexist on television last night.
After calling out Kreek, van Koeverden went on to highlight just how differently women and men are treated in professional sports. Women like Penny Oleksiak, a 16-year-old Canadian swimmer who has already won four medals in Rio—and who the Toronto Sun dubbed “Pretty Penny,” choosing to highlight her looks before her achievements.
"She’s the best swimmer of her generation, maybe ever, and the first Olympic Champion ever born in the 2000s and the paper leads with something referencing her appearance? We can do better," wrote van Koeverden.
He didn't stop there:
No journalist has ever asked me if I’ve been doing something different with my hair lately (despite the fact that I AM, thanks for noticing). Nobody has ever asked me to twirl in the mixed zone. I’ve never read that I 'put on a little too much weight' in the offseason, even when I have, and I haven’t heard of one male athlete that didn’t perform well because they spend too much time on social media.
These are just some of the gauntlets female athletes do face. Female athletes must constantly walk the line between demonstrating exceptional athleticism and traditional “femininity.” If they wear too much makeup they're attacked for being distracted and vain—but not enough makeup and they're written off as not “trying hard enough.”
There’s Gabby Douglas, one of the best gymnasts in the world and a gold medalist, who has endured intense criticism in both the London and Rio Olympics for her choice of hairstyle.
And who can forget Fox News’ stellar segment last week exploring whether female athletes should wear makeup at the Olympics. “Why not a little blush on the lips? And cover those zits,” said commentator Bo Dietl. He later added, "When you look like a washed-out rag, no one's gonna support you."
Of course, when female Olympians are deemed beautiful, men like Kreek too often tear them down for capitalizing on their looks, creating a vicious cycle of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
In a recent commentary, I questioned Genie Bouchard’s commitment to her matches in Rio based on her focus on social media and sponsorship activities. It was not fair to place my assumptions directly upon an athlete that I do not know personally. I did not mean for my comments to offend. Nor was it my intention to belittle the pursuit of fashion or selfie-art. For this, I apologize.
While apologies are great, his response doesn't address the root of the problem. Kreek seems to think his words were wrong because he criticized "selfie-art" and offended people. However, the real problem is that Kreek, and others like him, view Bouchard through a different lens than they view male athletes.
To these skewed onlookers, men are considered champions of sport, while women are dabblers. Women’s sacrifice, scores, and strength are irrelevant if they so much as hint at a personal life outside of the game. So thanks, Adam van Koeverden, for taking a stand and telling the world what we should already know: "Feminism isn’t for females. It’s for everyone."
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.