Today sports and the world of sports is somewhat of a religion. People watch sports and go to games more than they go to church, temple, mosque, synagogue, etc. Sports is the foundation of many conversations and helps society grow. The media when it comes to sports is one of the main factors that helps society grow both negatively and/or positively. Although sports make the society grow as one it also creates a divide when it comes to gender because of bias and stereotypes portrayed for each gender. Throughout the different sports industries, we have seen stereotypes play a role in the way players have been treated, talked about, and the different expectations put upon them. While looking at the variety of sports that are played it has become painfully obvious that gender creates a separation between the players and viewers. Overall, gender plays a role in the way athletes are talked in terms of gender; how the media portrays the female and male players in the sports industry, how marketing focuses on the gender more than the actual sport, how gender stereotypes are a big reason why co-ed sports are rare, and obviously how the pay gap is still prevalent today. While we see all of the different ways gender affects the sports world, we also see how it can affect the person as an individual.
Gender plays a large role in how athletes are talked to by the media, how they are asked what is important to them and how they are perceived. A key example is Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal and how reporters focus on different things even though they win the same position. The main theories and ideologies that support the way social inequality is shown in the sporting world are functionalism and mass medias gender constructions. The social theory of functionalism plays a massive role in how women are seen and portrayed in sports media. Functionalism is the idea that females give birth and nurse infants and have a responsibility to them and their families. The theory itself focuses on women’s roles and how they should behave in public in regard to their responsibilities to their families. Functionalism causes society to create stereotypes about women in terms of what women should and should not do. Due to this theory, women are thought to be more involved in domestic activities and are looked down upon when they detach themselves from the functionalist ideology. This specific theory plays a role in how women are questioned in interviews after their games and how the media portrays women in the sports industry. The main example in the sports industry is Serena Williams. Serena Williams has been subjected to many different circumstances due to society’s depiction of gender and what each gender should do. Along with functionalism the feminist theory also plays a massive role in the way our society treats women in the sports world. Even though we would like to believe that we are an equal society when it comes to gender the feminist theory proves us wrong. The feminist theory revolves around the ideas of society being unequal in terms of gender. It strives to understand gender inequality while examining the different aspects of a woman and man’s social roles. The theory itself is shown in the sports industry through media and the gender constructions they create, the interviews each gender partakes in, and also through marketing. These three different aspects show how society has categorized male and female athletes and how it creates inequality within the sports industry.
The first idea is mass media and the gender constructions they create and follow, because of the stereotypes that have plagued our society in terms of gender, media and society has started conforming to the stereotypes regarding gender. Media creates a stereotype of women during their commentary in the interviews and television shows: “In America 40% of sportspeople are women, however only 6-8% of the total sports media coverage is devoted to them. And women-only sports stories add up to just 3.5%of all sports stories in the four major US newspapers” (Pavlovich). Even with less airtime media mainly focuses on women’s domestic life, appearance and behaviors instead of what is actually happening in the sport. “Commentary during a women’s sports event will still occasionally focus on the physical attractiveness of the performers, their fashionable attire, their grooming or their cute personality traits (Sage, Eitzen, page 163). Every woman in the sports world is asked the same thing thus creating an unintentional base of gender discrimination. One of the main athletes that is discriminated against due to gender bias in media is thirty-nine times Grand Slam winner Serena Williams. Even with the numerous accomplishments under her belt and all the hard work she has put into her career she is still questioned by the media about why she is not smiling, why she is still playing even if she has a baby at home, who she is wearing, what her husband thinks about her playing, and other questions about her personal life. With media focusing on these topics instead of their careers they are creating the gender bias for other women who are playing in the sports world and also people who are watching the interviews.
