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Purdue expert: Sexism still prominent at the Olympics

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) – More female athletes are competing in this year’s Olympics than ever before, but a Purdue expert claims stereotypes about women are alive and present in the world of athletics.

News 18 spoke with Purdue associate professor of American studies Cheryl Cooky to find out what’s being done to combat the negativity.

“The stereotypes that we have about women are alive and present and thriving in the world of athletics,” Cooky said.

According to Cooky, female Olympians are being identified with or linked to their significant others or male coaches instead of being recognized as female athletes.

Cooky said it suggests to viewers that what matters more is what the women are doing outside of sports.

“This is all about challenging and changing the way we think about media representations of female athletes,” explained Cooky.

While she said it’s admirable for women to be portrayed as mothers, wives or girlfriends, it takes some of the focus off of their athletic accomplishments.

“It does send really conflicting messages, I think, to young girls and young women about what matters most in terms of who they are as individuals,” Cooky added.

While some focus is on the personal lives of male athletes, Cooky said the overall coverage tends to focus on what’s actually happening in men’s sports.

“Female athletes get portrayed primarily as mothers, as wives, as girlfriends, as opposed to focusing on their athletic accomplishments,” said Cooky.

She also said women’s physical appearances are mentioned far too often and that can create body image issues for young women.

“The fact that gold medal Olympians are critiqued for their body image, I think, is really illustrative and unfortunate that we are questioning the beauty or the appearance of someone who’s at their peak in terms of physicality and their physical performance,” she said.

Cooky stressed the need for parents to talk to not only their daughters but their sons about gender equality among athletes.

“This does impact boys and men as well in terms of how they see women, and what they expect or what they believe to be the strengths and capabilities of women in their lives,” Cooky added.

Cooky said although issues still exist, they’re becoming a part of the mainstream conversation.

She said social media has given a platform for people to voice their opinions about any negative stereotypes or sexist coverage.