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Women Win Gold But Men Get The Glory

We must not diminish our success by talking down our role in it.

10/08/2016 7:10 AM AEST | Updated August 10, 2016 07:11
Tony O'Brien / Reuters
It was Katinka who swam the race, not her husband.

On Saturday, Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú shattered a world record in the 400-metre individual medley. Her race was split-screened with her husband/coach Shane Tusup's reaction. Commentators identified him as "the man responsible" for her athletic turnaround.

While it's reasonable for an athlete to give credit to their coach for their part of their success, it seems unreasonable to give them all the credit. After all, it was Katinka who swam the race, not her husband.

This isn't a one off incident. When the Chicago Tribune reported the bronze medal win of their hometown Olympic star Corey Cogdell-Unrein, they not only failed to mention what event she competed in, they didn't even mention her name.

"Wife of a Bears' lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics," the paper tweeted.

A three-time Olympian, this was her second Olympic medal in trap shooting. But no, her greatest claim to fame (at least according to the Chicago Tribune) is being wife of NFL lineman Mitch Unrein.

Unsurprisingly, it's not only poolside or trackside we see the success of women attributed to the great men in their lives. Just look at Hillary Clinton. The day after she became the first woman in history to become a major party Presidential nominee, it was her husband's face splashed across the front page of some of America's leading publications such as the Washington Post. A tweet calling out the blatant sexism said it all: "Bill Clinton Back in White House. Brings Wife."

The reality is that for all the progress of the past century, women are still held to double standards and judged more harshly than men when they fail to meet them. Many successful women I know are often asked how they 'do it all' (referring to how they manage to raise children while forging a successful career). Men are rarely, if ever, asked (my partner certainly isn't). Nor are they judged by the same yardstick when they don't manage to 'do it all' perfectly, every time, with flawless grooming.

A recent study by Cambridge University Press highlighted the different lens used to view and describe women athletes. Researchers analysed thousands of words in sporting articles to identify patterns in the way men and women are written about as athletes. They found common word associations or combinations that continually appeared for women included 'aged', 'older', 'pregnant' and 'married' or 'unmarried'.

By contrast, the top word combinations for men were adjectives such as 'fastest', 'strong', 'big', 'real' and 'great'. They also found that the performance of male athletes was more likely to be described with adjectives like 'mastermind', 'beat', 'win', 'dominate' and 'battle'. Female athletes were more likely to have their performance described with softer, more ladylike, words such as 'compete', 'participate' and 'strive'.

Of course, it would be convenient to lay all the blame at the feet of editors and journalists who've yet to confront their own gender bias. Yet research also shows that women are more likely to attribute their own success to external sources (from a supportive husband, great coach, lucky break or helping hand) than men, who are more likely to attribute it to sheer hard work or innate talent.

So while the media have plenty of work to do to weed out long established gender bias, women do also. Of course, there's nothing wrong with crediting the important role others have had in helping women accomplish what they have -- whether it's an Olympic medal or a seat at the board table -- but we must not diminish our success by talking down our role in it.

After all, whether it's long hours in the pool, early mornings juggling children or late nights finishing off a client presentation, we did the hard yards and we deserve to be wherever they landed us.

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