FOUR out of five Time magazine special-issue Olympic covers feature women athletes, including hurdler Lolo Jones, above. Four out of five. Magazines often emphasize Olympic women gymnasts and ice skaters, but here we see traditionally male domains such as soccer, which has a relatively small following on the women’s side, and javelin, which has an even smaller following. These photos offer the androgynous ideal of hyper-masculine, Spartan warriors.
Photos of male athletes don’t present the same perverse opportunities. Muscular male athletes don’t suggest femininity so they don’t assist the pervasive effort to get everyone, male and female, to undergo a psychological sex change operation.
These photos are a craven appeal not to women who will ever realistically be athletes but to normal women. Be hard-charging. Compete like a man. There is something supremely wasteful and non-commercial about feminine tenderness, which is why popular culture, soaked as it is in materialism, stands so adamantly against it.
A man becomes more masculine by engaging in intensely competitive sports at the highest level. A woman becomes less womanly, except in sports that allow an explicit expression of feminine aesthetics, such as ice skating and gymnastics. That’s a fact of life. It may very well be harmless for a minority of women to make these sacrifices, either temporarily or permanently, but the glorification of aggression and competitiveness in women that now comes with Olympic sports extends beyond this small minority, and is not harmless.
This 1900 photo of Charlotte Cooper, the first woman champion in the Olympics, suggests that conformity to a masculine ideal is not new to women’s Olympic sports.
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