Media Portrayal Of Men And Women In Sports

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Media carries an impactful role that can affect society’s perspectives of different genders, races, and cultures. Whether it is a negative, or positive effect, media plays an ongoing significant role that can change the outcome. There are numerous types of worldwide media such as: newspapers, magazines, television advertising and radio. Social media and television have been rising and influential platforms that many people in this century engage with. Many people have the option to stay updated with their family, friends, role models, or favourite celebrities.

However, media and gender representation unfortunately do not go hand in hand. Gender differences and stereotypes have been a traditional consistent piece in society. Misrepresentation in the media can reveal negative stereotypes and limited standards for society. Media has the ability to alter society’s assumptions, values and expectations. It places heavy pressure on people to act differently, or attempt to act a certain way to live up to what is expected from the people and to reach society’s standards.

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From perfect scores across the board to podiums and medals, media bears a major influence on the way athletes and their successes are represented. Sports and media have been used as a platform to share accomplishments that is viewed as “means of achieving health and fitness, personal empowerment” (Weber & Carini, 2013, p. 1). However, it does not mean that representation is always accurate. Bernstein (2002) explains that sports have only been entitled to men and that it was viewed as a masculine event. On the other hand, women are presented as fragile and have been judged based on their appearance thus not being encouraged to participate, as women do not have the masculinity that is required. Male athletes are often presented and exposed to media more than women. Yet, when women in sports are represented in media, they are predominantly based on society’s stereotypes. A woman's ability, achievement, and accomplishment are hidden behind their roles as a woman and their physical aspects. Though there has been an improvement of popularity among women’s sports and athletes, women are continuously being misrepresented and are still considered to be inferior to male athletes.

Female athletes have various skills and talents, yet women’s sports do not obtain as much media coverage in comparison to men’s sports. Approved on June 23, 1972 by U.S Congress, Title IX declared that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity” (Augustyn, 2019, p. 1). This made a significant impact for female athletes, as this created an opportunity for them to be more involved in high school, or college league sports. Conversely, before it was passed, Women’s Sports Foundations (2016) discusses how only one in twenty-seven females participated in athletics. In 2016, the proportion increased to two in five females. However, with the increase in participation, it would be ideal that it would result in an inflation of broadcasting for women’s sports. However, the result of increase, or equal coverage for women’s sports has yet to happen.

The lack of coverage of women’s sports from provincial, or national media affects the opportunities and beliefs for young girls, or women in general. Lewis (2014) reveals that the total broadcast time for women’s sport was only 1,000 hours. Additionally, the percentage of media exposure was quite low, as only “5% of media coverage in the UK is devoted to women's sport” (Lewis, 2014, p. 1). Based on self-report results, 66.7% of participants chose that they always noticed male athletes on newspapers, or sport covers. On the other hand, 100% of participants answered that they sometimes see female athletes on the same platforms. The consequence of this outcome is that young girls do not have anyone to look up to. It is difficult to find role models to fill this position, as the women who are needed are not being covered in media, or exposed to the community. Female athletes are competent to compete and play every sports, just as well, or even better, than men. Despite the skills and abilities than a female athlete has, media coverage for women’s sports are unquestionably less in comparison to men’s sports.

Not only does the lack of athletic awareness and acknowledgement of female athletes in media can affect the motivation of athlete to continue to participate in sports, but it also can influence how a female athlete sees herself. It is important to increase the coverage for female athletes as many women’s sports go unnoticed and to open opportunities for aspiring athletes. Women are misrepresented in media on a regular basis. Their portrayal and coverage consists of their appearance and features rather than their athletic capabilities and victories. The importance of accurate representation of female athletes and women’s sports have the greatest influence on young female athletes and young generation, in general. If the media continues to make a woman’s appearance, this will unfortunately changes society’s perspective on women’s sports. Bissel & Duke (2008) examines how there was direct attentiveness towards a woman’s sex appeal and femininity, as there was a “high level of sexualized talk and concentration on the athletes' body parts” (p. 1). During the Women’s Beach Volleyball during the 2004 Olympics, more than 20% of the photographs were focused on players’ chest. As well as that, just a little over 17% were established to be buttock shots. This leaves society a “lasting memories of players' bodies” (Bissel & Duke, 2018, p. 1) rather than remembrance of sports and athleticism.

