As Helen Glover and Heather Stanning glided across the finish line in the Women’s Rowing Double Scull to win Great Britain's first gold of the games, the reasons why it’s so important to celebrate female athletes' victories became incredibly clear to me.
With Glover and Stanning’s win, it meant female athletes had won Team GB’s first gold, silver, and bronze medals of the games.
As some sort of digital fist pump, I sent out a tweet stating exactly that.
1,243 retweets later, I’m now even more passionate about why it is so important that we shout about female athletes successes in this (and every) country more than ever before.
However, despite Lizzie Armitstead winning Team GB’s first (and silver) medal of the games, and Becky Adlington winning our first bronze, there are still people out there who think this is insignificant, if not offensive to point out.
I received an astonishing amount of replies from both men and (very pissed off) women who were disgusted I would say such a thing. I was even told that my tweet was bad for feminism: “Doesn't really help the equality cause if you state every perceived 'victory'," I was told.
Aside from the blatant sexism in me expressing a plain and simple fact, there were perfectly logical excuses as to why women winning our first gold, silver and bronze medals was insignificant if not invalid, such as, “All the women’s events were the first to give medals!” - which is simply incorrect.
It was apparently offensive that I was unabashedly beating my furry, feminist chest in sexist victory. How dare I celebrate this unfounded, historical achievement, because if men were to say this very thing, we would complain about them being sexist. Won’t somebody think about the menz?
They're right that men would never even think to say something similar to what I had, but not because they’re sensitive about making potentially misogynistic remarks, but because men winning and being first is the standard. It’s a given, and there would be no need to celebrate a similar achievement because it would simply not be an achievement. Men own the earth. Why focus on something as tiny as winning the first set of Olympic medals when you have countries to run, wars to start and economies to ruin?
It is not sexist to celebrate or highlight women’s victories whether it is in sport, politics or even entertainment - what it is, is important.
Pointing out that this is the first year that every country participating in the Olympics has female athletes on their team is not a big “fuck you” to male athletes, it’s raising the point that before now, there were countries with ZERO female athletes competing in the Olympics.
It’s incredible that Saudi Arabia have two female athletes on their team, despite women in their country not being allowed to drive.
Firsts are even happening in the US, as for the first time ever, there are more female athletes on Team USA than men. (Considering there are approximately 89,381 of them competing, that’s a lot of women.)
Shockingly, women's Olympic boxing is just now making its debut in the London 2012 games, as are the Team Sprint, Team Pursuit and Team Keirin events in women’s cycling.
But despite all of these amazing firsts, the charming President of the IOC, Jacques Rogge, will still not present the gold medal to the female marathon winner, while he’ll happily present the male gold medal winner with his.
If we do not highlight achievements made by women in the Olympics, the significance and the issues surrounding why they’re even important go unnoticed.
Singing our victories loud and proud is also important as we are still fighting for female athletes’ achievements and performance to out-weigh the attention placed on their appearance and sex appeal in the media.
Andrew M Brown from the Telegraph, for example, was left shocked with Gemma Gibbons’ “fierce, animalistic aggression... that one doesn't naturally associate with women”. However, the female writers at So So Gay have naturally been more concerned with which female athletes would make the best girlfriends. (A pro to having Victoria Pendleton as your girlfriend is her “strong thighs”, obviously.)
Jan Moir has spent her column inches describing Olympic champion Sharron Davies’ face (“she just looks like she’s swimming in Botox. Against the tide.”), how Lizzie Armitstead looked after coming in second at the women’s road race (“without a speck of mud on her flawless complexion, manicure perfect, looking ready for her close-up.”) and what tennis champion turned BBC presenter Sue Barker’s face looks like in HD (“her make-up looked a little, shall we say, Hallowe’en”).
All of this combined with the mayor of the Olympics’ host city, Boris Johnson, comparing our female beach volleyball players to “wet otters” and journalists begging Team GB to stay in their bikinis no matter what, makes it blatantly obvious that pointing out facts (such as at the time of writing the athletes in the 2012 games with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th highest number of medals are all women) is more important than ever.
The more we champion and make positive cultural icons of our female athletes, the more positive influence they’ll have on our youth. It was other women in sport and sport being made available to young girls that has made our 2012 London Olympic Games so special.
Lizzie Armitstead didn't own a bicycle until she was 16, and she only discovered cycling thanks to a British Cycling Talent Drive that happened to come her school in Otley. Similarly, Helen Glover didn’t try rowing until 2008, and was introduced to the sport by a Sporting Giants scheme, after which she was placed onto the GB Rowing Team's Start programme.
When asked on BBC if the gold medalists on Team GB’s rowing team thought that what they were doing for women in sport was important, Helen Glover agreed emphatically, saying:
“I worked as PE teacher for a few years before I started rowing and you see how inspired youngsters can get by sport, and I think by seeing females in sport on our home stage and a world stage, I think it’s really inspiring.
“I remember people coming in to talk to me when I was at school and the impact it had, and now I’m here. We’re all really, really keen to kind of give that back and go into schools meet people to share our experience. The country has created their athletes, it’s time for us to go and share our excitement.”
Female Olympians from across the world are absolutely killing it in the London 2012 Olympic games - why wouldn't we all make sure the world sits up and listens.
Raise our female athletes up, and raise them proud. Our girls need them.
Images of Emma Pooley & Lizzie Armitstead during the women's cycle time trails © Iain Buchanan for BitchBuzz