Laura Kenny is a British four-time Olympic medaling cyclist. She has won numerous other cycling medals — in both European and global competitions — and was awarded a CBE (an extremely prestigious British honor bestowed by the queen) for her services to cycling. With all of these achievements under her belt, it was pretty surprising when the Times captioned a photo taken at Wimbledon of Kenny and her husband, cyclist Jason Kenny who is also an Olympic medalist, “Cyclist Jason Kenny was with his pregnant wife Laura.” No mention of the fact that she too is a cyclist, and an Olympic medalist at that.
The outcry about the diminishment was swift, with one tweet in particular going extremely viral. Libby Dawes, a journalist at BBC Sport, tweeted out the picture and caption, writing, “Hey, @thetimes you spelt ‘four-time Olympic champion’ wrong…”
— Libby Dawes (@Libbydawes89) July 9, 2017
Her call-out has since been retweeted over 9,000 times and has garnered over 22,500 likes. The Facebook page Women You Should Know also flagged the photograph and received a robust chorus of responses equally dismayed by the oversight. “Olympic gold medal cyclists Jason and Laura Kenny. The couple are expecting,” one user wrote, correcting the caption.
The trend of reducing women to nothing more than their husband’s wives is not new, but media instances of this sexist practice are being called out more and more by the public. Recently artist Kate Miller, who is married to the actor T.J. Miller, took Page Six to task for its laughably offensive headline, “T.J. Miller’s Wife Making a Name for Herself in New York.” Kate Miller responded with an essay on Refinery29 called “Please Stop Calling Me ‘T.J. Miller’s Wife,” in which she wrote, “I challenge the conception that I am simply ’T.J. Miller’s wife,’ just as I challenge society to stop diminishing any woman to a singular, archaic, and sexist definition. You too may feel that no one cares about what you do as much as your husband or partner and what they do. Know that this is bulls***. Know that your accomplishments are real.”
In a similar incident, The Chicago Tribune famously reduced Olympian Corey Cogdell’s achievements with the headline, “Wife of Bears’ Lineman Wins a Bronze Medal Today in Rio Olympics.”
There are also, of course, many instances of world-renowned human rights lawyer Amal Clooney being reduced to George Clooney’s wife and stylish baby vessel. “Amal Clooney Puts Her Growing Baby Bump on Display in Chic Yellow Dress for U.N. Speech,” one headline announced after she delivered a speech on the struggle to get justice for people who have been victims to the atrocities of ISIS. The Associated Press was also called out for identifying Amal according to her relationship to George rather than according to her accomplishments when it tweeted, “Amal Clooney, actor’s wife, representing Al-Jazeera journalist accused in Egypt of ties to extremists.” Again, people sent suggestions on how to correct it:
— Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) August 29, 2015
Which brings us back to “pregnant wife Laura.” Some people pointed out that The Telegraph was just as sexist when it identified a similar picture of the cyclist couple as “Laura Kenny and her husband Jason.” And while that is equally dismissive of his accomplishments, it isn’t loaded with the centuries of belittlement with which women are saddled.
Yes Laura Kenny is pregnant. Yes Laura Kenny is married to Jason Kenny. But she is also a cyclist, an athlete, and an Olympian. And since women are often thought of with respect to their domestic roles first, and their professional roles second, it is even more crucial that we break this pattern and stop defining women by the men to whom they are married.
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