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August 22, 2016: “They might as well be standing in the middle of a mall,” said an NBC announcer. The comment was made when the U.S. women’s gymnastics team was photographed laughing and talking after they blew away the competition in a qualifying round at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Commentator Al Trautwig said 24-year-old Dutch gymnast Sanne Wevers, who was writing down her score after an event, looked like she was scribbling an entry in her diary.
Announcer Dan Hicks gave the credit for Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu’s gold medal to her husband and coach, calling him “the guy responsible.”
The Chicago Tribune identified bronze medal winner Corey Cogdell-Unrein in a headline as “wife of a Bears lineman,” without mentioning her name or her event, trap-shooting.
A BBC announcer, John Inverness, called a women’s judo match a “catfight” and the next day, interviewing British tennis player Andy Murray about his win, had to be reminded about the achievements of U.S. tennis players Venus and Serena Williams, each of whom has won four Olympic gold medals.
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During gymnastics coverage, two male Fox News announcers devoted several minutes of conversation to the female athletes’ makeup choices. Commentator Bo Dietl said: “When you see an athlete, why should I have to look at some chick’s zits or some guy’s zits on his face? Why not a little blush on her lips, and cover those zits? I like to see a person who wins that gold medal go up there and look beautiful.”
These and many other awkward comments by Olympics announcers- defining female athletes by their relationships to men, commenting on their appearances or stereotyping their behaviour — have made the 2016 Summer Games in Rio the centre of a heated conversation about how female athletes are treated by the media.
Equal time, unequal treatment
The Olympic Games are one of the few times women’s athletics get equal coverage with men’s on television. In 2012, the Games in London were the first to feature women competing in every sport, including boxing.
A 2015 study from the University of Southern California found that Los Angeles broadcast affiliates spent only 3.2 percent of their airtime on women’s sports, a number that actually declined from 5 percent in 1989.
The study found that the sports network ESPN has spent only 2 percent of its time on women sports, a rate that has not changed in 26 years.
But the Olympics are far more balanced: a team of researchers found that 58 percent of the first half of the Olympics telecast from Rio featured female athletes. Yet among journalists covering the Games, only 21 percent are female.
So perhaps it’s understandable that sportscasters and reporters are being criticised for how they talk about women — they have had very little practice, and these Games seem to be the first in which gender equality in sports coverage has become a major topic.
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A study from Cambridge University, released just prior to the beginning of the Rio Olympics, looked at more than 160 million words from news articles, social media, internet forums and elsewhere, analysing the words used to describe men and women in association with Olympic sports.
Men were found to be more often described as “great,” “strong” and “fastest.” Women, however, were most often described in terms that had nothing to do with their athletic ability: “aged,” “older,” “pregnant,” “married.”
Los Angeles-based market researcher Rebecca Brooks says such differentiations have existed for decades.
“I would argue that sexism in Olympics coverage is nothing new,” Brooks says. “Many of the broadcasters covering the Rio Olympics are the same reporters who have covered the events in past decades.”
Why, then, has sexist language in Olympic coverage become an issue this year?
Social media may be the answer, according to experts.
Social media feedback
“Today, the feedback loop for any on-camera performer is instantaneous via Twitter and Facebook and Snapshot,” says James Furrier, a journalist who teaches at Metropolitan State University in Denver, Colorado.
“Now we have MP3 files and YouTube and social media, weapons brandished by a ready-and-willing vast population of analysts, critics, pundits and trolls, all taking their chops whenever a broadcaster fluffs (makes an error),” Furrier says.
Not only is the audience able to respond quickly on social media, says A.J. Marsden, assistant professor of psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida, “millennials are a little more keen to pick up on these things.”
“A number of people who have been accused of sexist statements are a little bit older; they’re not used to being called out on this stuff. I don’t think they’re being intentionally sexist,” Marsden says.
She also notes that sexism in Olympics coverage goes both ways.
NBC morning host Hoda Kotb and correspondent Jenna Bush Hager smoothed coconut oil across the torso of Congolese athlete Pita Taufatofua on live television the day after the Olympics’ opening ceremony.
