Sport and Gender in Lithuania: Be the Change

After living and studying abroad for 6 years, coming back to Lithuania hit me hard culturally. I’m not even talking about the first aspect that hits every time when going to do groceries – lack of customer service, or even elementary respect to clients. Yes, in Lithuania you can get screamed at by a lady at the till for no reason. But you can, more or less, get used to it, grow a thicker skin. After 2 years spent in Finland, the land where gender equality is taken for granted, I came to realize that Lithuanian society is extremely sexist.

Donata Vištartaitė and Milda Valčiukaitė

Despite the fact that we have a female president and during the last government term of office key posts (finance minister, national defence minister and president of the parliament) were occupied by women… Despite the fact that our female athletes are the best in the world: swimmer Rūta Meilutytė (Olympic champion and holder of two world records), modern pentathlete Laura Asadauskaitė (Olympic and World champion), Donata Vištartaitė and Milda Valčiukaitė (World rowing champions), Margarita Čiuplytė (multiple World champion in kyokushin karate) and the list continues…

Lithuania remains the land…

  • where the strongest national brand and a growing profession is ‘Olialia pupytės’, almost naked blond women who sing, dance, pose to naked calendars and talk about their plastic surgeries regularly
  • where the only thing that can unite the nation is beer and basketball victories, but this beer happens to be ‘only real men’s’ drink
  • where sponsor’s ‘fan sausages’ are distributed by half naked ladies exclusively to male fans at the basketball game
  • where the only news the media has for women is yet another way to get slim or a new way to seduce a man
  • where suggested place for women in sport is on the sidelines, looking pretty while supporting their husbands and boyfriends

Margarita Čiuplytė

No, women do not occupy solely marginal position in Lithuania, to be honest, I think they are quietly leading the country to a better tomorrow. It’s the media that plays a key role in perpetuating gender stereotypes and the men who cling on to them in fear of loosing their positions. This perceived threat to masculine identities is not true. If you are comfortable with your identity, no one can threaten that.

Yes, you can blame me for feminist tone and whining instead of doing. The truth is, I never related myself to feminist views, I was always more in favour of an open perspective to gender identities, not putting people in boxes, respecting them for who their are, and leading the change by personal example. However in the light of the current situation and existing sports culture, I think it is extremely important to talk about it.

Rūta Meilutytė

Words matter, and media has the power to twist them to their advantage. Did you notice that interviews with these female World and Olympic champions end up being not about their strength and achievement, but about their effort to balance sport and femininity? What message does it send to little girls? ‘You can be an athlete, but only if you remain pretty and fragile.’ It doesn’t have to be this way. Be the change.

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