Ah, women’s track and field. It’s among the most exciting competitive divisions at the Summer Olympics. The absolute fastest, highest-leaping female athletes vie for the lowest finish times and the highest honors, while the rest of us sit at home yelling and tweeting and cheering about it. It’s clear that black Olympics fans love track and field. And the sport itself seems particularly welcoming to us: most of the Summer Games competitors in running and hurdling competitions are athletes of color. Perhaps this is why we’re so lax in the terms we use to discuss them — especially the women.
It’s no secret that men and women alike aren’t invested in sprints and distance running just for the athletic competition. A cursory glance at any female runner’s name while she sprinted toward gold in the past weeks would reveal comment upon comment about her physical appearance or, worse, some lewd, delusional quip about “who could get it.” Social media has given track and field viewers a platform to be as inappropriate as possible, diminishing the women’s work on the track by calling them hoes and bitches and by speculating about her sexual prowess. The stars — like Allyson Felix, Carmelita Jeter, and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce — are most susceptible. Regardless of intent, using sexualized pejoratives to issue comment on competitors debases the hard work they do to represent the country and themselves.
Consider this random sampling of tweets, pulled from a search of tweets containing a runner’s name and some reference either to her anatomy, sex, or the title of “ho” or “bitch.”
Tweets of this type went on and one, but here was a diamond in the rough:
The bottom line here is that respectful admiration is one thing; objectification and calling women out of their name — even and especially as “terms of endearment” — is another thing entirely. Regardless of race, attaching lewd sexual reference to athletes just because they’re women is unacceptable. So is referring to them as hoes and bitches as synonyms for woman. While the trend of using derogatory language to refer to women is nothing new to sports, entertainment, or corporate/professional fields, it seems to have become more socially acceptable, particularly online, in recent years. Occasionally, the women themselves will embrace the terms (as was the case just this week with Kim Kardashian claiming she’s proud to be the inspiration for Kanye’s track, “Perfect Bitch.”) That still doesn’t make it right for the rest of us to use them.
Do you use the above-mentioned pejoratives to describe women? Do you use them to refer to yourself? What do you think of fans’ graphic, overt sexual objectification of women athletes?