Sport, motherhood, and sexism

Jess Ennis-Hill

Matthew Syed has written a very interesting piece in The Times today on feminism, sexism, and sport, triggered by the reaction to the focus on Jess Ennis-Hill’s motherhood in the reporting of her recent heptathlon win:

“Feminism, to my mind, should be about embracing the real differences between men and women while cracking down on the differences that exist only in chauvinistic minds. It is a failure to make this distinction that leads to what you might call “gender difference denialism” and the more extreme forms of political correctness. It also causes campaigners to focus on the wrong targets.”

Broadly speaking, I think I agree with Syed’s perspective. To deny that there are differences in a mother returning to elite sport than for a father seems pretty silly.

That is not remotely to suggest there isn’t sexism in sport and in the reporting on sports men and women. But, as Syed also writes in his piece, ‘we should not condemn people for focusing on the sporting achievement of Ennis-Hill in the context of her recent pregnancy, because this reflects a biological reality of genuine newsworthiness’.

Syed’s article is a very thoughtful contribution to the ongoing conversation about what it means to be human. Gender differences and equality are both a huge part of this conversation. We have to find a way to reach a place where we can celebrate and own the differences between the sexes while not diminishing one gender on the basis of those differences.

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