Rod Liddle

This sexist assumption that women are weaker. It’s right, isn’t it

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There is something a little dispiriting about the furore over the Olympic women’s beach volleyball competition. Howls of anguish have greeted the suggestion that if our weather does its usual business in August, and rains, the nubile young women will feel inclined to dress in the manner of the Saudi women’s team, i.e. swathe themselves in clothing. Apparently ‘men’ are outraged at this prospect, having looked forward to watching four pairs of breasts bouncing up and down like excited puppies for a few moments. Really? I suppose if they were to stage the event in my back garden I might peer out of the window from time to time. But if it were held in, say, my neighbour’s garden, I don’t think I would drag myself from my desk to watch. I might tell people that I was going to pop round, just so as to appear normal — phwoar, women’s beach volleyball, I’ll certainly be borrowing a lot of cups of sugar in the next few days etc — but the prospect doesn’t excite me very much, in all honesty. 

Where I am more stereotypically normal is that a women’s beach volleyball game contested between copiously clad young women interests me less than it is feasible to express. It holds about the same attraction as, say, a lecture delivered by Will Hutton about the economic causes of social deprivation. It is not registerable as an interest. Although if Will Hutton were dressed in a bikini and jumping up and down with his tits jiggling around then I might go along out of curiosity. My point, though, is that beach volleyball is of interest only because of the female flesh on display. God alone knows how it became an Olympic sport.

This is the flip side of the argument now convulsing the women’s movement and the bien-pensant left — that the Olympics is sexist because women are not treated as equal. They compete for fewer medals overall, and their participation is, in many cases, taken less seriously than those of their male counterparts. One possible reason for this is that in contests involving strength, speed and reactive ability, women are nowhere near as good as men, and nowhere near as good by a very large margin. To give two examples, the fastest time set for a woman in the 1500 metres is 3.50.46, by Yunxia Qu of China. The record for men is 3:26:00. In the javelin the disparity is still greater — 80 metres for women, 104.8 metres for men. 

Most people, I think, understand this and can still be thrilled by the excellence of women athletes — after all, one can only play with the cards one has been dealt. But it does explain a little why there is a bias towards the men’s events; they represent the best in the world, without qualification. I ought to add that exactly the same argument applies to women’s tennis and, worst of all, women’s football. I think a Spectator house team might beat the England women’s team, if we shoved Charlie Moore in goal and maybe played a fashionable 4-4-1-1 with Taki lying, bandit-like, in the hole.

But this self-evident truth is not accepted, for reasons which are surely delusional. I received a press release from the otherwise excellent campaigner Peter Tatchell this week which suggests strongly that this delusion is the consequence of what Orwell called doublethink. At one point Tatchell bemoans the inequality inherent in the games and claims that this is based upon ‘the sexist assumption that women are the weaker sex’. But he must be aware that, sexist or otherwise, it is an absolutely correct assumption, surely?

He goes on to add his name to the ‘Justice for Women’ Olympic demands which include stuff such as no more gender stereotyping or homophobia or transphobia, an end to prostitution and a world of peace and harmony and equality to be established immediately and without argument. I think we can all agree with that.

There is also great complaint about the Saudi women’s Olympic team, or effective lack of it. In what has been seen in some quarters as a historic compromise, the Saudis have deigned to send two women to participate in London — although neither of the two actually live in the medieval Islamist desert rathole. Further, the Saudi authorities have demanded that these two women compete while wearing the usual sackcloth and ashes get-up, the stuff Saudi men like their women to wear. Needless to say, their women will not be competing in the beach volleyball. 

This must end, says Tatchell — and so too the demand from the Iranian authorities that their babes cover up a bit. Well sure, it’s something which we over here find terribly offensive and uncivilised and is undoubtedly evidence of a pernicious attitude towards women’s equality. 

But in how many middle eastern countries are women discriminated against — all of them, except Israel? Should we ban all Arabs from taking part in the Olympics until they’ve put their house in the order we would like it to be? Or maybe all Muslim countries? I can’t see someone as politically correct as Peter, or for that matter the Justice for Women monkeys, signing up to that sort of proposal. And of course we could go further: do gay sportsmen get a fair crack of the whip, so to speak, in Uganda or Nigeria or Zimbabwe? We would be left with an Olympics contested between Denmark and Sweden.

Anyway — for those of you who were looking forward to the women’s beach volleyball, let me suggest an alternative source of pleasure. Check out the Australian swimmer Stephanie Rice, who will definitely be wearing very few clothes and maybe even the swimsuit she posed in for a magazine recently. A very attractive young lady who recently got herself into trouble for describing South Africans as ‘faggots’. Don’t tell Peter.