What’s the right way to be a female Olympic athlete?

Over the weekend Jeré Longman of the New York Times published this piece about female Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones. It is by all accounts pretty scathing. Alyssa Rosenberg calls it “one of the nastiest profiles” she’s ever seen. David Roth calls the article “unfounded and unfair” and Isaac Rauch of Deadspin found it so harsh that he goes to considerable effort to tear it apart line by line. Additional takedowns here and here.

But all these critics of the Times piece are missing the point. Lolo Jones needed to be called out for committing what’s become an all-too-common mistake: trying to be Olympic While Female. It goes without saying that she’s doing it all wrong. Sure, she’s representing her country on the world stage, raking in endorsements, and inspiring an entire generation of young women to achieve their dreams. But Jeré Longman has a point, as he sits in a dark room typing furiously away on his computer while googling “lolo jones sucks amiright”.  And his point is this: there really is only one right way to be an Olympic Female Athlete. I understand that this may seem confusing right now, what with all the opinions being bantered about. Thankfully, I’ve compiled all the rules here, in one place. You’re welcome.

The DO’s:

DO have a compelling story of perseverance. At the very least, you should have sustained multiple injuries on your journey to Olympic greatness. Bonus points if you come from poverty and/or a broken home. Whatever you do, be sure the sentence “she had a brief and desperate career as a child shoplifter” applies to you. This will come in handy later when the New York Times wants to portray you in a mocking, unfavorable light.

DO execute a non-cynical marketing strategy. Now, normal civilians like you and I may have no idea what a non-cynical marketing strategy looks like, but Olympic athletes should be able to figure it out. One thing’s for sure: it doesn’t involve you having sex appeal, in any form, ever. *Note: While tempting, non-cynical marketing strategies are not to be confused with non-cyclical marketing strategies, which are never a good idea. The market is always cyclical. I know this from watching lots of movies about Wall Street.

DO be feminine. Consider yourself warned: should your behavior while kicking ass in the sport of your choice arouse suspicion of indecent amounts of manliness, hormone levels are fair game.

DO make sure your looks are more meager than your skills. More meager by a long shot. If you’re not sure whether your looks or skills are more meager, ask Jeré Longman.

DO be lucky. It’s the only way to win while female.

DO pick a v-word and stick with it. Have you ever been a victim? There goes your career as a vixen. Never had sex? As a virgin, you’ve forgone the opportunity to become a violinist. And if you would at all classify yourself as vituperative, voluptuous, or venerous, best not try to travel for leisure, lest you come to be known as a vacationer or a voyager in the process.

Now onto the Don’ts:

DON’T talk about your compelling story of perseverance. Let others discover the dark truths of your past and debut them on a network hour-long special featuring touching, feel-good music and interviews with your old neighbors and schoolteachers. The world will come to know your story, but you must never tell it to them directly. The media will do that for you!

DON’T cry. There’s no crying in the Olympics.

DON’T be fat. Are you a top athlete competing to be the best in the world? Fatty.

DON’T be hot. Lest your skills be perceived as more meager than your looks (see “do” number 4) and you mistakenly draw more attention to beauty than achievement. Which reminds me:

DON’T be ugly. As an Olympic athlete, it’s your job to make sure you’re attractive to everybody all the time. On a related note, be sure to get that hair did!!

If this all seems a bit much, there’s one simple rule you can follow: DON’T be a woman at all. Because let’s be honest: these days, if you want to be an Olympic athlete without incurring the wrath of the New York Times and other mainstream media outlets, as a woman you’ve already messed up your chances.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/kith51/ Debbie Notkin

    This is completely brilliant! I want to send it to everyone I know. Thank you.

  • http://feministing.com/members/smsintexas/ Sarah

    The basic gist of this author’s piece is that this woman is awful because she is pretty and not #1. If she was ugly and not #1, or pretty and #1, she would be cool. But being pretty and not the best is unacceptable. Although how does one really argue that an athlete is “no good” when they’re a freaking Olympian?? What an idiot.

    • http://feministing.com/members/angelh/ Angel H.

      Is the word “satire” not in your vocabulary?

  • http://feministing.com/members/treefinger/ Candice

    Actually what sucks about this is that people have seen a legitimate problem (the amount of deals, press, and coverage Jones get is ridiculous compared to Dawn Harper, the gold medal winner at Beijing who goes largely ignored) and gone about confronting it the wrong way. They shouldn’t be scrutinizing and criticizing Jones, who hasn’t really done anything wrong and does deserve some praise for being a great athlete, they should be seeking to restore balance by praising Harper’s even greater achievements. They could also criticize the sexism in the coverage of the Olympics and the media instead of Jones herself for the attention she’s receiving. Her white privilege and the media’s obsession with her conventional beauty HAVE led to a saturation about her that has been detrimental to athletes like Harper in terms of sponsorship and attention. Unfortunately most people would rather blame Jones as an individual, who has little power to change the situation, than challenge the structural inequalities that led to this whole situation.

    • http://feministing.com/members/vardaman/ Joshua

      I agree Candice. How is any of this Jones’s fault? She’s an athlete in a sport where financial opportunities come from endorsement and she’s been offered lots and lots of them. She’d supposed to forego the main (or only) source of the income she needs to train, much less live in order to do what exactly? Fight the patriarchy?

      The misconception I think many people have in these situations is that if Jones turned down all those endorsement deals the money would magically flow to other women, like Dawn Harper. That’s just not how it works. So why should we blame women who benefit from the system for the existence of the system?

  • http://feministing.com/members/flutterby/ Tea

    This article is grating. It’s the typical snarky meta-commentary that substitutes sarcasm for criticism. It starts with a straw man argument (“his point is this: there really is only one right way to be an Olympic Female Athlete.”), and piles on righteous indignation until culminating in hyperbolic paranoia (“if you want to be an Olympic athlete without incurring the wrath of the New York Times and other mainstream media outlets, as a woman you’ve already messed up your chances.”). Lori obviously hasn’t read the thoughtful NYT profiles of Missy Franklin, Queen Underwood, or dozens of other female athletes.

    That said, I thought Jere Longman’s piece was way too much, and raises a lot of issues that are worth discussing (not just the ones he seems to be aware of). Female athletes definitely face a different standard than male athletes. They face more pressure to, and more criticism from, selling sexiness (see: Danicka Patrick). More generally, glorifying athletes means glorifying young people who (gosh) really don’t have it all figured out yet. Even more generally, hard work in sports and in society often takes a back seat to marketability.

    Those are all good things to talk about. But instead, we’re reading through an attempt to feel morally superior by mocking imagined arguments, circularly referenced from other feministing articles, that no one is actually making.