The Olympics 2012 have only just begun; it’s too soon to tell if we’ll remember this as the year that Chinese swimmers rose (or doped) to become the world’s best, the year that unpopular new rules muscled Jordyn Weiber out of her place in the gymnastics all-around, or some other incredible moment that we have yet to announce. But whatever star moments emerge, and whoever takes home the most gold, it’s already clear: Women are the biggest winners in London this year, no matter how they perform (or tweet).
Saudi Arabia sent two women to compete this year (runner Sarah Attar, pictured above, and judo athlete Wojdan Shahrkhania), making it the first time in history that every participating country has sent women to the Olympics (in 2008, three countries didn’t send women at all). Now, 40% of all Olympic athletes competing in London are women. And, notably for us Americans, this is the first year women have ever outnumbered men on the U.S. Olympic Team.
These are big landmarks, and they mark a huge victory for the world, not just for women. When women and girls participate in sports, studies prove that they’re happier, healthier, and face better prospects in life on all fronts. But studies have also shown that women’s participation in sports benefits societies–and economies–as a whole.
The number of women at the Olympics is by no means a sign that all stigma surrounding women in sports has been erased. There are still rules and regulations governing participation that hurt many women in many Muslim countries and beyond, and even in countries where rules aren’t what keep girls from getting involved, the cultural climate and socio-economic barriers for girls are still huge hurdles to overcome. (As was painfully clear as Australian journalists fat-shamed female Olympic athletes before the games started last week.)
But we can still celebrate.
Even us Blisstree writers have a love-hate relationship with the Olympics. Some of us just don’t care that much about watching athletes perform; other times, we can’t help but get swept up in the fun. But watching the progress of women in the Olympics and having the privilege of cheering them on makes us just a little more excited to tune in this summer.
Photo: The Atlantic