Sunday 9 February 2014

Supergirls Vs Superboys: Do the Olympics Send a Bad Message?

by Jordan Danger



On my mini ski-vacation this week, my partner and I watched the first few days of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The Olympics are the reason I still have cable TV. I love the Olympics more than Shark Week, and that’s saying something. But I was disappointed as I watched back-to-back coverage of the new snowboarding event called the ‘slopestyle’ course: the downhill track rife with pipes, rails, and jump-offs. It’s an impressive and controversial event, given that medallist Shaun White took himself out of the running because he felt the event would be too dangerous.

We watched the men take the course first. They flew down that track, performing aerial flips and spins that I’ve only seen in SSX games on the Playstation. I held my breath the entire time, watching them defy gravity and perform like superheroes. I decided this was my new favourite event.

Then the women came out, and I was tense with anticipation…until I watched a few head down the hill.

No women did anything that would be at all comparable with the boys’ high-flying stunts. It was, in comparison, a bit of a snooze. I pointed this out to my boyfriend and he reminded me that most Olympic events have a different standard for men and women. But this is one I don’t understand. Yes, women don’t typically have the mass to be as fast as men; and yes, in a physical game (like football or something of the sort), women also would have a hard time competing with men of the same athletic training. But women are gymnasts and figure skaters! We are lithe and dextrous and acrobatic! The lack of big tricks being pulled by women in this event made me wonder: are these lower standards truly based on a physiological limit we’re respecting? Or are we enforcing a cultural belief that women can’t/shouldn’t do more?

It makes me think of our fictional superheroines and how they so often seem to be play ‘supporting actress’ to the male heroes. I don’t agree with this and it drives me crazy. If Thor and Superman started battling it out, the ruckus would be loud, and messy, and involve a lot of head-smashing; and yes, there may be women heroines who’d need to steer clear of the entire foray if they wanted to keep their lives. But I’d wager that the comparatively powerless Black Widow could take ol’ Clark Kent down in about thirty seconds. She’d do it before his guard was up, by swapping a pair of Kryptonite-woven tights into his bag while disguised as an intern at the Daily Planet. But even without sneaky shenanigans, I’d also put my money on Batgirl taking out either of these giants: she’d use her smaller size and greater agility as part of her strategy, working to have the boys bash at supporting pillars etc, ‘til they accidentally brought themselves down with falling debris and whatnot.

My point here is this: women and men may perform feats of athleticism/heroism to different standards, but do we perpetuate the myth that women would score lower and have lower standards in each and every situation? If the women can’t get the same speed and air happening on the slopestyle event, should we consider creating a second hill that better suits the strengths of women’s bodies and gives women a chance to showcase their own mad skills? If we acknowledge there is a difference between a man and a woman’s bodies, then do we just reinforce a sense of women’s inferiority by having women run the exact same course even though we score 20-30 points less at our best or cannot even attempt half the same moves as the boys? Why not build that second track for women with more angle, longer rails, more balance-related pipes, or whatever it is that would help to showcase the physical superpowers of the female body? It’s not about building an easier track for the women—not at all. It’s about building a kick-ass track where women can really use their physiological makeup to its full potential.
I’m getting a little sick of the message that women and men are equal, because people interpret that to mean we’re equally good at all the same things in all the same ways. This is why, when people ask you which super would win in a battle against another, they so rarely ask a guy-vs-girl scenario. We need to stop thinking of equal as ‘the same’ and think of it like XP points: Thor may have level 9 strength, but he’s only got level 1 smarts, so my Black Widow, with her level 2 strength but level 8 smarts, is a fair competitor. Just don’t expect her to run straight at you, hollering, like Superman would.

Levelling the playing field isn’t always about making men and women do the same thing the same way: it’s about getting to the same goal (like a perfect 100-point Olympic score) by whatever methods are appropriate for the physiology of that person’s sex.

Not only is my money on Black Widow against Superman, by the way: it’d also be a lot more fun to watch than the usual bash-bash-smash-bash the boys bring us.

Jordan Danger is a veteran blogger, writer, and marketing consultant based in Ottawa, Ontario. She is also President and Editor of Jordan blogs at, a lifestyle blog about crafting life both literally and figuratively. She loves DIY projects, her dog, and Oxford commas.


  1. Yes!!! Well said, I love this article. I have long held the notion that women and men, though deserving equal rights and privileges, are not the same. We are different, and that makes us each special. :)

    1. Thanks for the support, Ashley! This was a perilous post to write, but I'm heartened to see I'm not alone in my sentiments!

  2. Stumbled across this and felt I'm actually (and unusually) in a position to comment! I blog about snowsports (and the inherent sexism within it) and this is something I noticed regarding the Sochi slopestyle - in particular when I heard a professional coach slating the female competitors for their lack of mad tricks.

    Having pondered about it a lot, I've come to the conclusion that it is a mixture of physiological boundaries and cultural conditioning that is creating the severe skill gap between the genders in slopestyle (both for skiing and snowboarding). Though I am not a freestyle rider myself, I am in the position to know a very good female snowboarder and work within the industry.

    I totally agree that a second track created to allow women to develop a style of riding suited to the skills of female physiology would be superb. I can think of only 3 summer olympic sports that expect men and women to compete on the same level, and 2 (possibly 3, I'm not sure about mogul tracks) winter sports that expect both genders to share the same track. Unfortunately, lack of resources means this it is unlikely that a separate female track will ever happen. It's verging on impossible to do - the resorts have to work within the confines of the mountain and often there are limited areas that are suitable for building these tracks. These tracks also take days to build, therefore making major alterations within the relatively short duration of the olympic games would be difficult to do. As much as I wish it could happen, it is difficult to see how it could be done with the natural, financial and time resources available to these events. I also know that some female riders would not want it as they see the male standard as the benchmark they want to work towards.

    The need for a separate track is not, in my opinion, the main reason that women are so behind men in slopestyle at the minute. There is a cultural aspect of freestyle that is bordering on disturbing. Very few girls are attracted to this sport in comparison to boys. It is a sport that is marketed at boys, and has a very laddish culture attached to it. Any girl trying this is going to have to be very thick skinned from an early age. At the moment we have professional level coaches perpetuating the idea that a woman isn't as good which is disheartening and discouraging for the young girls trying to get into this sport. Consequently, the girls are not achieving the standard by the optimum age (the theory goes if you're not performing major tricks by the age of 15 you won't make it, somewhat like gymnastics) because they're being pushed away and discouraged by the nature of freestyle culture. As we don't have the numbers coming through at an age young enough to be able to develop these massive tricks - the bronze medalist in the female slopestyle this year didn't start boarding until she was in her late teens/early twenties - we then have a problem of low numbers producing low results, and a lack of drive to push the sport forward.

    Slopestyle really needs to address the issue of a male-dominated culture before women will start being able to pull off tricks that get the higher marks. I'm pleased to say that there are some programs out there that are trying to address these issues. But it's going to be a while before we see women producing the same standard as men.


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