American female exceptionalism at the Olympics

Keeping tabs on which country is “winning” the Olympics — and we know which country this is — is one of the most jingoistic activities of an already jingoistic event, at least what is presented to American viewers.

Much has been made about the success of U.S. women athletes at the London Olympics, and there is quite a bit to celebrate. From gymnastics to women’s soccer and now boxing, the triumphs of American females at these Games were noteworthy.

Whether it’s Gabby or Alex, Missy or Candace, Sanya or Abby, they’re “our girls,” the newly-minted heroines of Olympic glory, as important to American medal collection as the men. The “Title IX Olympics,” some have proclaimed. In fact, this Tweet was making its rounds quite frequently:

“If US Women were a country, they would be ranked 3rd in Medal Count. Thank you Title IX.”

In the myopia of American culture, especially when it comes to the Olympics, this means that women have now become an integral part of the jingoistic narrative of how we will officially remember London.

This began early during the Olympics with the Stenographer of the Sisterhood, naturally, who clucked as only she can::

“The last grouchy anti-Title IX holdouts must have succumbed by now. Either that or they are hiding in their closets. Americans love to win more than anything else, and the nation’s greatest winners are now women.”

To not wax euphoric about what she does, of course, is to be “anti-Title IX,” and suggesting otherwise was implied repeatedly to those of us in supposedly resistant precincts by the American sports media herd in London.

None could be bothered to point out that Title IX has had absolutely no impact on quite a number of these sports, most notably gymnastics, tennis and boxing. Teen swimming sensations Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky are where they are — just as Janet Evans was nearly 25 years ago — because of superb club training programs more than scholastic sports, which limits their time in the pool and access to world-class competition.

This is not to diminish what Title IX has produced, but to illustrate that it’s never been the predominant factor in some sports, contrary to the assertions of women’s sports advocates and journalists pandering to an easy storyline.

The second portion of the above quote is more to the point. The maturity of women’s sports in the U.S. is feeding into our “winning” culture, which attracts all-important media and corporate sponsorship attention that improves mainstream standing. Title IX has been an important vehicle to an end that, when you think of it, runs counter to what the law was supposed to be about.

That’s an irony that will always be missed by the celebratory American media. What also isn’t being written is how truly gargantuan the gap between U.S. women athletes and female athletes around the world has become. The London Olympics revealed that the American Olympic industry — for men and women — is as strong as it has ever beenThat’s the real difference, as much, if not more, than the long-term effects of Title IX.

Meanwhile, for female athletes in other countries, who in some cases were trotted out as tokens for Western media consumption, or were seen as victims of the “gender police” for other cultural reasons, their prospects don’t appear to be all that brighter with the London Games complete.

Outgoing IOC president Jacques Rogge hasn’t exactly been a paragon for gender equality in his tenure. But he is a realist, as he showed Sunday when asked about the next steps for the progress of women in sports, at least outside the United States:

“We are going to continue to discuss with the local authorities and sports ministries and try to find strategies and solutions to improve the situation.

“It will take time. The ideal situation will not be found tomorrow. This is work for probably a decade at least to see major improvements.”

In the understandable excitement over the female American exceptionalism demonstrated in London, these comments will be utterly forgotten — if they were noted at all — on these shores.

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One Comment

  1. Bern
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    These results were certainly impacted by Title IX. Reference lack of collegiate program level support for men’s intercollegiate Soccer, Gymnastics, Rowing and Wrestling.

    In spite of Brennan’s proven track record of bias I’m still a bit surprised she didn’t anticipate someone reviewing the deterioration of men’s NCAA programs that drove these results and calling her on it.

    Will be putting together a four decade tracking of men’s programs versus olympic results.