When being interviewed women are asked questions that usually revolve around the ideas of their domestic lives or their appearance. During these interviews’ women are rarely asked about the sport they play or what they are trying to achieve. For women, the main question is why you are not smiling or questioning their reasoning for playing when they have a spouse and kids at home. Although female athletes always get these questions, their male counterparts never get asked the same questions instead they get questions about their professional life without crossing the boundaries of their personal lives. “Historically, women were perceived to be too frail or weak for various physical activities, and athletic activities were thought to be particularly harmful to their reproductive health” (Taniguchi 66). This old thinking causes society to create stereotypes about women being weak and frail and may also create the idea that women’s appearance and domestic life is superior to their career. The women who do leave the gender norms and participate in the sports industry tend to be asked about their personal lives and how they can juggle both personal and professional lives. With the media asking questions that revolve around the female athletes’ domestic lives they breach the privacy of these athletes who are trying to do their job. With the idea of functionalism, the family is not the only thing that is talked about but also their behaviors and appearances. Not every interviewer will ask about a women’s behavior or appearance, sometimes they will ask about both career and domestic life in order to create balance within the interview. Men, on the other hand, tend not to be asked much about their domestic lives, behaviors or appearances. They will mainly be asked about their future plans and how they feel about their profession and winning or losing. The key example once again is Serena Williams and the way she was treated during her interviews. In a recent interview with Serena Williams after a match where she beat her sister, Venus Williams, an interviewer asked a question which was ‘why are you not smiling’. After this question Serena responded as honestly, I do not want to be here which elicited many chuckles across the group. Although this question was seen as a joke because of the sharp and witty response given back, it also shows how interviews are more sexist and tend to ask more behavioral questions then career-based questions.
Not only do female athletes get ostracized for choosing their careers over their families, the media also body-shamed athletes. “Women who subvert to gender norms – by developing and displaying an athleticized, muscular body – are often ridiculed as not ‘proper’ women.” (Speer 109) This is extremely disgusting because a woman who is trying her best to be a great athlete and is working really hard is being ridiculed when she should be encouraged and cheered on. In terms of sports and media portrayal of women’s body image Serena Williams is the key example of how media ridicules women due to their masculine body. Serena is often ridiculed because of her big built, thick calves, and massive arms during interviews on sports channels. Media is causing these amazing women to be discussed in negative terms because of the image media and society has created for women. Due to the different negative stereotypes of women in sports caused by media our society has been plagued by these negative stereotypes and has affected women around the world. Many women and girls shy away from playing sports professionally because of the way the media portrays them. This is causing women to not pursue their dreams in order to conform to the gender constructions that the media has placed upon them.
Along with interviews, marketing also plays a role in the way media adheres to the world of gender constructions. With the idea of functionalism already circulating in society, marketing also adds on to gender discrimination. When marketing the media focuses on portraying women as either docile or feminine instead of focusing on the sport the athlete is a part of. When marketing women, the media tends to focus on the way they are posed and what they are wearing instead of what they are endorsing whereas men are posed with the equipment of the sport they are endorsing. The media focuses on the way a woman looks and if she is pleasing to look at in the eyes of society, basically an oversexualized version of that athlete. “It is clear that sports-based magazines routinely focus on the athletic exploits of male athletes while offering hyper-sexualized images of their female counterparts” (St. Hilaire 4). According to society women are to be seen as sexy and beautiful which leads to the marketing tactic of portraying women in skimpy clothing and in seductive poses, with a ton of makeup and heavy photoshop. This marketing tactic causes society to approve of the women in sports based on the idea of functionalism. Functionalism plays a role in all of the marketing tactics because the idea of women being domestic and dainty instead of being powerful and strong… what society deems appropriate. While women are displayed as sexy and beautiful, men, on the other hand, are poised in suits and sports equipment and are portrayed as powerful winners. The men also conform to society’s vision since men are seen as powerful and dominating. With the media displaying men in suits and dominating positions, they encourage societies view of women and men in different positions in relation to success. The media basically aims to please and conform to the societal stereotypes for both men and women. Not only do women get sexualized when getting marketed they don’t get marketed enough. Men’s sports team tend to be marketed much more which helps to raise more money for the team itself while the women’s sports teams do not get the opportunity to raise the money they need because of lack of marketing. The main example of this inequality is the women’s soccer team. The women are not able to capitalize on their talent because of a lack of foundation that marketing would create. Overall the marketing aspect and the sports industry values the males more than females in terms of professionalism and equality. This just goes to show how women in the sports industry are looked upon as second class citizens and that they are viewed nowhere near their male counterparts when it comes to effort, dedication or success. Furthermore, media depicts the athletes based on their gender and societies expectations; we see that women are viewed as less equal to men and that men are seen as dominating and powerful when compared to women.