While male athletes are shown as strong, masculine and dominant, female athletes are presented in a sexualised way. Knight & Giuliano (2001) analyzes how female athletes are valued for their attractiveness instead of achievement. Male athletes have the luxury to b primarily portrayed as high performance athletes, unlike females (Liang, 2011). Female athletes are viewed as “women first, athlete second” (Liang, 2011, p. 1). In magazines, or sports covers, male athletes are shown in a sport, or competitive context. In contrast, female athletes barely have remarks on their athleticism. Based on self-report survey results, 48.1% of participants agreed that media sexualises female athletes and do not give the athletic recognition that they deserve.

An example of the lack of acknowledgement of athletic abilities is tennis player, Anna Kournikova. Harris & Clayton (2002) discusses how Kournikova was successful, but was hardly recognized for her success and domination in tennis. Instead, she was recognized for her modelling and superstar status. Furthermore, Carty (2005) acknowledges how Kournikova was featured in the 1999 edition of ​The National Sports Review​. In her feature was a list of ten reasons on why the audience loved her. Carty (2005) reveals that nine out of the ten reasons were regarding her beauty, fashion and appearance. Only one reason commented on her athletic qualifications and skills. This type of exposure decreases the priority of women being seen as legitimate and genuine athletes, as it focuses on her physical beauty. By continuing to sexualize female athletes, this will reduce the importance of their accomplishments and strengths.

Society molds athletes to have a specific set of attributes, behaviour and characteristics. Men are more favoured to participate in more aggressive and competitive sports like football, or basketball, whereas women are more preferred to participate in delicate and pleasing sports like gymnastics and figure skating. Society has created standards for athletes that divides the sports along masculinity and femininity. This traditional gender issue places a physical and psychological limit on athletes. While there may be physical differences, it does not affect the skills and strengths that one may have.

Schmalz and Kerstette (2006) conducted a study regarding the involvement of gender roles and sports. The authors found that social and gender roles contributed to stigma in sports. From a young age, children attempt to fit the mold that is designated for their gender. The young sport enthusiasts “curb their behavior” (Schmalz and Kerstette, 2006, p. 550) and put in the extra effort to conform to society’s social norms. In their one on one interviews, children as young as eight to ten years old are aware and troubled by the gender stereotypes. Children learn about such stereotypes, as they observe their environment. They classify what they see in male and female athletes on television. The study led by Schmalz and Kerstette (2006) proves that girls are disheartened to participate in “masculine” sports, or activities and vice versa for boys.

A sport that an athlete engages in affects the way that they are seen by society. Jones, Murrell, & Jackson (1999) divides sports in three different categories. The first one being masculine, such as rugby, or basketball. The second one being feminine which involves cheerleading, or volleyball. The last one being neutral which consists of cycling, or track and field. These matters have “created unfairness and discrimination” (Katz & Luckinbill, 2017, p. 1) and have influenced the participation in sports. In a self-report survey, 85.2% of participants agreed that it was as good idea to have the same standards and rules for both male and female athletes. The gender inequality is being challenged by both male and female athletes that are ready to break the social norm and traditional values and roles.

The increase of participation from female athletes breaking stereotypes has made a big impact on traditional stereotypes and society. This is because of the high amount of female athletes challenging the system and wanting to increase the female participation in sports. Women have “gradually entered more areas of sport” (Tjønndal, 2019, p. 87), yet men continue to “dominate positions of power in sport on a global scale” (Tjønndal, 2019, p. 87). The sports world continues to play the antagonist role towards female athletes. However, this norm is now being challenged by athletes who refuse to fall under the categories and labels that society and media have made for them. Male athletes are shown as powerful, dominant and strong, whereas female athletes are viewed in a more sexual way where their appearance is more valuable than their skills.


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