Built to Win: The Female Athlete as Cultural Icon

By Leslie Heywood; Shari L. Dworkin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Sport as the Stealth Feminism of the
Third Wave

In the years since the 1996 Olympic games, the American cultural landscape has changed for the better, at least for the female athlete. 1996 was the “year of the woman” at the Olympics. The year the cover of the preview issue of Sports Illustrated featured women, specifically five AfricanAmerican members of the women's basketball team, and their coach, Tara Van Derveer. The year hurdler Kim Batten was featured on one page, Michael Johnson the next. The year women athletes showed up in ads for every product you can imagine, ads attesting to female power and selfassertion, like the State Farm ad for the basketball team featuring a woman driving toward the basket that read, “These days little girls don't live down the lane—they drive down it.” 1 The year the women's gymnastics team and swimmer Amy Van Dyken appeared on Wheaties boxes. The year there was emphasis on women's achievements, not their looks, like the Sports Illustrated feature on sculler Ruth Davidon, which headlined her status as medical student and doctoral candidate, not her hair. 2

Structurally, however, it wasn't as clear as the media made it seem that “we'd come a long way.” Despite the fact that 36 percent of the athletes in this Olympics were women, up from 30 percent in 1992, 36 percent still leaves 64 percent of the competitors men. Even worse, there were only seven women among the 106 members of the International Olympic Committee. Of the 271 athletic events, 165 were for men only as compared to 95 for women only; only 11 events were mixed. 3 Like the full implementation of Title IX, it was clear that we still have a long way to go in the achievement of full equality for women athletes.

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