Saturday, August 16, 2008

Separating the men from the boys

Unlike many bloggers I've been enjoying selected parts of the Olympics, especially the equestrian events which are always beautiful and exciting to watch -- the horses are wonderful, graceful, powerful creatures and the riders are incredibly gutsy and smart. My benchmark for watching horses and riders is an unforgettable afternoon once in Vienna when I went with my friend Helen to watch a training session of the Lipizzaner Stallions, in the indoor arena of the Hofburg palace where these horses and their riders are based.

Because it was a training session, of course some of the horses were only half-trained. They're stallions (duh), and everyone knows what that means. And because they originated as war-horse training, the elaborate, unnatural 'dancing' movements of these horses were originally designed to kill and maim, or to set up the rider to do likewise. Watching the strong, sweating, white-faced riders, some of them hardly out of their teens, as they controlled these horses without hurting them, was the second best lesson I've ever had in what it actually takes to ride a horse properly. (The best was when I fell off a cantering horse onto some rocks at the bottom of a dry creek bed and heard my mother's voice clear as a bell from 750 km away saying in ringing tones 'You get back on that horse.' I did.)

I've also been enjoying the swimming, which was my favourite sport as a teenager. What I have not been enjoying is the commentary; while I appreciate some (not all) of the commentators' knowledge and expertise, I've been depressed if not surprised by the way that the overwhelmingly male commentariat refers to male competitors as men and female competitors as girls. Several people have blogged about this over the last few days.

But I've had it on all afternoon and evening while pottering round the house and I've noticed something even more sinister. There are not two categories, but three. They're calling the women 'girls', the white men 'men', and the black men 'boys'.


Suse said...

I've been pissed off at the men and girls thing, but I hadn't come across the third category. That's just plain shocking.

Peter said...

Loved the balance of the post - that last sentence came with a huge punch!

kris said...

I must say I have been suffering from a severe case of commentator rage... I usually get into the Olympics a little more than I think I'm going to but this time I can't cope in the slightest. If only they'd shut up and let the audience get on with viewing the sport. Inane comments coupled with the knowledge that someone's house was probably knocked down so some little midget can prance about a stadium with a ribbon just makes it all so disappointingly pointless.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Did you read this? In summary: "Oh how cute! An African in a swimming pool."

Mummy/Crit said...

My god! Really?!? When a competitor finishes well I think "good girl" or "good boy" to myself, but that's because I'm an unreconstructed mummy, and still say "good boy" to my boys a lot. And I'm now older than most of the competitors.

lauredhel said...

"There are not two categories, but three. They're calling the women 'girls', the white men 'men', and the black men 'boys'."

Oh, ugh. I've been on the lookout for this, but haven't yet watched enough footage to collect the data.


Pavlov's Cat said...

Kris, I couldn't agree more about people's houses being knocked down -- I read about that in Who Weekly, of all places, and it raised them in my opinion no end. Especially since that's the only place I've seen anything about it. There seem to have been far more people made homeless than the Chinese were claiming, and they weren't being given sufficient compensation to get a new house.

Alexis, that article's tone really is extraordinarily horrid.

Lauredhel, I was in the opposite situation in a way. I wasn't looking out for it, but it forced itself on my attention.

Anonymous said...

"There are not two categories, but three. They're calling the women 'girls', the white men 'men', and the black men 'boys'."

Be thankful Triple J's not doing commentary, or you could add "Chicks" to the mix.


Liam said...

PC, I read this yesterday afternoon and meant to come by this morning to say that in my several hours of Olympics-watching I hadn't heard "boy".
Alas, I turned on the TV last night and heard it used immediately. Booo.

Anonymous said...


And it doesn't stop there ...

I watched men’s gymnastics last night (horse vault) and heard this after an unsuccessful second vault from a French gymnast: “Oh, no, he fell right on his French bottom!”.

Yesterday’s women’s 100 m hurdle race was eventful, not only because the Swedish hurdler had a fall, and the Australian Sally McLellan did so well to qualify for the finals, but because I was momentarily startled when the commentator added this clarification about the Canadian hurdler Priscilla Lopes-Schliep as the competitors were introduced before the race: "She is not the usual shape, if you know what I mean". The Canadian also qualified for the finals.


Lefty E said...

Blimey, you're right. Just heard the 7 idiotariat say "boy" at the 200m semis. Unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

g'day PC, i havn't seen enough of the olympics yet to have noticed that snafu, but you reckon the commentators would have learnt from that time when Bert Newton called Muhammed Ali boy to his face on the logies back in the 70's.

Armagnac Esq. said...

Points well made, but in a thoughtful reconstructed world would we even watch or get excited about this homage to pure darwinian aggression?

* he says, between watching boxing and water polo *

Pavlov's Cat said...

Actually I noticed they were saying 'boy' less with track and field, and got to wondering whether that was because black athletes dominate and are therefore more or less the norm there.

As for 'right on his French bottom' -- yes, I've also noticed a bit of an animus against the French! I wonder if that's some kind of contagious hangover from the US snit ('freedom fries' etc) when they wouldn't join the Coalition of the Willing.

Armagnac, as you are no doubt aware, you are watching two of the most aggressive sports! I like the 'graceful celebration of skillz and fitness' thing, so prefer gymnastic and equestrian events.

Feral Sparrowhawk said...

This might be an appropriate time to tell one of my favourite stories about race and sport. I read it in an account of being growing up a left-wing white in the US south, but regrettably I can't remember the author.

The author's local football team had held out against integration longer even than most of their opponents in the state league, but eventually gave in and recruited a black player.

In the first play of the new year the new recruit was subject to a tackle of debatable legality by a black member of the opposition.

Behind the author someone in the stands bellowed "God damn it ref, get that bloody nigger off our nice colored boy."

Integration of sport had changed the south, the author concluded, but not that much.

You'd think the commentators were a bit beyond that though.