This week saw the first ever women’s Olympic ski jumping competition in Sochi. To the shock of almost no one, none of the competitors has since been hospitalized due to an exploding uterus.
Why would this be a concern? Well, women’s ski jumping was kept out of the Vancouver Olympics (and all previous Olympics) for a variety of reasons. Mostly it was because the IOC said that there just weren’t enough elite female ski jumpers to justify the competition (although this reason has been debunked). But another reason was a bit more bizarre. You see, the folks who run the International Ski Federation were also worried that ski jumping might cause a woman’s uterus to move and/or fall out and/or burst.
From the Huffington Post:
…as recently as 2005, the president of the International Ski Federation, Gian Franco Kasper, continued to defend the wacky womb-worry rationale, telling NPR: “Don’t forget, it’s like jumping down from, let’s say, about two meters on the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.”
Nor was this a single off-hand comment. From Outside Magazine:
The issue came up again as recently as 2010, when Gian-Franco Kasper, president of the International Ski Federation, commented on ESPN’s Outside the Lines that the female uterus might burst during landing from a ski jump…
The fear that sports will somehow damage the female reproductive system are not new – that fear has existed since at least the 1800’s. The great irony is that, of the two sexes, the female reproductive system is clearly far better protected than the male. At least the female reproductive system is located inside the body.
The below compilation from America’s Funniest Home Videos makes it pretty obvious that the male reproductive system is placed at grave risk from just about every sport imaginable (if the IOC is really concerned about reproductive health, they should lobby for a worldwide ban on t-ball). For an academic look at the potential harms of sport on male reproductive health, I suggest the wonderfully titled review article “Great balls of fire and the vicious cycle: a study of the effects of cycling on male fertility“.
All this to say that it is completely ridiculous for anyone to suggest that women should be kept out of sports due to vague concerns for their reproductive health. Especially when we would never apply that standard to men. There remains a rather large gap in the way that men’s and women’s sports are treated at the Olympics (outlined in great detail yesterday at Slate), but this is a small step (I wanted to say “jump” but that seems to be pushing it) in the right direction.