Moira Lassen is sick of sexism, something she has had to deal with as a woman in a male-dominated sport.
“Over the years I’ve been patted on my head repeatedly, told I was lucky to be there (because) ‘it’s not a women’s sport anyway,’” said Lassen, who has also been the target of both sexual advances and even unfounded accusations of corruption.
“(At one competition) a really big, sloppy man, with food stains all over his tie and dirty slacks on, told me that I had to wear nylons to look like a lady,” mused Lassen, fully aware of the irony.
As part of Women’s History Month, Lassen, the first female to act as technical controller in weightlifting at the Olympic Games, gave a talk at Yukon College Wednesday.
“We are very proud to have Moira Lassen speak to Yukon College students,” said Lynn Echevarria, Women’s Studies program co-ordinator at Yukon College, in a press release.
“Her leadership role in her field has distinguished her from her peers, and we are pleased to have her share her perspectives in honour of Women’s History Month.”
The audience may have been small, with just a half-dozen in attendance, but the stories were large.
Hoping to inspire others to overcome adversity of all kinds, Lassen outlined the trials and tribulations of being a women in a male-dominated sport.
“All my biggest challenges have come to me because I’m a woman,” said Lassen, who is a board member of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sports, an Ottawa based organization devoted to getting more women involved in sports, both as athletes and officials.
One such gross and disturbing incident Lassen recalled was witnessing was a Canadian official peeking into the women’s weigh-in space, attempting to catch a glimpse a 17-year-old girl in the nude. (Many weightlifters weigh in without clothes.)
“I didn’t think that this person would be capable of that,” said Lassen.
At one event, some male officials overseeing the weigh-in, invented a rule that called for athletes to hold their arms to their sides in order to prevent them from covering themselves — at least, one would assume.
“In fact, in India — and these are youth games — they still have men in the vicinity while women weighed-in, and male coaches coming in with the naked 16-year-old girl on the scale,” said Lassen, who just returned from a meet in India.
“It’s stunning that this still exists.”
“(The athletes) are supposed to be feeling empowered and strong and here they are at their most vulnerable and naked.”
Lassen is also the proud mother of local weightlifting celebrity, Jeane Lassen, who finished eighth in the 75-kilogram division at the Olympic Games in August.
As an athlete, Jeane Lassen occasionally had to endure discrimination from a different angle.
“I think male coaches, at least in my sport, don’t trust that female athletes know what’s best for them,” said Jeane Lassen. “They do coddle female athletes and I think their biggest fear is that an athlete will cry and they don’t want to see that happen because they don’t know how to deal with it…
“(We) don’t get to take as big of jumps (in weight) between events. It’s very hard to convince a male coach to let you do what you want to do.”
“There are female coaches,” continued Jeane Lassen. “But you have to be 10 times as good to get the same respect.”
Being a staunch supporter of women’s place in sports, and not one to miss an opportunity to make a point, Lassen broke the rules briefly while officiating at the Games.
“An Iranian lifter was lifting and I saw the two coaches standing there,” recollected Lassen. “Technical controllers are not supposed to be in line with the cameras, but I saw an opportunity to make a point…
“I stood right besides them in view of the camera, so people in Iran would see a woman in a position of power over male coaches.”