I’ve thought this for a long time. But whenever the Olympic spotlight is on, and I hear/read mocking of sports like figure skating, I think about it a lot. I’m not sure I’ll articulate any of this nearly as well as I want to, but here goes:
I don’t believe it’s a “coincidence” that the sports that seem to draw the most derision in the Winter/Summer Games are figure skating, rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming – two of which are women-only events and all of which emphasize so-called stereotypical “feminine” qualities such as grace, flexibility and elegance.
Most of the people _ often, but certainly not always, males – who deride these events seem to be angry/annoyed that these competitions don’t fit their own personal definition of “sports.” A definition formed by reverance toward abilities that *they* most value and (surprise, surprise) that the best men biologically have an advantage in over the best women: namely speed and strength.
Women usually have the edge on men in grace, elegance and flexibility. Ergo, I think the derision toward sports where those qualities are paramount reflects a deeper issue than many people are willing to admit.
What’s really bugging them so much about figure skating? I think for many, it’s very irritating when something typically labeled “feminine” (by those who feel they must label everything) appears to be getting valued as much, if not more, than something typically labeled “masculine.” And it’s especially irritating to them when it comes to sports.
Now some may say, “Oh, no, that’s not true – I know plenty of women who think figure skating is silly!” And that’s definitely the case. But my point certainly isn’t that all women or all men feel the same way. Some of the biggest champions and supporters of women’s accomplishments I’ve known are men. Conversely, some of the biggest sexists I’ve known are women – they deride and devalue most things other women do.
My point is that some people – men and women – seem to have a button pushed about something like figure skating that they typically don’t acknowledge.
Admittedly, there are those who say, “Look the only reason I really don’t like figure skating is because it’s a judged sport.” I do believe some viewers really are bothered by that to such an extent that it mars their ability to appreciate or enjoy a sport. Still, I’d point out that “judgment” – in the form of officiating – is involved in every sport.
And I’d ask why is it that aerials or moguls or ski jumping or even snowboarding don’t seem to be derided as much as figure skating even though they are also judged events. I’m not saying they are never criticized; some folks intensely dislike moguls, aerials and snowboarding in particular because they think they are just “hot-dogging” and not real skiing.
I just don’t think they get mocked the same way that figure skating does, nor does the fact that they’re judged events seem to be such a “problem.”
Look at boxing in the Summer Olympics. That’s a sport that relies mostly on judgment (save knockouts) to decide the winners. And while there are always complaints about the way fights are scored, there isn’t some overall gripe that judging is such a critical part of that sport.
That’s why I think the “I don’t like judged events” response from those who deride figure skating is sometimes a smokescreen for something else.
Ice dancing gets more derision than any other discipline in figure skating. And nobody is going to deny that certain costumes/performances are over the top in goofiness. Yet is that really fundamentally different than when an alpine skier goes too fast or takes too dangerous a line and loses control? In both instances, competitors push the envelop. Sometimes they nail it, and sometimes they wipe out.
It’s just that one is more an artistic envelope and the other is more a physical one. For those who suggest that sports shouldn’t have any artistic envelopes, I’d suggest you want to live in a far more narrow sports world than I do.
Ultimately, I’m absolutely NOT saying those who don’t like figure skating automatically are sexist or devalue things that highlight women more. Obviously, not everything is for everybody. I don’t care at all if people just don’t like it and ignore it. But …
When people gripe and complain during the Olympics that something “isn’t a sport” – a phrase I loathe, by the way – it sure seems most of the time their target is either a sport only women do or a sport that both men and women do, but that women get more attention for doing (which is the case with figure skating) and that places great value on qualities/skills that some women have in abundance.
Then there is the whole issue of how men in figure skating are perceived in terms of masculinity and how that might “threaten” other men … but that’s some amateur psychoanalysis for another day.