Lolo Jones, Dawn Harper, Kellie Wells: Female Olympians Can’t Outrun Patriarchy

Lolo Jones, Dawn Harper, Kellie Wells: Female Olympians Can’t Outrun Patriarchy


Olympians can run, but they can’t hide from criticisms and assessments on everything from their preparation and performances to personal proclivities. If this obsessive viewing is true for male athletes, it is hyper-true for female athletes who are socialized and media blitzed into competition well-beyond 12-second races.

While Australian competitor Sally Pearson won the 100-meter hurdles in London, the subsequent firestorm surrounding Dawn Harper, silver medalist, Kellie Wells, bronze medalist and fourth-place runner, Lolo Jones, highlighted a competitive collective space.

That space sought to breed cattiness and scarcity worldviews in women who already outpaced the millions who watched them compete. Chaise lounge philosophers placed American female athletes against each other in a global competition. And marketers and the media respond to that.

New York Times writer, Jere Longman, commented on everything from presumed capitalistic favoritism to supposed sex-appeal profiteering with regard to Jones, who is a virgin.

Longman’s scathing criticism of Jones not only brought her to near-tears on the Today show, but it also illuminated an ugly space in the universal psyche or Mean Girls mindset that teaches women to go against each other by any means necessary.

That space also seeks ownership and authority of female likenesses and places already troubling perspectives on steroids when involving women of color. Then there’s the issue of female athletes inevitably having their performances reduced to beauty contests.
Certainly Jones, her transparency and PR team commanded an audience that rendered her a household name faster than most Olympians.

But, what about journalists and writers who were more concerned with dissecting her perceived loss and genetic wins than celebrating all of the talented, beautiful and worthy women who competed?

While Wells and Harper are also conventionally attractive (not that it should matter) the fact they felt so overshadowed by Jones that they made comments slighting her, showed an elementary likability pursuit.

They didn’t want to be picked last or selected unenthusiastically in light of Jones’ loss, but would take the attention that their wins commanded, even when offered as leftovers.
“I feel I had a pretty good story — knee surgery two months before Olympic trials in 2008, to make the team … not have a contract … working three jobs, living in a frat house, trying to make it work,” Harper said.

Harper said that her story was overshadowed by Jones, the media favorite.
Of her bronze placing, Wells said, “They can’t leave me out because I’ll be in all the pictures on the podium.”

Wells also said, “…The three girls that earned their spot and they got their medals and they worked hard and did what they needed to do, prevailed. And that’s all that really needs to be said.”

Jones’ fourth-place spot broke her heart.

“Obviously, I’m crushed,” Jones said. She later stated, “I guess all the people talking about me can have their night and laugh.”

Jones, Harper and Wells represent modern examples of competition, capital, sexual fixation and skewed beauty ideals. But, the sex and beauty part compounds the already problematic voyeurism surrounding public figures and athletes.

The Root contributor Genetta M. Adams wrote, “The bottom line is, Jones can’t help how she looks. Her parents are to blame for that. And she certainly can’t help that advertisers are willing to throw endorsement dollars her way based on those looks.

“We as a society bear much of the blame for holding a narrow standard of beauty in such high regard. Jones just used her God-given abilities to reap the benefits of a system she neither created nor controls.”

This hostility between and directed toward women prevails as author, feminist and intellectual bell hooks wrote.

“We all knew firsthand that we had been socialized as females by patriarchal thinking to see ourselves as inferior to men, to see ourselves as always and only in competition with one another for patriarchal approval, to look upon each other with jealousy, fear, and hatred,” hooks said.

“Sexist thinking made us judge each other without compassion and punish one another harshly.”

As lucrative deals are inked, theorists wax poetic, and Olympians gear up for 2016, many should address their isms now. Society and its inherent sexist practices teach our sons to try sharing seats during musical chairs, while our daughters snicker and learn to ostracize the girl left standing.


  1. Lolo Jones is beautiful. Because of this some women are jealous of her. But if you look at Lolo's behaviour you can see she almost has total disregard for her own beauty, methinks she may even have a certain amount of disdain for those who measure her based on beauty instead of athletic talent. As such the fourth place was painful to her, but she knows that she had to get lucky to win a medal, so i don't think she was too upset at not getting one, but she was maybe a tad peeved that the reporter was implying that she used her looks to get the attention she got to get money….I think she would much prefer for us to respect her as an athlete of vast potential first.

