The Rio Olympics was an exciting one for women full of feminist moments. Unfortunately, there were plenty of anti-feminist moments where sexism was perpetuated and women's gender were being policed. But, women kicked ass, made history, and were just plain awesome! In case you missed any of the Olympic coverage, here's a recap of my favorite feminist moments.
Simone Manuel's Makes Important History
What better way to begin than with history? I cried when I watched Simone Manuel became the first Black woman to win gold in an individual swimming event (she tied Penny Oleksiak, from Canada). Simone's medal was so much more than an individual win, as she stated:
"This medal is not for me. It is for some of the African-Americans who have come before me. This medal is for the people who come behind me and get into the sport and hopefully find love and drive to get to this point."
While Simone is breaking racial and gender stereotypes, she looks forward to the day when she is known as Simone, the swimmer, and not "Simone, the Black swimmer." Part of what makes Simone's defeat so important is because the United States has a history of keeping African-Americans out of public swimming pools, like pouring acid in them. The sport of swimming, among others, has a racist history, and Simone's win is an essential part in changing that history. Simone also spoke out about police brutality and racism, today, stating:
“It means a lot, especially with what is going on in the world today, some of the issues of police brutality. This win hopefully brings hope and change to some of the issues that are going on. My color just comes with the territory.”
She won gold in the 100m freestyle, and went on to win three more medals, a gold in the 4x100m medley relay, a silver in the 50m freestyle, and a silver in 4x100m freestyle relay.
Katie LeDecky Swims Like Katie LeDecky & Breaks Her Own World Record
Katie is FIRE. This woman won four golds and one silver. She won all three of her individual swimming events (the 200m freestyle, 400m freestyle, 800m freestyle), and her team won gold in the 4x200m freestyle relay and silver in the 4x100m relay. Katie beat her own world record in her 800m swim and won by 12 seconds! She was, arguably, the most impressive swimmer to watch during this Olympics because she blew it out of the water EVERY TIME!
She's constantly been compared to Michael Phelps, which is part of the sexism that has been perpetuated at the Olympics. But, one announcer challenged this by saying,
"A lot of people say she swims like a man. She doesn't swim like a man, she swims like Katie Ledecky for crying out loud!"
Women are continuously compared to and held up to the "male standard." Why is "male" the standard? This is an important question we need to examine in order to progress social change, and making a statement like this is a step in that direction. Katie is not the new Michael Phelps, she is THE Katie Ledecky!
Katie also holds the world record in the 400m and the 1500m freestyle swims, however she wasn't able to compete in the 1500m freestyle in the Rio Olympics because the Olympics doesn't have an event for women in the 1500m. How can this be when we clearly have women who can swim this race and dominate? Unfortunately, this is not uncommon in the Olympics. For example, in track and field, women compete in the heptathlon while men compete in the decathlon. Yep, the decathlon includes more events than the heptathlon only reinforcing harmful stereotypes that women are "weaker" and need to compete in "lesser-than" events when they're clearly capable of much more.
I have no doubt that Katie will continue to smash her own world records and win more medals. And maybe even help change the sport of swimming and inspire other sports to change too in order to include the same events that men compete in so that women can show the power and potential that they already possess. Watch out for Katie in Tokyo 2020 Olympics and other swimming events worldwide!
Sakshi Malik Becomes First Woman from India to Medal in Wrestling at the Olympics
How awesome is it to see a woman who was shamed by people in her village when she first started wrestling at 12 years old pursue her passion despite discouragement, and be the first woman from India to medal in wrestling at the Olympics?! Thankfully, Sakshi had her parent's support, and now people from her village are excited to take pictures with her, but she's had to break down big barriers along the way.
“It’s so weird to see how people can change so suddenly, how they take interest in me now that I’m rising to the top, yet didn’t support me when I was starting out."
As someone who grew up with a dad that wrestled and had a woman training partner for a period of time, seeing women wrestlers was no surprise to me, but I recognize that women wrestlers are not as accepted in the sport both in and outside the United States. I am proud to see more women wrestlers out there competing in a sport that they love and excel at! Keep making history, Sakshi and other women wrestlers from all over the world!
(More on women's wrestling in India here.)
Fu Yuanhui Talks About Being On Her Period
What would a feminist post about Olympians be without mentioning Fu Yuanhui? While Fu Yuanhui might not have done well in her event, what she spoke out about is one of my favorite moments in the Olympics! She mentioned being on her period. Yes, that's right, her PERIOD! and because of this, Fu Yuanhui, is breaking the taboo of menstruation and I couldn't be happier. Hopefully this will encourage more people to talk openly about their periods normalizing a reality of the majority of humans.
Kristin Armstrong Proves that Age Is Not a Limiting Factor for One's Performance
Kristin proves that you don't have to be young in order to win medals in the Olympics! As we continue to see in athletics, age does not determine one's athletic performance as Kristin makes history winning her 3rd straight gold in cycling at 42 years old (she turned 43 the next day)! She is the oldest cyclist to medal in the Olympics. She said that winning anything less than gold was never an option for her.
"I think that for so long, we've been told that we should be finished at a certain age, and I think that there's a lot of athletes out there that are actually showing that that's not true."
Kristin shows other athletes that they, too, can compete at any age. I'd love to see her grab the gold at 47 years old in 2020 at the Tokyo Olympics!
