Olympics and Male Objectification

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The Olympics are underway. I know I was unenthused about the opening ceremonies, but that doesn’t speak for the events themselves. While traveling over the past few days I did get to see some events here and there, and I realized I had bias to certain competitions on a basis that I may get called out on.

It’s sexism and objectification. Some would call it reverse sexism and objectification because it’s from a woman, towards men, but it’s really the same thing. It’s not as widespread or an oft denied pillar of society as misogyny and the hyper-sexualization of women, but I don’t think I’m the only spectator of Olympic events to treat the men competing differently from the women.

This is not regarding male athletic ability. This is about the basis of my preference for events: the aesthetic appearance of male athletes and viewing their performance with the lens of sexual objectification. I’ve been particularly drawn towards male diving, in which they wear tight swimsuits but don’t have their bodies hidden in water for very long. I’ve also been enjoying male gymnastics, with very fit competitors demonstrating flexibility and strength in maintaining positions that could work to my sexual advantage.

Athleticism in men is one of the most common sexualized characteristics, and evolutionary science has categorized it as a human means of luring in a mate. The participation of women in Olympic sports does not carry the same sexualization, as the sports in which they compete don’t allow for the feminine decorations of “beauty”. They are muscular, generally with smaller breasts, and in their events they sweat and grunt and wear clothing that tightly fits what is likely not an hourglass figure. Even female gymnasts, who wear makeup, tie back their hair, and are underage so not fully developed in the features that flaunt fecundity.

But the Olympics are still far from a feminist festival. Women compete separately under the assumption that because they’re of smaller frame and lesser testosterone that they are not as good as men. There may be biological validity to that, but the importance of sports and athleticism to culture over other things takes away some of the prestige of things in which women may have an advantage. When a woman is good at something, she is under scrutiny – like a few years ago when the South African sprinter Caster Semenya broke records as a teenager, arousing suspicion in officials who then publicly stated that she must go through medical testing to prove that she is completely female inside and out. (There were undeveloped male organs within her body that do come with higher testosterone levels than most other women, but announcing that and accusing her of cheating based on a medical issue she never knew about put her on suicide watch for some time after that.) Men, too, are undergoing higher scrutiny of performance-enhancing drugs, but that is not intended as an insult to the core of their gender identity.

On that note, men are pushed to unreasonable levels of competitiveness to defend their masculinity, but that is pressure from other men that is not inherently sexualized. Although it’s led by men and unhindered in reaching levels of taunting emasculation, the sexual element in bringing in women and gay men as an audience can’t be ignored. And I admit, I feel a little empowered in having good looking men put on such a show.

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