Though both men’s and women’s gymnastics include floor exercise events at the Olympic Games, viewers may have noticed some stark, gendered differences between the two competitions.
The women dance and groove along to music as they leap and flip through the air while the men’s portion is silent. The reason why goes back to the history of the sport.
Men’s gymnastics first appeared at the Olympics in 1896. Women gymnasts were first allowed to compete 32 years later at the Olympics in 1928 in a singular event, but they weren’t included in a regular program until 1952.
And while the men focused on strength, the women were meant to be graceful.
This meant that women’s routines featured dance-like movements and flourishes in addition to tumbling and acrobatics. Women are required to perform with music, and historically, they were accompanied by a piano, Tabitha Yim,
head coach of the University of Arizona’s gymnastics program, told INSIDER.
“You can even receive an artistry deduction for failing to connect your body movements and dance harmoniously to the character of the music,” Yim said.
The music also has its own restrictions.
“The routine must be 90 seconds or less and there can be no words — human voices are permitted as long as the sounds ‘hold no meaning,'” she said.
As for the men, they aren’t allowed to use music at all, Yim added.
So while the men get to show off their power and strength during their routines, the women must do the same while also showcasing grace and poise. That’s why you’ll see moves like hand flourishes emphasised in women’s gymnastics that you’d never expect to see in men’s gymnastics.
But the tide could be changing. The women’s routines are getting harder and tumbling is now emphasised more for women than just artistic movements. These athletes are proving to the world that they’re more than graceful — they’re strong, athletic competitors.
Simone Biles, the four-time Olympic gold medalist (and bronze medalist), even has a signature floor move named after her.
The original requirements for women are from an outdated perception of women’s abilities, but those ideas are mercifully evolving. The skills and strength that women gymnasts portray in all of their events are proof of that.
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