The media's been full of new women role models lately. Gone are the typical Hollywood "It" Girls, replaced by strong women who could probably knock you out if you tried to catch them getting out of a limo sans underwear. Along with Jessica Ennis, Gabby Douglas and Nicola Adams, another hero—a National Treasure, in fact—has emerged.
Clare Balding has been a regular fixture on the sports scene since the early '90s. She's a former amateur jockey, and she's one of the few out lesbians in British television. Her coverage of the 2012 Olympics drew rave reviews, and won her a prestigious contract as the face of Channel 4's racing coverage as well as the Paralympics coverage starting next week over on the BBC. There were even calls for her to take over as a football commentator (although I'd prefer that Jacqui Oatley, whose thrilling—and thrilled—coverage of women's football won her legions of new fans, be put in charge of all football commentating everywhere, ever).
But it hasn't all been a feminist Balding lovefest in the British media. Some of the old guard aren't too keen on these women wittering on when the men are trying to watch sport. Des Lynam has been a fixture of sports presenting in the UK since the 1960s, fronted BBC coverage of the Olympics for 16 years, and isn't too happy about how much airtime these ladies have been getting.
"I have come to the conclusion" he stated weightily in the Daily Telegraph, "that while female presenters have done a fine job, the female voice is not so attractive for actual commentating and in some cases became grating."
All too often when a woman speaks up, it's her voice as much as her words that gets criticized. It's not sexist, you understand, it's just that our voices are shrill—grating, even—and dammit just not as nice as a deep manly growl. Remember that scene in The Iron Lady, where Meryl Streep's Margaret Thatcher was taught to lower her voice to mimic the supposedly-authoritative tones of her male counterparts? Over two decades later, and we're still screeching harpies if we dare to speak in public.
The prejudice against female sports commentators is still rampant, as evidenced (again) this weekend when Michele Smith became the first female analyst for a national baseball broadcast. Although some of the reaction was positive, Deadspin rounded up some of the backlash. Apparently, "Listening to a woman commentating on a baseball game is worse than having my nuts in a vice grip" (oh, the temptation to test that theory out...). One viewer got right to the point: "Get this woman to stop talking."
Sports commentating has been such an historically male field that it's unsurprising there has been a backlash; what's surprising is that it's happening in 2012. This year's coverage of female Olympians has done wonders to the profile of women in sports—let's hope it can do the same for the commentators.