And Cosmopolitan magazine recently ran an article called “36 Summer Olympic Bulges That Deserve Gold,” featuring photos of male Olympic athletes wearing tight briefs. Sharp-eyed readers pointed out on social media that just two years earlier, Cosmopolitan had published an article titled “Men Who Objectify Women Are Effing Horrible.”
Journalist Lindy West, who writes about gender equality and body image, wrote a column for Britain’s The Guardian newspaper in which she offered some tips to journalists writing about female athletes.
“Don’t spend more time discussing female athletes’ makeup, hairdos, very small shorts, hijabs, bitchy resting faces, voice pitch, thigh circumference, marital status and age than you spend analysing the incredible feats of strength and skill they have honed over a lifetime of superhuman discipline and restraint.”
Instead, she said, journalists should write about female athletes “the way you write about male athletes — i.e., without mentioning their gender except maybe in the name of the sport.”
Kris Macomber, a sociology professor at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina, thinks the increased discussion about the way we describe athletes during the competition will improve accountability over time.
“Social media gives a voice to many who would otherwise be kept out of the conversation. Historically, voices of dissent and critique were marginalised and silenced,” Macomber says. “But today, with the internet and Twitter and the like, you can no longer silence people.
“When we see unfairness, we want to voice our dissent and now we have the means and platform to do so,” she adds.
Meanwhile, not all the news about Olympics coverage is bad. Female athletes are speaking up for themselves.
Nineteen-year-old U.S. gymnast Simone Biles told Sporting News that her considerable accomplishments — four gold medals and a bronze — should not be measured in relation to the accomplishments of male athletes.
“I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps,” she said. “I’m the first Simone Biles.”
As for how this year’s Rio Games will be remembered, the Cambridge experts who studied words associated with male and female Olympians will have some input. They plan to release an analysis of this year’s Olympics coverage in the next few weeks. (VOA)
Facebook says it plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to work on a new computing platform.
The company said in a blog post Sunday that those high-skilled workers will help build "the metaverse," a futuristic notion for connecting people online that encompasses augmented and virtual reality.
Facebook executives have been touting the metaverse as the next big thing after the mobile internet as they also contend with other matters such as antitrust crackdowns, the testimony of a whistleblowing former employee and concerns about how the company handles vaccine-related and political misinformation on its platform.
In a separate blog post Sunday, the company defended its approach to combating hate speech, in response to a Wall Street Journal article that examined the company's inability to detect and remove hateful and excessively violent posts. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Facebook, Metaverse, Augmented and Virtual Reality
As children, singing the rhyme Rock A Bye Baby was a fun thing to do. It was a statement of thrill and adventure to imagine a child climbing to the top of a tree and rocking to sleep. Especially in the Indian context, rocking a baby to sleep by attaching the cradle to the tree is quite a common thing. But the origin of this rhyme, or lullaby, seems rooted in other histories.
The most popular notion associated with this lullaby is of women leaving their babies tied to tree branches, rocking to sleep with the wind. It is believed that at the time this lullaby was written, it was inspired by a coloniser who saw the Native American women tie their children in birch bark cradles to the trees. The babies went to sleep rocked by the gusts of wind while the parents went about their tasks.
A Native American wooden cradle Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Another interpretation of the rhyme is that it is an allegory to Betty Kenny, or Kenyon, as some versions record it. The Kenyons were a tree-dwelling family, and they used to live in a yew tree. They had carved the tree branches to fit their babies and allowed them to nestle there during the day. The part of the rhyme that talks about falling off the tree is a little scary in this context, but the speculation is that the tree branches were quite low.
The final interpretation of the lullaby has political allusions. King James II of England, was the last Catholic king. He had no heir and reportedly used another baby to impersonate his own. But he was found out and exiled in the Glorious Revolution that took place after he was deposed. The act of falling down from the cradle is a metaphor for those who make mistakes from being overconfident or proud.
The many versions that exist of the rhyme/lullaby make it confusing to really know why it was written in such a strange and morbid manner. Each version points to a different time in history where certain practices were prevalent. However, despite all the various interpretations available, the lullaby itself works wonders in rocking babies to sleep, and perhaps that is the only reason it has survived.
