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Social Media Wins Gold For Sexism Backlash

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The Rio Olympics have now come to a close, but here's a satirical spectator sport for those of us who were frustrated by the nightly highlight reels belittling female athletes. It's called "Olympic media sexism bingo."

Comedian Megan Ford posted the game card on her Twitter account. When a sportscaster remarks on a female athlete's fashion instead of her forehand, mark your card. Ditto if a female athlete over 21 is called "a girl." When a commentator snidely says a woman is performing "as good as a man," call bingo!

Sexism bingo is just one of many recent examples of social media users piling into the ring to take gender stereotypes in sports and media -- and stereotypers -- down for the count.

Women were responsible for some of the most memorable moments in Rio. Female athletes smashed world records and delivered awe-inspiring performances. Huge props to swimmer Penny Oleksiak for winning more medals than any Canadian (of any gender) at a single Summer Games.

These moments were marred by enough sexist commentary to win the bingo game many times over. Women's accomplishments were relentlessly diminished, compared to, and credited to men. Still, for every biased and demeaning comment, social media took the offenders to task, to the degree that sexism itself became a headline story of the Games.

While social media is often seen as the domain of trolls, Rio was an incredible demonstration of its power to combat small-minded discrimination.

When Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu took gold in the 400m event, cameras panned to her husband/coach. "Here's the man responsible," said reporter Dan Hicks. Twitter backlash forced Hicks to awkwardly admit that he regretted his statement.

Rio is not the only example: social media is also giving the red card to sexism in advertising.

After Corey Cogdell took bronze in trapshooting, her hometown paper -- the Chicago Tribune -- tweeted: "Wife of a Bears' lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics" (Cogdell's husband is NFL player Mitch Unrein). A social media uproar was enough flak for the Tribune to pen a second piece praising Cogdell's accomplishments.

Canadian kayaker Adam van Koeverden deserves a medal for calling out his friend and former Olympic rower Adam Kreek. In a broadcast, Kreek suggested that tennis player Eugenie Bouchard was more committed to taking selfies than to her sport.

"If men don't call out men when we are being sexist, then we are not a part of the solution, and the problem persists," van Koeverden wrote. (Kreek has since apologized).

Rio is not the only example: social media is also giving the red card to sexism in advertising.

Earlier this year, LG Canada ran a campaign for washers with slogans like "Less washing time means more shopping time." Online criticism forced the appliance maker to apologize for the stereotyping. Meanwhile, an Irish ad for Sprite was ferociously attacked on social media this month for slights like "She's seen more ceilings than Michelangelo."

Consumers today have an unprecedented platform to counter gender stereotyping in advertising, says Lisa Kimmel, CEO of PR firm Edelman Canada. "You can speak up through social media--and perhaps more importantly, speak with your wallet."

More than 60 per cent of Canadians say they would be less likely to buy a product from a company that runs sexist ads, according to a recent consumer survey.

Media outlets and marketers feed off of public opinion. Audiences and consumers--the bread and butter of media -- are more engaged, with more tools at their disposal than ever before. A virtual mob can deliver consequences to any sportscaster or advertiser who doesn't think before they speak.

That puts the ball in your court.

When you hear sexist or demeaning comments from media, don't just put a mark on your bingo card. Get online and tweet about it. Consider it a goal scored for a more respectful society.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.  

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