In terms of the numbers, the 2012 Olympic is a hallmark year for female athleticism, with women consituting over 40% of the approximately 10,500 athletes set to compete at the London Games. The USA has sent more women than men to compete, a testament to the impact of the 40th anniversary of Title IX. And for a first in Olympic history, every participating country is sending female athletes – over 200 countries, including Qatar, Brunei, and Saudi Arabia. Less than 20 years ago at the 1996 Atlanta games, 26 countries did not send women.
While the Olympic Games will arguably give women more equal attention and front-cover exposure in the athletic arena, the games still struggle to reconcile expectations of femininity in the context of athletic prowess.
A recent post by Amanda Marcotte for Slate.com catalogues the abuse and neglect endured by female athletes who don’t fit the ideals of feminine physique or appeal commercially as sex symbols. The double-standards for these women manifest in the form of active ridicule, like the Twitter abuse experienced by young British female Olympic weightlifter Zoe Smith, or the nasty commentary questioning the fitness of four-time Australian Olympic participant and swimming gold-medalist Leisel Jones. It also occurs in the discouragement and sexism overcome by 17-year-old American boxer Claressa Shields or the lack of sponsorship for 275 lb American Olympic weightlifter Sarah Robles, the strongest American competing – female or male.