It's always something.
Time and again, phony concern for women has been used to justify their exclusion from countless Boys Only clubs. And this year, it’s on display again at the Winter Olympics, where ski jumping is the one sport in which only men are allowed to compete.
It didn't matter that the International Ski Federation voted 114-1 to let women jump. And the Supreme Court of British Columbia -- the Canadian province where Vancouver is located -- ruled that the International Olympic Committee was clearly committing gender discrimination. No matter: the IOC could not be shamed. As IOC President Jacques Rogge "explained":
"We accept women's events when the quality is there," he said. "The issue is that for women jumping, we consider that there were too few international jumpers to award three Olympic medals. We did not want the medals to be watered down by too little a pool of very good jumpers."
This, despite the fact that 25-year-old Lindsey Van set a new record on the very hill on which men are competing at this year's Winter Olympics. And she's just one of 160 women registered with the International Ski Federation as elite jumpers, dozens of whom have placed in other international competitions.
The IOC also released a statement, claiming that women ski jumpers have not met the "necessary technical criteria" to "warrant a place alongside other Olympic events." However, the B.C. Supreme Court noted that many of the male competitors don't meet current standards either. But, the IOC reasons, since men have been competing in Olympic ski jumping since 1924, it wouldn't be fair not to let them compete.
And then there's this guy, Gian-Franco Kasper, head of the International Ski Federation:
"Ski jumping is just too dangerous for women. Don't forget, [the landing] it's like jumping down from, let's say, about two meters to the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view."
What does that mean? According to one of the women ski jumpers:
So far, we've been told every excuse in the book. That it's too "dangerous" for girls. That there aren't enough of us. That we're not good enough. That it would damage our ovaries and uterus and we won't be able to have children.
For the record, Mr. Kasper isn't a gynecologist. He isn't even a doctor. His degrees are in journalism, philosophy, and psychology. So he isn’t remotely qualified to express a "medical point of view" on anything, including women's reproductive health.
And he happens to be completely wrong anyway, according to the Position Statement on Girls and Women in Sport [pdf] from the IOC Medical Commission, published in 2002.
Girls and women should not be excluded from participation in athletic activity because of their gender. As with sports participation for all populations, the benefits for girls and women far outweigh any possible risks. The IOC Medical Commission encourages efforts to understand any possible special concerns of female athletes in order to develop and implement measures to reduce these athletes’ injuries and enhance the quality of their participation.
Oh, and this:
The female reproductive organs are better protected from serious athletic injury than the male organs. Serious sports injuries to the uterus or ovaries are extremely rare.
So if there is any group about whom the IOC should be concerned "from a medical point of view," it's the male athletes, not the women.
Unless, of course, their real concern has more to do with protecting the oh-so-sensitive male ego.
This is a big macho event in Europe. If suddenly you've got these little size-four girls jumping comparable distances, the men don't look so macho anymore.
Besides, once girls start performing as well as boys -- or better -- it’s not even a sport anymore. Just look at what women have done to bowling!
Barnes was beaten by a woman, giving him immediate entry into history's Male Ridicule Club.
How could a guy lose to a girl in an athletic event?
Bowling isn't an athletic event.
Rule No. 1 in determining whether an activity is a sport: If the best female in the world can beat the best male in the world, it doesn't qualify.
Better put a lock on that ski jump clubhouse door, just in case.
According to the IOC, the exclusion is justified because women ski jumpers suck (which they clearly don't), or there aren't enough of them (which there clearly are), or their record-setting performances somehow threaten the egos of the male ski jumpers (who cares?), or that women are prohibited from participating for their own good.
Yeah. Because the IOC is chiefly concerned with protecting women's health.
Except that it hasn't prohibited women from participating in gymnastics and figure skating, which both have high incidence of Female Athlete Triad, the triple threat combination of eating disorders, delayed menstruation, and decreased bone density, which occurs particularly among female athletes in sports that emphasize low body weight. (And there’s now a push to change that to "Female Athlete Tetrad" because it turns out that cardiovascular dysfunction is also a major risk.)
And if the health of reproductive organs is really of such paramount concern, where is the international outrage over men cyclists, who suffer from "significant fertility problems"? Turns out male cyclists are practically incapable of reproducing, leaving them with only about 4 percent of their sperm healthy and "normal." And then there are the increased risks of bone injuries and bone density loss. And worst of all, impotence.
This faux concern for women's health is not exactly new. In 1966, the Boston Athletic Association told "Bobbi" Gibb that "women were not physiologically capable of running 26 miles." She showed up, ran anyway, and ended in the top third of the race. And it still took the IOC another two decades to allow women to run the marathon in the Olympics.
The fight to specifically bar women from ski jumping isn't new either. Despite claims that women ski jumping just hasn't been around long enough to merit inclusion in the Olympics, women have been ski jumping since the invention of the sport in the 1800s, even though their male counterparts made every effort to keep them in their place and out of the game. In the 1950s, women were persuaded to stay out of the competitions because of "scientific" evidence that it would cause infertility. And they stayed out of the sport for 40 years.
Protecting women's fertility has been the rationalization for centuries to keep women out of all sorts of clubhouses.
Like higher education. In 1873, Dr. Edward Clark warned, in his highly respected Sex and Education:
"...a girl could study and learn, but she could not do all this and retain uninjured health, and a future secure from neuralgia, uterine disease, hysteria, and other derangements of the nervous system."
And, as we all know, allowing girls to study and learn has damn near led to the extinction of the entire human race.
This concern for delicate lady parts has long existed and is still invoked, even today, to rationalize discrimination. As if possession of female reproductive organs inherently subjugates women to the paternalistic purview of men. It makes them special, makes them an other -- and therefore necessitates special
protections restrictions to ensure that they can perform their first and foremost duty to society: to function as baby machines.
Even if this infertility hogwash were true, how does that give anyone, much less the IOC, the right to decide that women should protect their ovaries instead of pursuing their dreams? If Lindsey Van would rather jump off a hill than pop out babies, isn't that her right?
Today's blatant discrimination isn't about protecting women's bodies any more than it was back in the 1800s. It's about punishing women for daring to want the same opportunities as men and then having the audacity to stand up for themselves when a bunch of old men tell them no.
At least, according to this Dick.
"We'll have to wait and see," IOC member Dick Pound said..."If in the meantime you're making all kinds of allegations about the IOC and how it's discriminating on the basis of gender...the IOC may say, 'Oh yeah, I remember them. They're the ones that embarrassed us and caused us a lot of trouble of trouble in Vancouver, maybe they should wait another four years or eight years.'"
Gee, Dick. How awful for you and the IOC. How embarrassing that these women -- and the B.C. Supreme Court -- have called you on your sexism. How unfair of them to criticize you for your unfairness. Who do these uppity girls think they are, causing you all this trouble? Better barricade that clubhouse door for another four, or eight, or 86 years until they've learned their lesson.
There is growing pressure on the IOC to let women compete, with online groups like Let Women Ski Jump in 2010 and Let Her Jump gathering signatures to demand women's inclusion, and plenty of media attention, from Rachel Maddow to the Wall Street Journal, shining an embarrassing light on the IOC's double standards.
By the time women make their way into this Olympic event, today's athletes might be past their competitive prime. They know this. But they're continuing to fight anyway, for the next generation of girls who believe they can do anything -- even fly through the air. And one day, there will be a clubhouse where any skilled boy or girl can play, no matter how many punitive Dicks stamp their feet and insist No Girls Allowed.