“The shortest of shorts are being worn by British girls. And the tightest of sweaters appear to be worn by the women of Poland.” That’s how AP described the scene in October 22 as the 1964 Olympic Games were winding down and many of the athletes had finished their competitive pursuits.
The AMC series Mad Men have recently given us a chance to revisit the sexism of the 1960s, but it is still jarring to read in the wire clippings of the time how women were viewed by men, particularly American sports writers.
In an October 6 article, headlined “Olympic Beauty Standards Different From Any Other”, the AP writer explains “… to be brutally frank, after looking over the crop gathering for the Olympics which open Saturday, it must be reported that there are very few lady athletes whose faces will stop traffic.”
This writer goes on to explain the vocabulary used by him and his colleagues to describe women are, admittedly, hard to imagine seeing in today’s print press:
Attractive – Well, she must be a girl because the Russians say she is, and we can’t even get an agreement to inspect their nuclear bomb sites.
Pretty- Nobody has ever actually stepped on her face with a spiked shoe.
Lovely – She bathes after every race.
Gorgeous – She parked her truck outside.
Glamorous – She has had at last one permanent since spring.
Vivacious – She speaks English.
Shy – She doesn’t.
Somewhat relevant, here is a great video featuring Mad Men star, Christina Hendricks, showing how sexism exists in subtler ways today.
I watched the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal. I remember watching Nadia Comaneci and her perfect 10s. I remember the Japanese gymnast (Shun Fujimoto) who helped his team to gold dismounting from the rings on a broken right knee. And I remember Bruce Jenner being crowned the World’s Greatest Athlete in the decathlon competition.
Bruce was the epitome of the all-American hero. He appeared countless times on Wheaties. (Who the heck eats Wheaties, I have no idea.) He was the 70’s platonic image of masculinity. For so many Americans, he was, The Man. And yet, as he told Sawyer in April, “Bruce – always telling a lie. He’s lived a lie his whole life about who he is. I can’t do that any longer.”
From 17 million viewers in a ground-breaking interview with Diane Sawyer to the cover of Vanity Fair, Bruce, now Caitlyn Jenner, has become the center of attention again, over 40 years later. As The New York Times reports, “…the physical copy of the (Vanity Fair) magazine with
Wilma Rudolph was one of the biggest stars of the 1960 Summer Games in Rome, surprising the world by becoming the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field in a single Olympic Games. A member of the famed Tennessee State Tigerbelles, she talks in the October 1, 1964 article below of how important it was for the women’s team in Japan to handle the pressure. My understanding is that Rudolph was one of the most care-free athletes in Rome, taking naps right before competitions, seeming to run without a worry in the world.
And while her compatriots in women’s track did not equal Rudolph’s accomplishments in Rome, Wyomia Tyus took gold in the 100 meters,