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Soccer player Kealia Ohai referred to as 'J.J. Watt's fiancee,' showing 'how far we still have not come' in gender equality

Chicago Tribune — By Kate Thayer Chicago Tribune

Jan. 09-- When it was announced that soccer player Kealia Ohai was traded to the Chicago Red Stars from the Houston Dash, sports journalists tweeted the news. One forgot to use her name.

A Houston TV station instead referred to Ohai in a tweet as "J.J. Watt's fiancee."

The tweet by Houston's ABC 13 prompted fierce criticism from many, including Watt, a Houston Texans defensive end.

"Kealia Ohai (which is her name by the way, since you didn't even bother to mention it) is incredible entirely on her own merit and deserves to be treated as such. Be better than this," Watt tweeted.

While the station later apologized, praising Ohai, and changed its headline on the story to use her name, the move serves as an unfortunate reminder, according to experts.

"It shows you how far we still have not come," said Barbara Risman, sociology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "We refer to women as their relationship to men. As a society, we have yet to really leave behind the notion that women are a part of men's estates."

This name gaffe isn't the first time. In a CBS news tweet last June, the news organization was criticized after it neglected to name Julie Ertz (also of the Red Stars, as well as the U.S. women's soccer team), instead referring to her as the wife of the Philadelphia Eagles' Zach Ertz.

And in 2016, the Chicago Tribune apologized after a headline and tweet failed to name trapshooter Corey Cogdell-Unrein after she won the bronze medal at the Rio Olympics, instead referring to her as the wife of a Chicago Bears lineman.

In crafting headlines and tweets, news organizations often aim to use the name of the most famous person for search engine optimization purposes.

But even the tradition of announcing a newly married couple at a wedding as "Mr. and Mrs.," and then using only the man's last name, perpetuates this inequality, Risman said, even if it's done as a well-meaning tradition with no ill intent.

"Many people sort of unconsciously and unknowingly feed into it," she said.

"People say it doesn't matter, men and women are equal, and it's just tradition," Risman added. "But every time we use (that tradition), we in some way pass them on, and we validate it for the next generation."

Words and traditions matter, Risman said.

"We talk about women as 'the wife of' because men are the central players and women are the satellites around them," she said. "One almost never hears a man described as a 'husband of.' "

There have been significant strides when it comes to gender equality, Risman said, "but we are still in the middle of a movement toward equality."

"These are just signs of how far and maybe how many generations unfortunately it may take us to leave these kinds of notions behind," she said. "I think we are slowly but surely doing that."

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