Gender inequality caused by the media’s often unfair representation of women’s sport is still a prominent issue in society today. Women are still underrepresented and oversexualised by the media in order to harness a wider range of viewers, (Trolan 2013). According to Harris (2007) historically women participated mainly in sports which were deemed elegant enough to fit the gender stereotypes of being a woman, this in turn led the media to cover women’s sport with social ideology in mind. From the 1970’s onwards it became the aim of feminists and athletes to rip apart the social differences between men and women to create equality, (Oakley 1998). Now in 2019 women can compete in many prominently masculine sports which diminish the barriers of gender stereotype, however through the nature of the coverage that female sport gets and sometimes the lack of it, the media still creates inequality, (Trolan, 2013). Social theorist Raewyn (formerly Robin) Connell’s studies show that gender is socially constructed and that there are different types of masculinity, this could suggest that to identify or act with anything less than a hegemonic masculinity then you are immediately less privileged, (Harris 2007). This essay will focus on the link between Connells’ theories on gender and masculinity and how they link to the underrepresentation and oversexualisation of female athletes in the media.
In society today gender inequality is obvious in every sector of life. At work women face the glass ceiling, the feeling of seeing your goals but not being able to reach them. Similarly, in sport female athletes set themselves goals and sometimes despite having achieved professional level in their field they still find themselves underpaid and under televised compared to their male counterparts, (Woodfield 2016). Social theorist, Raewyn Connell suggests that gender is a social construct, this can be seen by the way young children are channelled into gender typical toys and colours. However, Connell’s theory on masculinities contributes massively to our understanding of gender inequality in sports media. For example, Connell’s theory of a privileged gender, a dominant masculinity may begin to explain why we see more televised performances of male athletes and sexualised images of female athletes in the media, due to sports historically being male dominated, (Trolan 2013). When developing her theories on gender and specifically masculinities, Connell compared Gramsci’s ideas of hegemony and applied them to masculinity, (Speer 2001). Often it can be perceived that the relations to hegemonic masculinity are all negative as it is sometimes assumed that they describe a dominant specimen, however Connell does also explore the positives of hegemonic masculinity unlike a lot of other scholars, (Tomlinson 2007).
Over sexualisation of women in the media
A case study into the correlation between women’s sportswear and consumer interest.
There have been many sporting events in the last fifteen years where we can see inequalities occurring in the media due to gender differences. In the past studies have shown different types of media exploiting the female body to enlarge their profit. According to Speer (2001) Sports Illustrated is seen as a largely popular American magazine normally dedicated to sportswear and athleisure, sales of this magazine generate over 3 million dollars. However, once a year Sports Illustrated release an issue dedicated to swimwear, which shows the models in small costumes and bikinis. The swimwear issue generates up to 5 million dollars. This proves that the less female athletes wear, the more appealing they are to the media and to the buyers. This is backed up in (lough, Brann 2011) as they suggest the media are more interested in using the female body as the selling point of female sport rather than promoting the sport itself. The number of male buyers increases during the swimwear issue and this suggests why the media focuses on sexualised images and gender appropriate sports coverage when it comes to female athletes, because it generates more viewers, (Speer 2001). This can be linked to Connell’s theory that gender is based on social ideology. According to Tang and Cooper (2012) one of the main inequalities with sport and the media is the ratio of female athlete screen time compared to males, and the careful selection by the media of what women’s sport they televise most.
Under representation of sportswomen in the media
A case study looking into viewer interest in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
According to Tang and Cooper (20012) the 2008 Olympic games highlighted some of the media’s most influenced coverage of sport. Over 200 million Americans watched the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, which made it the most watched event in US TV. Studies found that in the stadium men had more of a response to the events than women, this links to Connells’ theory that gender is a social construct, behaviour like this suggests it would not be ‘proper’ for women to react this way when watching sport and exploits the need men have to exaggerate their masculinity, (Connell 1997).
Min, Zehn (2010) shows in figure 5 that one thing many countries have in common when reporting sport is that they will give their own country the most screen time. However, Figure 5 shows that male American events were reported more frequently than female American events by USA Today, this means that female athletes got less screen time. This is backed up in figure 4, as the Washington Post shows that they also reported male events more frequently than females. (Connell 1997) explains that gender can be based on assumptions regarding a person’s sex, this links to how the media assume that more men will watch sport than women therefore they should show more coverage of men to gain more viewers and this creates inequality for the female athlete. It is the idea that the American coverage was tainted with political and social ideology. Meaning there was more screen time of female athletes competing in traditionally quite feminine sports such as gymnastics and male athletes playing football, (Tang and Cooper 2012).
