Recently, Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce sprinted into victory, shattering the world record for the 100m sprint at the World Championships in Doha. Often, “shattering” a world record means beating a world best time by 1 or two seconds, even milliseconds, but Shelly Ann crushed the previous record by a whopping 10.71 seconds. Despite this incredible victory, Shelly Ann has been yet another victim of sexist news reporting for female athletes.
In almost every article you read about Shelly Ann Fraser Price, she is compared to and measured against Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. In CNN’s coverage of this recent event, Shelly Ann is stated as being “much like Usain Bolt, as the sprinter to beat.” This may seem like a harmless comment, but when you compare Usain Bolt’s media coverage in the London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics, Bolt’s accomplishments are not measured with female Olympians. Usain Bolt was talked about in media for his own individual accomplishments, such as winning the men’s 100m sprint, 200m sprint, and charging the Jamaica 4×4 relay team into gold medal (and world record) category. Consistently, female athletes in almost every sport are measured in comparison to their male counterparts, however, the reverse doesn’t often occur.
Some of the news article titles about Shelly Ann’s recent victory had an incredibly negative tone, as opposed to the exciting catchy titles used to describe the events of male athletes. CNN’s recent article about Shelly Ann’s win was stated as “Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce Was Crowned the Fastest Woman in the World… Not That Many Fans Saw It.” An entire paragraph of the article was dedicated to talking about the “half empty” arena in Doha, rather than focusing on Shelly Ann’s accomplishment of victory. As seen from the pictures highlighting US sprinter Christian Coleman’s victory in the men’s 100m sprint, the stadium had similar levels of attendance, however, no portion of the article was dedicated to talking about lack of attendance.
Further, female athlete’s accomplishments are consistently outshined by men’s in the media. For example, American sprinter Allyson Felix recently crushed the previous world record for the 100-meter sprint held by Usain Bolt. Instead of the media stating her to be the “fastest sprinter alive” or “fastest sprinter in the world”, Felix is still referred to as “breaking Usain Bolt’s world record and being the “fastest woman in the world” rather than “person”. This occurrence can be referred to as the process of “othering” that often happens to women.
Othering refers to how men are seen are the “default sex”, and women are seen as an “alternative other”, therefore women often fail to be viewed as simply people instead of women in relation to men. This is seen in other sports outside the Olympics, and outside of running. For example, Olympian gymnast Gabby Douglas recently broke the record for most medals won by any gymnast (male or female), however, the Vox article reporting this story still labelled her as “Greatest Female Gymnast Ever” instead of the “Greatest Gymnist Ever.”
When it comes to dealing with sexism in any institution, the most effective way of dealing with it is recognizing it when it happens. Its also equally important for media contributors, like myself, to call out these instances and demand better and do better within our capacity. Whatever your media platform may be, whether it’s a newspaper, website, magazine, or social media platform you contribute to, it’s important to highlight the accomplishments of women in all fields free from negative undertones, backhanded compliments or comparison to men.