Oops they did it again...
Those of us who care about the equal standing of women have found much to applaud in this summer's Olympic and Paralympic Games. These were, as has been widely noted, the first games which saw women competing in all events, including such previously forbidden sports as boxing. These were also the first games which saw every participating country admitting female athletes into their team, including Saudi Arabia. Commentators who criticised sportswomen’s 'masculine' physiques found themselves roundly criticised in turn.
But one element of the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies hit a discordant note. And the note was struck again at last night's Paralympic opening, to an even more jarring effect. I refer to the use of 'perfectly shaped' young women throughout the ceremonies but in particular during the long athletes' processions.
In all three of these ceremonies, women accompanied flag-bearing representatives from participating nations. But these weren't 'ordinary women'. They didn't reflect the level of diversity which I observed among the athletes, the volunteers and the ceremony participators. There weren't short women, large women, older women or disabled women. Never mind any men.
Wearing tight, red PVC jumpsuits with hair tied in the same way, these women looked identical. They emulated the saturated and hyper-feminised view of what a woman should be, an image of female identity which we are relentlessly subjected to every day.
As I watched the Paralympic opening, with clothes horses wearing cleavage-enhancing dresses escorting excited and smiling Paralympians from all over the world, I felt once again angry and ashamed. Such a spectacle of colour with so many stories of individual struggle and achievement. Scenes of people uniting from every corner of the earth to continue their sporting journey, in this case often after personal tragedy. Yet the women alongside them remained void of identity and zombie-like, detached from the very human expressions and stories that have moved me throughout London 2012.
The Games offered London a once-in-a-lifetime chance to show what our nation has to offer - to represent the Britain we live in today. In many ways the ceremonies did do that successfully. Yet it remains a great shame that the ceremonies pandered to a deeply sexist stereotype.
Who, I wonder, thought having women as trophy accompaniments to competing nations would be a good idea?