The Media’s Support of Gender Inequalities in Sports

Updated on November 27, 2017

The Media’s Support of Gender Inequalities in Sports

The media’s support of gender inequalities in sports is a tricky subject to talk about with so many opinions on the matter out in the media today. Consequently, being a female-athlete, I would like to think that my opinion can be a valued one on the matter. Yet the specification of “female” may be the problem indeed. I am also a huge sports fan especially when it comes to soccer, and have supported Manchester United since I was a little girl. With Manchester United being one of the few English Premier League teams who refuses to fund and support a women’s team, I am slowly but surely losing faith in my childhood team. My question is: Does the mass media enforce gender binaries and devalue the athleticism of women’s sports?

It has been well established across a variety of countries and cultural contexts that traditional media outlets such as print, television, magazines, and sports news privilege male athletic endeavors over women’s sporting pursuits (Bruce, 2013, 2015). It is necessary to point out that there are more spectators for male sports than there are for female. Is it just because “men’s sports are more entertaining than women?” Or, is it in fact something that has been inherited from when women weren’t allowed to play sports? Not to mention the time when it was considered unattractive for women to play sports, and the stereotype that all women who participate in sports are butch, masculine and lesbians. These stereotypes are something considered quite laughable today among the majority of people, also considering the amount of female athletes with modelling jobs. However, do they have these modelling jobs to feminize their sports and increase the number of spectators? I think if you look at a female football league where athletes are running around in “booty shorts” and crop tops that the spectators aren’t really too interested in their athletic abilities. Why is it in today’s day and time that it’s too hard to appreciate a talented female athlete without them being overly feminized? All you have to do is scroll through the US Women’s National Team players Instagram’s to notice the overly feminization of their sport. I would also ask if players are left out of women’s team which receives a lot of exposure for not “looking right”? I would easily assume YES without having definite evidence, but with being a female soccer player there is a lot of heresy in the roots of the game which would also suggest that this is true. The brutality of being a female-athlete is that not only do you have to be one of the best in the world at your sport to get recognition, you also have to look a certain way, and act a certain way, in order to earn even a margin of what a decent, but not world-class male athlete earns. Yet, there is “equal opportunity for men and women,” right?

I’m sure a majority of girls have been hanging out with one of their friends and experienced the transition of that friend’s personality instantly when she is around boys. Have you ever noticed that guys tend to also change in personality when they are around other guys? “I hate it when he’s around his friends” said by many girlfriends of today. I’m going to point out that these personality changes are often because of a boy’s presence. This is because in society the opinion of a man is perceived to have more value than a woman, which would further explain the inequality in the coverage of women’s sporting events and why women’s sports are subject to becoming overly sexualized. History shows that men have been taught to view females as sexual objects and the media plays a huge role in sexualizing female athletes. The way for female athletes to get the “valued opinion” on their side is through the sexploitation of women athletes. This is nothing new and Eion J. Trolan explains that the only difference is that this generation of women athletes has been co-opted into believing its good for them and the overt heterosexuality which accompanied Kournikova highlights that femininity is a code word for heterosexuality and the fear of women being portrayed as a lesbian. Trolan stated that by labeling powerful women as lesbians, it is an attempt to ostracize and dis-empower them (221). Have you ever wondered why softball players, and volleyball players wear ribbons when they participate in sports? This is a reinforcement of negativity of being associated with lesbianism. In some instances, coaches themselves have encouraged players to do these types of things so more people will come to the games. It can be viewed so innocently as a marketing strategy however, it’s proven significantly that female athletes are judged by their image a hell of a lot more than male athletes. Another “marketing strategy” that has been used was by the Australian WNT when they appeared naked in men’s magazines to promote the 2007 Women’s World Cup, and before the 2011 World Cup Germany’s WNT posed naked in Playboy which again was to promote the World Cup (Trolan 221). Its quite vulgar to think that the only way society believes that a women’s sporting event will be viewed is if the athletes are sexual objects first. This is clearly an institutional problem that needs to be identified globally and modified!