Under representation is not just calculated in screen time
A study looking into the different types of under representation in women’s sport.
When talking about the under representation of the female athlete, it is not only the length of time they are seen on screen which is unequal, it is also the type of representation they receive. The media has been described by some (Tomlinson 2007) as more than just a means to learn about the event, they create a hype before the event and keep you interested during the event. It is also perceived by (Tomlinson 2007) that when it comes to the athletes the media is no longer only interested in sport anymore but also in the athletes life, this is why female athletes can sometimes be under represented in their sporting field because the media is more interested in exposing the female opinion, their take on family life and sometimes just personal details that sports viewers may not be all that interested in. Koivula (1999) shows how this links to Connell’s theory that gender is a social construct because the media base questions for female athletes more around their personal feelings and emotions and this is seen to promote their femininity. In turn they are considered less than the hegemonic male, (Connell 1997)
According to Koivula (1999) often the media can manipulate language to gender stereotype athletes. The media tend to go into depth about skill and technique when talking with male athletes whereas there is much more focus on the appearance of a female athlete and terms such as “grace” are more frequently used to describe the sportswomen. Tomlinson (2007) suggests that technology used by the media is ever evolving, however the questions and morals of interviews and coverage have been the same for the past 100 years, a line needs to be drawn as to where the sports coverage stops and the personal information takes over. Connell (1997) suggests that gender is based on social interaction so it is interesting to look at how the media construct a homely mother-like persona around some female athletes to generate a relatable feminine character around the athlete, simply by directing questions towards them that bring out more emotion and feeling from the athlete for the camera.
Sport can be an abused platform where masculinity largely dominates and therefore that concept is brought forth into society. Tang and cooper (2012) back this up as studies showed that at the 2008 Olympics, athletes were more likely to be televised in traditional ways, male athletes were praised on their muscular capability and their independence, and females on their emotion and looks.
Legislation to help women athletes
Feminism is one of the only defence mechanisms female athletes have against the media.
Hardin, Whitehouse and Ash (2014) shows that there has been some attempt to create equality between male and female athletes, one way in which was Title XI. This is legislation implemented in the US by the US government to try and reduce inequality in sport for girls and women through school and university. In some ways Title XI was successful because it got more girls interested in sport and therefore more media coverage was shown of the female athletes. Meaning girls and women should experience the same training facilities and equipment as men and boys. However, it has shown up in past years that despite this legislation women and girls still find themselves with less funding and training at facilities which do not match the quality of the male training facilities, (Ash, Hardin and Whiteside 2007). This is because some colleges and universities are not abiding by Title IX.
Feminism is also a large movement in the representation of female athletes. There is almost no new legislation stopping female athletes from being photographed and harassed by the media in a way that is personal and suggestive of their gender. Feminism helps to spread awareness of this and can show the harm it causes, (Hatton 2012).
Inequality still exists in sports media today
Overall to conclude, inequality between male and female athletes with regards to media still exist today. Female athletes are still represented by the media with social and political ideology in mind (Harris 2007). The media construct an image of feminism that sometimes may not reflect the way that the athlete considers their gender. Connell’s work is interlinked with sport as it helps us to understand the reasons as to why the media construct a socially perfect character of female athletes, as (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005) state, a woman may be considered less important to society and therefore may be seen as a tool which can be forged by the media to suit an audience and a consumer. As (Speer 2001) stated, people can be persuaded to buy in to something due to the nature of content and there is still inequality due to this. One of the main reasons for gender inequality in the media still existing is because there is almost no legislation in place to stop women from being photographed in a provocative way and no laws to ensure female athletes share equal screen time, (Trolan 2013). Arguably one of the most influential forces fighting for equality in women’s sport is feminism, however feminism cannot create legislation or make solid ground, and therefore there are still inequalities between male and female athletes in the media, (Hatton 2012). However, Connell’s theory of hegemonic masculinity still remains the best explanation as to why female athletes still face inequality and discrimination in the media today.