Last month, Anna Meares became the greatest female track cyclist in the sport’s history.
Anna’s a freak of nature. She broke her neck seven months before the Beijing Olympics and still won silver. She’s won eleven world titles. She’s got five Olympic medals, of every colour, two of them gold.
And she can do this.
Winning her eleventh world title to become the best ever woman on a bike was an opportunity for cycling to bask in some good PR. Let’s be honest, it can ill afford to let those opportunities go begging.
Then along came the E3 Harelbeke publicity machine. Let’s have a bit of a laugh to promote our event, they said. Let’s reprise that proud moment when Peter Sagan grabbed that podium girl on the arse.
Who cares if it completely lacks context — on a competitive plain, at any rate — let’s put out a poster featuring some pert female butt that asks: “Who squeezes them at Harelbeke?”
As we mark the 40th International Women’s Day, these contrasts — no, let’s call them what they are, these double standards — remain rife in sport, as they do in everyday society.
While every sport can point to its inroads, there are just as many roadblocks, if not more.
The Football Association, for instance, wants to stamp out sexism in sport, horrified that the increasing number of women involved in the game are being taunted by crowds to ‘get your tits out for the lads’ and ‘show us where you piss from, you slag’.
Yet FIFA has decreed that when the women’s World Cup kicks off in Canada in June, it’ll be played on artificial turf. Maybe for its exfoliative properties.
Imagine the furore if Neymar, Messi or pretty boy Ronaldo had to play on artificial turf. Let alone Arjen Robben and the Italian diving team.
Over in cricket land, Channel Nine makes a big deal about bringing Meg Lanning onto the commentary team. She disappears into the ether and we spend the summer listening to Shane Warne wax lyrical about his favourite pizza.
In the meantime, good luck trying to watch women’s cricket on telly, even when we’re winning the T20 World Cup.
The International Olympic Committee was rightly pleased that in 2012, for the first time ever, every competing country had female athletes, including Saudi Arabia. Considering just 20 years beforehand, 32 countries sent only male athletes to Barcelona, then yes, it’s quite an achievement.
But let’s look at one sport that was introduced at the Barcelona Games — beach volleyball. Can you spot the double standard? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.
Don’t get me wrong. I admire a fit athletic body as much as the next person but let’s have a bit of gender equity in our eye candy.
Rugby league and, in America, NFL clubs talk about the steps they’re taking to address sexism. Then send out scantily clad cheerleaders every weekend. And wonder why so many players treat women like crap.
Susie Wolff is blazing a trail for women in Formula One, where she’s a test driver for Williams. One day she hopes to line up on the grid, where she’ll have no shortage of female company. It’s just that she’ll be the only one behind the wheel.
Tennis can be proud that it’s one of the few sports that gives women pretty much equal billing. Then boofhead commentators ask Eugenie Bouchard to ‘give us a twirl’ and who she’d like to date.
All of these examples send messages, oblique and blatant, that for all the achievements of female athletes, for all the strong female role models out there, women in sport are still viewed through an ornamental filter.
My nine-year-old daughter has always enjoyed wearing shorts and a t-shirt more than a dress. A few days ago she decided she wanted a haircut like a boy.
She says she’s more comfortable dressing as a boy. She feels freer and stronger. She doesn’t get treated like a princess. The world doesn’t come to a stop if she falls over and hurts herself. She can just ‘be’.
These are her words, not mine. She loves being a girl. But at her tender age, she has already worked out that, even in these enlightened times, there are advantages to being a boy.