Some thought the Olympic marriage proposal was romantic – I thought it was lame as hell
It is time to celebrate what a female Olympian wears around her neck, not around her finger
Last Sunday, Chinese diver He Zi won a silver medal at the Rio Olympics in the women’s three-meter springboard diving event.
But wait, let’s get to the important part:
Last Sunday, Chinese diver He Zi was proposed to by her longtime boyfriend and fellow diver Qin Kai at the Olympic medal ceremony in front of thousands of cheering fans and a global TV audience.
While many considered this public proposal a grandeur gesture of love, I thought it was a total dick move.
After years and years dedicated to intense training and preparation, Zi’s diving dreams were finally realized after she earned a silver medal at the Olympic Games – the world’s most respected and honorable athletic stage. But rather than let He Zi bask in her moment of personal victory, Kai hovered awkwardly in the wings of the medal ceremony, not-so-inconspicuously waiting for the “perfect” moment to make his girlfriend’s Olympic achievements all about him.
In his unsolicited declaration of love, not only did Kai steal the hard-earned limelight from He Zi, but also from the gold and bronze medalists, Shi Tingmao and Tania Cagnotto, who were quickly ushered off stage and robbed of their own moments to shine.
I do not doubt that Qin Kai had only good intentions. He probably thought, “My girlfriend just won a silver medal at the Olympics, I’m going to make it even better and toss in a ring.” But that’s the problem. He thought a marriage proposal would be the cherry on top of an incredible night. But would she? Did he even consider how she would feel? Or did he just assume He Zi would be thrilled by the gesture, because, after all, getting married is every woman’s biggest dream, right? Way bigger than winning, I don’t know, some stupid Olympic medal.
And maybe Zi really was thrilled (under her blank expression). She said yes after all. But then again, how could she not? Kai did not give He Zi much of a choice unless she wanted the next day’s headlines to read “Heartless bitch rejects marriage proposal on live TV.”
Not that the real headlines were much better.
In an article titled, “Chinese diver proposes marriage at Olympic medal ceremony” – decidedly forgoing any mention of He Zi or her Olympic achievement – the BBC reported:
“Chinese diver He Zi had just received a silver medal for the women’s three-metre springboard at the Rio Olympics on Sunday. But she ended up with an even bigger prize when her boyfriend Qin Kai, in front of a global TV audience, went down on one knee.”
After being publicly (and rightfully) ridiculed for the assumption that a marriage proposal is an “even bigger prize” for He Zi than an Olympic medal, the BBC edited the article to read “she ended up with another prize” and changed the title to “A marriage proposal at the Olympics medal ceremony,” which still doesn’t mention He Zi or her medal, so to me is not much better.
But the BBC wasn’t the only media outlet to belittle He Zi’s Olympic victory. NBC posted an article by the Associated Press entitled “Chinese diver He Zi wins silver in 3m, gold in love with marriage proposal.” If that wasn’t bad enough, the article included a cute little excerpt claiming, “Winning a silver medal wasn’t the top highlight of Sunday, Aug. 14 for Chinese diver He Zi.”
Why is the media so determined to establish a hierarchy of personal achievements for He Zi, and more importantly, why are they asserting that getting engaged should be at the top? As Facebook user Zoe MacGechan put it, “People get married all the time, only a few have the chance to achieve Olympic glory. Or should the little lady be relieved a man will have her?”
Despite the incredible success women have had at this year’s Olympic Games, the focus seems to remain not on their medals but on their men. Let’s not forget the now infamous Chicago Tribune headline, “Wife of a Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics,” neglecting to name American Corey Cogdell in her bronze medal victory in women’s trap shooting.
The sexism evident in Olympic media coverage perpetuates the backwards yet popularized ideal that being worthy of a man’s love is a woman’s greatest achievement. Apparently, women’s identities as athletes should only come after their identities as wives, mothers, and accessories to men.
It is time to celebrate what a female Olympian wears around her neck, not around her finger. It is time to rewrite the “some day my prince will come” narrative. These Olympians are not damsels in distress – they’re damn good athletes, and it is time they be respected as such.
Perhaps He Zi does value getting engaged more than medaling in her Olympic diving event. There is nothing wrong with that. But that is for her to decide, not her fiancé, not us, and certainly not the media.
But hey, every happiness to them both.