    • Lolo's a pretty humble soul from what I can see, and perhaps too honest for her own good. The media chased after to her not the opposite. Dawn and Kellie, in particular Kellie appear to be begging for media attention at whatever the cost. Let me say, Dawn should have some sort of acknowledgement for her previous Golds and amazing athleticism, and not by dissing Lolo Jones or some other marketable Olympian.

  2. This cattiness amongst the women hurdlers is so sad! I am appalled about the way they trash their teammate because one got more attention than the other. I felt sorry for Wells, when I heard the story of how she was raped as a child. Now I am starting to wonder if she trumped up that story to get the media attention she so obviously and desparately desires.

      • The die hard Kellie fanatics, on the Hufington Post, have stated Kellie's been talking about this story for quite a few years. But the argument stands, but why now did she suddenly choose to publish her story in the Huffington and what looks to be another blog? And the other other questions raised, why criticize Lolo for accepting interviews about overcoming childhood adversities when Kellie is voluntarily blooging her life story? I guess the story might be true, but her motives are questioned so soon after Lolo was lambasted by the both of them, Incredibly petty.

    • That's because they are both unnattractive -inside and out! Any good looks they had on the outside is overshadowed by their ugly interior. Bad choice, women! You should have showed some sportsmanship and class…perhaps you would then get some recognition! Now your names will just go down in history as what you are – talented athletes without anything else…no class, no looks, no likability….and you'll just fall off the radar because no one wants to remember peopel like you!

  3. I am also of the opinion that Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells showed less than true sportsmanship by disparaging their TEAMmate Lolo Jones. The job of all three women was to compete and represent themselves and the US Olympic team to the best of their ability on the day of their race. If their talent and preparation placed next to that of their competitors did not earn them the medals they sought, then they should conduct themselves with grace, accept their medals, and uplift their TEAMmate who worked as hard but fell short of the goal. Harper and Wells's remarks were catty and unnecessary—and as a Black woman, I am particularly appalled that they could not see fit to hold their sister up and not knock what she has earned and worked for. Gulping another round of HATERADE ladies??

  4. I agree with all of you above! I never was a "LoLo fan"…only because I never bothered to watch her interviewed. I assumed she was egotistical because her pictures portray a beautiful, confident, athletic woman. After hearing those comments, I went and listened to a few of her interviews. She seems genuine and humble. In one interview, the interviewer tried to push her story by saying, "you went from being homeless to an Olympian". She downplayed that completely by saying she was not homeless her whole life…and many other Olympians had great stories….she can't take any credit there. I was shocked at how humble and sweet she seemed in many interviews. Those other women seemed ghetto and rude…jealous and catty…and pathetic. I thought they probably used their comments as a way to get air-time – otherwise, as that terrible woman accurately pointed out, no one would care. Perhaps if they were more likable, they media would overlook their average looks. However, being a rude, egotistical, ghetto, catty you-know-what, doesn't make anyone want to have you represent thier products! I'm embarrassed for both of them – they made our country look terrible!

  5. I can not imagine the dedication to the sport it takes to compete at the Olympic level. These three young women demonstrated the results of that dedication, by participating, win, lose or fall.. Unfortunately, the NYT decided to throw in another hurdle. In my view, the NYT could stay out of it, let the girls run and support them instead of messing with them before the race. NYT, shame on you.

  6. What is so beautiful about Lolo Jones? I don't see it, all I see is a light skinned mixed race woman with long hair. It is clear that in the black and the white community there is an obsession with the white image. Since Jones looks almost white she appeals to Madison Avenue. However, my beef is with the black community that is still obsessed with mixed race women while scorning darker skinned black women such as Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells. Why didn't the black media put a spotlight on Harper and Wells? The black heterosexual man is also to blame because they also demean darker skinned black women and devalue them just like the white supremacist society we live in.

    • Youre wrong man, Allyson Felix is beautiful…..Harper and Wells……not beautiful……so nothing to do with skin color right? Maybe something to do with what the consensus think is beautiful…..if Lolo was dark as midnight she would still be beautiful inside and outside. Harper and Wells just needs to accept the truth…they are not beautiful runners.