Stripping for Sochi: the demeaning way Russia is marketing its female Olympians

Date

Rachael Oakes-Ash

Curling champion:  Ekaterina Galkina.

Curling champion: Ekaterina Galkina.

I am always bemused when I stumble upon a snow sports athlete baring her all in a bikini or less for the pages of a men’s magazine. The stylists think it original to put them in ski boots and fur hats or lying on their tummy on a bear skin rug cleavage and legs in the air warmed by the open fire, just an average afternoon in the lodge.

I have heard the arguments that stripping off brings much needed focus and a new audience to women in sport, the same women who earn lesser prize money and get lesser sponsorship dollars despite the same travel costs as the men on the competition circuit. But is it the audience we want and what about the young girls looking to make it on the world stage, must they worry that they are pretty enough not just good enough to make it too?

The Sochi Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony is this Friday (Russian time) and the first snow sports events start on Thursday. All eyes are on Russia where the head of the Russian Orthodox Church declares feminism to be ‘very dangerous’ and a threat to the motherland. Websites such as Adme.Ru curate images of Russia’s top female snowsports athletes dressed in provocative g strings in laugh out loud poses. Though I think the humour is not intentional.

Ice hockey goalie: Anna Prugova

Ice hockey goalie: Anna Prugova

These same images went global when The Daily Mail in the UK chose to republish them quoting Adme.RU as writing, “we sincerely support our team and believe that its strength is not only in sports achievements. Our Russian Olympic team defies stereotype that women in sport are just a heap of muscles and masculine shapes.”

How did they do that? By posting provocative photos of championship athletes with impressive medal tallies straddling curling stones in their underwear and bending over in suspenders.

There is a way to photograph sports women to show the complexity of being feminine in a muscle and strength bound world. Clem Bastow wrote about it for  Daily Life and praised ESPN’s Body Issue magazine where female (and male) athletes expose the body’s that make them elite and do so in context. The images show how the body looks when in sporting competition in a powerful way.

I don’t pretend to understand Russian culture and how far women have to go to be considered equal in a land where speaking up can land you in jail. In the lead up to the Winter Olympics I do know that the four Russian IOC members are male, that seven of the nine member Russian Olympic Committee’s executive committee are male and six of the seven members of the ROC management team are male.  All this in a land where women outnumber men.

I know that a survey by Russian recruitment website Superjob.ru revealed that a third of Russian women wish they had been born men and only five percent of women in Russia consider life as a female gratifying. 

I can also assume from these recent images that have gone viral that Russian female athletes face a huge pressure to not just be brilliant at their craft but also be sexy and seductive in a totally contrived way. 

With gold medals up for grabs and a record number of Australian athletes competing, including more women than men for the first time, who will bow to the pressure to strip off when the mens magazine dollars come calling? Golden girl Torah Bright has managed to keep her millions, keep her podium places, keep her voice in the media and keep inspiring both men and women who respect her talent, focus and perseverance all without straddling a snowboard while sporting a nipple tassel.

 

I challenge the mens magazines to have Torah as a guest editor and see how she portrays the power of female snow sports athletes. The gauntlet has been thrown.

 

Rachael Oakes-Ash is one of Australia’s leading snowsports writers. She is Fairfax’s snow travel blogger and is reporting on the Sochi Olympics for her www.miss-snowitall.com site.

Follow her on twitter @misssnowitall

 

11 comments

  • So the author would prefer that the female athletes not receive any media coverage at all?

    The only other possible option is that she is complaining that other people prefer watching and supporting different sports than herself.

    This could easily be fixed by removing the truly sexist notion of men's and women's sports and having unisex competitions where anyone could enter. I'm sure the author would be fully supportive?

    Commenter
    Freddie Frog
    Date and time
    February 05, 2014, 9:50AM
    • So how about no divisions in sport? Ist graders mixed up with 3rd graders. Under sevens mixed in with teenagers. No weight divisions in boxing.

      Commenter
      Bee
      Date and time
      February 05, 2014, 11:37AM
    • So, Bee, unlike many other commentators on this site, you accept that, in many objectively assessed sports, men are better than women?

      Commenter
      Public Joe
      Date and time
      February 05, 2014, 1:13PM
  • is this beauty (symmetry + low body fat -ie; essential for an elite athelete) shaming? Only averages may grace the light of day?

    going past the statue of david doesn't really fill me with shame; rarther wonder and the fact that the body type then is still a desirable shape

    Commenter
    confused
    Date and time
    February 05, 2014, 9:58AM
    • If it weren't for the women posing in their underwear would anyone have any idea who they are or what they do? It certainly isn't ideal that they are better known for how they look rather than whatever sports it is that they each do, but given that in almost all sports women aren't as good as men and that most people who watch sport want to see the highest level of play possible, they have to do something else to get media and public attention which brings with it more money. Assuming nobody forced them to do the photo shoots (which may be wrong given this is Putin's Russia, makes socialism look so appealing huh?) so whilst it may not have been their ideal choice as to how to raise their pay packets they aren't being forced to do so. Hell, it just may be that some of them are proud of their bodies and don't mind being able to show them off?

      Commenter
      Hurrow
      Date and time
      February 05, 2014, 10:45AM
      • We can obsessively fight nature all we like, and make up quaint rules aplenty, but fact is: nature has rules which are immutable and always wins in the end while those who fight it never do.

        Nature has not gifted women with strength or resilience under pressure but has provided them with intelligence (not beyond men) and some pretty powerful ammunition by way of sexual desireability in order to attract the best available partner to procreate, as that is deemed by nature as the most important aspect to survival of a species. Hence a woman's "sexuality " is by nature, highly prizes but fortunately also looks are in the eye of the beholder, hence everyone gets a chance.

        We can spend eternity questioning these rules, protesting, pretending, making speeches but in the end it won't make one iota of difference. Women will never have the muscle of men, and can never compete at same level, but men will never look as great in a bikini nor have he sex appeal of a female athlete on skates, even though she can never compete with a male in an extreme sport..

        Commenter
        Reality Check
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        February 05, 2014, 12:19PM
        • "nature has rules which are immutable."

          Um. No it doesn't. At least not in the sense you're referring to.

          Physics has rules which are immutable (mostly). Chemistry and geology do as well.

          'Nature', by which I assume you mean biology, has behaviour and tendencies driven by a combination of physical evolution and cultural/social development.

          Neither of those things are immutable in the least. If they were, human beings wouldn't be human beings, we'd be small, post-Cretaceous mammals or unicellular organisms.

          Commenter
          DM
          Date and time
          February 05, 2014, 3:15PM
      • Look, our women are hotter than yours!

        I actually made the mistake of reading the comments underneath the article on DM. This doesn't do anything to promote their sport or help with sponsorship. No-one is taking them seriously as athletes but using them as wank material.

        Commenter
        Ripley
        Location
        Hunting Aliens
        Date and time
        February 05, 2014, 1:29PM
        • If it doesn't do anything to help them in one way or another then why are these women doing the photo shoot? Obviously they think there is something in it for themselves otherwise they presumably wouldn't be doing it.

          Commenter
          Hurrow
          Date and time
          February 05, 2014, 1:55PM
      • OK, so if playboy or Sports Illustrated (or, well nowdays, any number of magazines) were to show barely clad images of female US (or Australian) athletes would that be considered evidence of those countries official attitude to female sport? So why have you claimed that for adme.ru and Russia?

        Russia's attitude to women may be particularly poor, but this article does not make the argument particularly convincingly.

        Commenter
        Simon
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        February 05, 2014, 2:46PM

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