Many female athletes use social media as a form of self branding. I read a case on Alana Blanchard’s in Social Media by Holly Thorpe, Kim Toffoletti, and Toni Bruce. Her social media is a combination of her athleticism, bodily confidence, her exotic lifestyle and heterosexiness (Thorpe 363). Her bio explains how Alana is a vegan, traveler, animal lover, all that can be considered as quite feminine traits. Many people consider Alana a strong powerful woman of which they certainly are not wrong. However, the article concludes that for some athletes, this type of social media echoes Third-wave feminism in their celebration of the power of their sporting and feminine bodies, while for others self-representation of their sporting lives might be explicitly political act and/or attempt to problematize long-standing gender binaries (Thorpe 376). However, this is one way a female athlete can make a living out of their sport. It is extremely hard of course as you have to look and act in the correct way for this man-centric World, but it is an example of the stress and expectations that female athletes go through.

Following on from my last point, the next area where inequalities in sports obvious is in the wage gap. I express that this is quite clearly an issue produced by social norms that have been present for an extremely long time with very little change considered. Sport is considered a masculine sport and for years it hasn’t been a place that accepts women.

“… Beauty of face and form is one chief characteristic (for women), but unlimited indulgence in violent, outdoors sports, cricket, and most odious of all games for women – hockey, cannot have an unwomanly effect on a young girl’s mind, no less on her appearance… let young girls ride, skate, dance in moderation, but let them leave field sports to those for whom they were intended for – men.” (Trolan 219)

This points out that women are not suppose to participate in sports which has to do with the ideology that their bodies are softer and weaker and not suitable for the physicality of sports. When young girls are growing up we are given Barbie Dolls, Baby dolls, toy kitchens etc. The social construction for women is forced upon all young girls and upsetting the norm incidentally isn’t what men want to watch and support on TV. It could almost be considered as jealously! Usually the success of an athlete is measured in the amount of pay they receive and endorsement opportunities, this is far from the case for female athletes. In an article by Marc Bain’s, being a well published reporter of fashion trends and social standings, he points out one of the biggest issues women face in sport is that image is viewed above anything else. Bain’s points out some of the major flaws seen in endorsement deals using the world renowned tennis player Serena Williams. Bain’s compares William’s endorsement deals to other athletes, who aren’t comparable in terms of success which highlights how little she receives for what she has achieved. Roger Federer, world class Swiss male tennis player, “has seventeen grand slams, Williams has twenty-one”. (Bain 2) Williams has a better win-loss ratio than Federer, yet Roger Federer had fifty-eight million dollars’ worth of deals in 2015, while Serena Williams only had thirteen million dollars in deals. Bain points out that there could be a multitude of reasons; sexism, racism, prejudices. Williams, “arguably the best professional tennis player in history, men’s or women’s, rates 47’th on the list of total endorsements” (Bain 3) Not only is Williams in the minority of gender but also in race. Serena Williams is a female, black athlete who has an extraordinary athletic and muscular body. As explained previously women aren’t considered very “feminine” if they obtain a lot of muscle. All of Serena Williams attributes that go against the social norms are highly likely to be the main course of her not receiving as much endorsement deals as the likes of Roger Federer; and yet these attributes are what put Williams ahead in her sport and are what make her great. This again highlights the institutional problem with our society as William’s is the best of the very best and still isn’t treated equally!

Combining the research I’ve done and my own experiences I would like to highlight that the social construction of society in terms of the Mass Media, is one of, if not the most obvious reason for women’s inequality in sports. What hurts me as a female athlete most of all is that so many people are blind to this issue. I hope by sharing this it may open some eyes to this INSTITUTIONAL problem and that other people will look into the issue and become aware of the social issues. You can be a woman, and athletic, and muscular and still be drop dead gorgeous!


References

Bain, Marc. "Why Doesn't Serena Williams Have More Sponsorship Deals?" The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 31 Aug. 2015. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

Thorpe, Holly, Kim Toffoletti and Toni Bruce. “Sportswomen and Social Media: Bringing Third-Wave Feminism, Postfeminism, and Neoliberal Feminism into Conservation.” Journal of Sport and Social Issues. N.p., 12 Sept. 2017. Web. 27 Nov. 2017.

Trolan, Eoin J. “The Impact of the Media on Gender Inequality within Sport.” Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences. Elsevier, 16 Nov. 2013. Web. 27 Nov. 2017.

Koivula, Nathalie. “Gender Stereotyping in Televised Media Sport Coverage.” SpringerLink, Kluwer Academic Publishers-Plenum Publishers, n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2017.

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