Ibtihaj Muhammad Is the First Woman to Compete Wearing a Hijab
Ibithaj is one of the most talked about athletes at the Rio Olympics because she is the first American to compete in the games wearing a hijab. Talk about more history! These historical feats are representing the reality of diversity, and can bring positive social and political change as Muhammad believes she is doing:
“I am excited to challenge the stereotypes and misconceptions people have about Muslim women. America is all that I know. I feel American down to my bones. For anyone to challenge that idea, that I’m not American or that I don’t belong, it’s frustrating. I want people to see a Muslim woman in hijab represent the United States this summer. I don’t want people to think that that’s out of the norm.”
It's my hope that representation of American Muslims in the Olympics will help change the fear and ignorance that is prevalent in the USA. Visibility of marginalized folks is incredibly important in gaining greater acceptance and equality. Also, Ibithaj is on a mission to help girls and young women in her community, which you can read more about here.
Isadora Cerullo and Marjorie Enya
“The Olympic Games can look like closure but for me it’s starting a new life with someone. I wanted to show people that love wins.”
This beautiful reminder helps normalize queerness and more than one sexuality. As a queer person, it means a lot to see other queer and gay Olympians openly embrace their love, and to see a largely positive response from the media about it.
Helen Richardson-Walsh and Kate Richardson-Walsh
Speaking of queer love, we can't forget about Helen and Kate. They are the first married couple to play together on the same team and win Gold at the Olympics! How cool is that? Kate expressed her passion for it:
"It's really, really special. To win an Olympic medal is special. To win an Olympic medal with your wife there next to you, taking a penalty in the pressure moments is so special, and we will cherish this for the rest of our lives."
Put this one in the history books too!
Michelle Carter Snatches Gold & Speaks Out About Body Positivity
Michelle is the first American woman to win Gold in shot put, and she's sending the message to be yourself no matter what society expects of you.
“It has been a long time. And it’s something I think a lot of girls and women shy away from because it’s not looked at as something a woman would want to do or a woman should do."
In addition to being the best shot putter, Michelle is a makeup artist, and talks about how it's important for her to not change how she looks according to what society thinks a shot putter should look like. While not every girl or woman identifies as "feminine," Michelle is a great example of showing that you can be feminine and kick ass at a sport. The reality is that athletes are diverse consisting of a variety of identities, bodies, and looks. Michelle speaks of this diversity promoting body positivity:
“You have to understand everyone’s body was built to do something. I was built to do something, and that’s how I was built. I think the world is realizing we were promoting one body type and there have always been many.”
During this Olympics, I've particularly noticed that there are Olympians of many different body types proving that fitness comes in different shapes and sizes. It's refreshing to see Olympians embracing themselves whole heartedly!
Kerri Walsh-Jennings and April Ross Exemplify Solidarity & Feminist Bonding
I've never enjoyed beach volleyball more than this Olympics! It ended up being one of the events that I looked forward to the most. With Kerri being a three-time Olympic champion already and April being a dynamite player, the two made a fierce team with a shot for Gold in Rio. They ended up taking bronze, and one of the things that makes them so special is that they never give up. While they ended up losing their shot for Gold against one of the Brazilian teams, they played like bosses owning their bronze on the next night.
One thing I love about watching Kerri and April is that whether they score a point or not, they're ALWAYS giving each other high fives and congratulating one another. It happens EVERY time a team scores a point, whether it's their team or not. The constant positivity and encouragement that they give one another is one that I've never seen in sport, and gives a strong feminist message of solidarity. In fact, it makes me want to be on a team with another woman where we're supporting one another that much! Also, is it just me, or do they slap each other on the ass? I love that they feel comfortable expressing that kind of closeness and affection in their sport.
No doubt, Kerri is one of the greatest Olympians and April is a force to be reckoned with as well! They are powerful competitors who are focused on their athletic strength instead of their looks. In an interview with April, she talked about this focus.
"I'm not trying to look great in a bikini -- I'm trying to be as strong as possible and as powerful as possible for my sport."
April also spoke to the skinny "ideal" body type and how that's far from her idea of beauty and health.
"I don't feel like you should ever sacrifice strong for skinny. Strong is just as beautiful, and especially in sports, it's essential. I just never want to see any athlete sacrifice sustenance and field and taking care of their body in order to try and achieve this kind of skinny body type."
I'm so happy for Kerri and April winning a medal and I'm SO there for watching them anytime anywhere!
Simone Biles Demonstrates Power & Grace and Stands Up Against Sexism
Perhaps the most famous athlete during this Olympics is Simone Biles because, well, she's simply AMAZING! Simone is the best gymnast in the world. She dominated the gymnastics events winning Gold in four events and Bronze in one event. Simone has won more Golds than any other gymnast at world championship events. She is grace, easy, and power all in one! Plus, she's challenged sexism with her famous quote:
"I'm not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I am the first Simone Biles."
Indeed! Women don't need to be compared to men to be great. They are great all on their own. Simone Biles is THE Simone Biles and I can't wait to watch more of her dominance!
The Final Five Proves Girl Power and Strength
How could this list not include The Final Five? Just look at the photo above showing the POWER that is the best (and possibly oldest) women's gymnastics team. They were born ready to gain their Gold and they snatched it like they knew no other option. There is power when women come together as a team, and demonstrate their strengths and support one another. How could you not love watching them perform some of their greatest talents?
The Awesomeness that Is Leslie Jones!
This list would not be complete without LESLIE JONES! If you somehow missed it, Leslie was posting hilarious tweets about the Olympics when it first started. They were so awesome that NBC flew her down to Rio to be a contributor and cover the events in person. How frickin' amazing is that? She continued to deliver funny, supportive tweets about the U.S. Olympians and their performances. They couldn't have chosen a better comedian and supporter to offer entertaining commentary of the Olympics!
I know there were many more that I could have included, so let me know in the comments section what/who I missed! Let's keep this list going!