As part of our November newsletter, Madeleine Pape shares findings from her 2018 ASA paper on gendered organizational change within the International Olympic Committee. Madeleine Pape (www.madeleinepape.com) is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison whose research and teaching interests include gender, Science and Technology Studies (STS), health and medicine, political sociology, organizations, socio-legal studies, and physical cultural studies.
Every four years the Summer Olympic Games capture the imagination of millions of people across the world… and provoke the ire of feminist activists, scholars, and sports fans when again, still, the sporting field bears witness to blatant gender discrepancies. In Rio di Janeiro in 2016, for instance, a major talking point was the US media’s representation of high achieving female athletes: triple-world record holder Katie Ledecky was described as “the female Michael Phelps;” trap shooter and bronze medalist Corey Cogdell-Unrein was referred to simply as the “wife of a Bears’ lineman;” and one commentator attributed the successes of Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu to her husband, describing him as “the man responsible” for her gold medal and world record. Just when we appear to be closing in on gender parity in terms of the numbers of male and female athletes competing at the Summer Olympic Games, these commentators remind us how far we still have to go before sport becomes a space where women athletes truly enjoy equal respect and recognition. In the words of feminist sports historian Susan K. Cahn, “you’ve come a long way, maybe…” (1994, p. 279).