Due to these different constructs within the sports world and media, women are seen as less professional compared to men in the same position. “…Female athletes are still considered inferior to male athletes and that compared to male athletes there is still an obsession with the body of female athletes rather than on her athletic skills” (Trolan 215). With the idea of functionalism already being a part of our society, we have made it a gender norm to see women as dainty instead of powerful while the men are portrayed as powerful and strong. The interviews that take place in the sports industry also follow this theory of functionalism and the visual media is not far behind. Along with the theory of functionalism the feminist ideology also plays a massive roll in the display of gender in the sports community. We see the inequality within the media, interviews and marketing tactics and this inequality is given through society and also is impacting the future generations ahead of us. Inequality is shown in the way society talks about men and women in different ways and how they are portrayed in the media. The feminist theory comes to life in the sports industry because of seeing the different roles as stereotypes that are put on to the different genders. This specific mentality has been integrated into our culture for many generations, the culture stereotypes women to being weak and fragile and less than men.
Co-ed sports is a topic that has a lot to do with gender discrimination. Now co-ed sports teams are very rare and even if they exist very often the ration of male to female is highly unproportioned. The reason why co-ed sports don’t really exist as much is because, not only male athletes, but society sees female athletes as not good enough or strong enough to play with male athletes. This is very unfortunate because I really do feel that female athletes are just as good as male athletes, at times even better than them. And when female athletes on the off chance do play in co-ed sports they play only because, “the sports that accept female participation are those that permit female athletes to uphold typical feminine characteristics and allow them to be portrayed as beautiful and appealing based on societal standards” (Morales 3). This just goes to show that even sports are strongly impacted by gender roles. Although a lot has been done to equalize the male and female teams, gender roles are still prevalent and even effect co-ed sports teams.
Another area of inequality when it comes to gender discrimination and the difference between male and female athletes is pay. Of course, just like in every other job and career out there, women are affected in the sports industry more. Maybe because of the way men’s sports is so hyped up that they end up making substantially more than their female counterparts, but in what way is this fair. If a person puts in the same amount of work and effort as another, no matter the gender, then they should make the same amount. This is even more unfortunate when it comes to prize money. Female athletes are often given less prize money than male athletes. When an individual works hard, so hard that they win, they shouldn’t be deprived of their right just because they are a woman. What is really bothersome is that these athletes are working just as hard as male athletes and at times even more than them, but are being told that they aren’t worth the same as male athletes and all the work they do to do well in their careers is not important if they aren’t men.
Female athletes are proving our society wrong time and time again, although they’re playing and fighting for what they believe in, our society needs to change their mindset. We are still incredibly behind in creating equality between men and women but if we raise a voice and take a stand then there is still a possibility of creating change. While social constructs are changing and women empowerment is a sort of social movement so many are a part of and adhere to the principals of, especially in the context of media, we are still very behind when it comes to female equality and this is very imminent in the world of sports. It is frightening to see inequalities in sports because, although I am hopeful that it will get better, the way generations to come are affected is still unknown. I just hope that girls will still participate in sports.
- Eitzen, Stanley, and George Harvey. Sage. Sociology of North American Sport. Brown & Benchmark, 1993.
- Morales, Madison, and Lindemann, Kurt. A Level Playing Field? Gender Communication in Co-ed Recreational Soccer (2015): ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. Web.
- Speer, Susan A. ‘Sports Media and Gender Inequality.’ Body & Society 7.1 (2001): 109-14. Web.
- St. Hilaire, Kristin, Kreiger, Tyson, and Wise, Sharon. Gender Bias in College Athletics Post Title IX (2016): ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. Web.
- Taniguchi, Hiromi, and Frances L. Shupe. ‘Gender and Family Status Differences in Leisure-time Sports/fitness Participation.’ International Review For The Sociology Of Sport 49.1 (2014): 65-84. Web.
- Trolan, Eoin J. ‘The Impact of the Media on Gender Inequality within Sport.’ Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences 91.C (2013): 215-27. Web.