I didn’t want to let the Rio Olympics come to an end without a short post about sexism and the way language is being used to, once again, convey underlying, deeply entrenched ideologies involving the role of women in society. And, let me tell you, as a bilingual individual, I have to read sexist headlines in both English and Spanish.
Some of the instances of sexism can be read very clearly between the lines of posts and tweets, as in the case of bronze medalist Corey Cogdell (trapshooter), who was referred to by the Chicago Tribune as someone’s wife. In this newspaper’s eyes, Cogdell didn’t even deserve a name, the focus clearly (and somehow!) being on her husband, Mitch Unrein, a professional football player for the Chicago Bears.
In this case, a worthy piece of news is being addressed in a sexist manner, shifting the focus off the woman who deserved the attention to highlight the fact that she is, indeed, a wife: something we expect of women, the role we expect them to fill.
In other cases, sexism is basically the core subject of the news article:
Let me translate Olé’s headline and lead for those of you who don’t speak Spanish:
Girls from this Scandinavian country turn heads in the Olympic Village. When a group of blondes with blue eyes walk past, they steal everyone’s attention. See the pictures of Sweden’s delegation.
There is no point in this article beyond objectifying the athletes who worked so hard to get to where they are now. And when I say “objectify” I mean: think about the use of the word “doll” to describe a woman. Dolls are nothing but pretty objects to play with.
These are only two examples I found after browsing the internet for five minutes, but there are plenty of other cases. I’d compile a more exhaustive list but I do have a translation project to go back to. I chose these because they are being sexist in slightly different ways and in two entirely different languages, thus showing the pervasiveness of this problem.
All I want is for readers to be able to analyse what the news are offering, to be critical when it comes to reading any article and to avoid falling into this type of practice as much as possible. It’s hard work. I know. It takes an effort and it might feel a little bit disheartening. As a friend of mine once told me: discourse analysis has ruined my life.
I say: it is tough, but I’m always up for a challenge.