Keywords: Lullaby, Rhyme, King James II, Kenyons, Native Americans, Colonisers
As kids growing up in different states, Shoba Narayan and Michael Maliakel shared a love of one favorite film — "Aladdin." Both are of Indian descent, and in the animated movie, they saw people who looked like them.
That shared love has gone full-circle this month as Narayan and Maliakel lead the Broadway company of the musical "Aladdin" out of the pandemic, playing Princess Jasmine and the hero from the title, respectively.
"Growing up, there was such little South Asian and Middle Eastern representation in the American media, and Princess Jasmine was really all I had. She was a huge role model to me as someone who was intelligent and strong and independent and beautifully curious, and that's who I wanted to be," says Narayan, who grew up in Pennsylvania.
The pair arrived at "Aladdin" in very different ways. Maliakel is making his Broadway debut, but Narayan is a musical theater veteran, having made her Broadway debut in "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812" and touring with "Hamilton" as Eliza Hamilton.
She was in "Wicked" as Nessarose when the pandemic shut down Broadway in March 2020. Her agent called in April with the prospect of auditioning for Jasmine. She sang "A Whole New World" over Zoom on gallery mode, pretending to be on a magic carpet. "It was a very unique experience," she says, laughing.
Disney producers flew her to New York to meet face-to-face and go through the material again. Narayan was asked to read with different Aladdin potential actors. She got the gig: "I went from a wicked witch to a Disney princess. Can't complain."
Maliakel, a native of New Jersey, came from the world of opera, a baritone who studied at Johns Hopkins University and the 2014 winner at the National Musical Theatre Competition. He trained his voice to be flexible, waiting for the right window to open.
"I didn't really see a lot of people doing what I wanted to do in the world," he says. "There just wasn't a whole lot of representation. So it's really hard to imagine yourself in those scenarios when you have no one to look up to as a role model or an example of how it could be done."
He played Porter and understudied Raoul in a national tour of "The Phantom of the Opera," which ended its run in Toronto just before the pandemic hit.
"I always dreamed that Broadway might happen someday," he says, laughing. "I'm just kind of dipping my toes into the waters in one of the biggest male roles in the business right now, and it's kind of surreal."
'Aladdin' featured as a Broadway Musical with a cast of Indian origin playing the main roles Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Broadway's "Aladdin" is a musical adaptation of the 1992 movie starring Robin Williams. The musical's story by Chad Beguelin hews close to the film: A street urchin finds a genie in a lamp and hopes to woo a princess while staying true to his values and away from palace intrigue.
Key Alan Menken songs from the film — including "Friend Like Me," ″Prince Ali" and "A Whole New World" — are used. The lyricists are the late Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Beguelin.
The show — and it's two new leads — had a few performances to celebrate Broadway's return from the pandemic this fall before it was forced to close for several days when breakthrough COVID-19 cases were detected. The actors say the safety of the cast, crew and audience are paramount and closing was the smart move.
"This is how we keep theater going in the pandemic," Maliakel says. "The other option is to just not do it at all. And that's not an option. A week's worth of lost performances, when we look back on things in a year or so, I think will just be a little blip on the radar."
They both look back with heart-thumping appreciation at the early performances when they welcomed back theater-starved audiences, who gave the company 3-minute standing ovations just for singing "A Whole New World."
"It is every brown girl's dream to be singing that song on an actual flying carpet," says Narayan. "And the fact that I got to do it on Broadway in the full costume with the lights and the 32-piece orchestra beneath me — oh, my gosh, I really had to hold it together. It was emotional overload for me."
Maliakel recalls that he and his brothers wore out their VHS cassette version of "Aladdin." He remembers having lunchboxes, pajamas and bed sheets with the film's theme. Aladdin was "every little brown kid's prince." Now he is that prince.
"Now, finally, to get to get paid to do it on the world's largest stage — it's not lost on me how crazy that is," he says. "The responsibility of my position right now feels really great. This moment sort of feels bigger than me in some ways, and I don't take that lightly. I think it's a really exciting time." (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Aladdin, Broadway, Musical, Indian Descendant cast,