By Andrew Strautman
Sports are one of America’s largest pastimes and are taken both seriously and also as a recreational activity. Since sports were invented, males have taken dominance on the playing field. One of the main reasons for this was their physicality and strength to participate at a great level. But, as time progressed, women began to become more involved into the sport culture. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), between 1971 and 1972, 294,015 women participated in high school athletics compared to over 3.5 million male athletes at the time (AAUW, 1). But, as time progressed, in 2007 the number of high school women participating in sports was just over 3 million and men were around 4.3 million. According to the website, this trend was also shown in college athletics in reference to the respective time period mentioned above. With these facts stated, showing how so many women are participating in sports, how come women are not being represented and portrayed in the media in the same fashion as men?
For my research project I am going to dissect and discuss the misrepresentation of women in sports by the media. Within this research I am going to present evidence and elaborate on different scholarly research showing the different ways that media portrays women negatively. I am going to discuss broadcast media, sports magazines, and radio affiliations. All in all, women receive less broadcasted air time compared to men, are viewed for their sexual features and attributes, and are downplayed on their athletic abilities compared to men.
For my research I am going to use two theoretical ideas to help explain my findings. These two ideas are the framing theory and the feminist theory. In 1974 Erving Goffman established the framing theory. Goffman proposed in his theory that solving disputes provides social ideas that help viewers interpret different events. Nelson, Oxley, and Clawson (1997) argued that, “Framing is the process by which a communication source, such as a news organization, defines and constructs a political issue or public controversy” (Nelson et. al, 221). Framing theory supports the idea that gender stereotypes are changed and disputed through the media, and in the case of my research, the broadcasting and print media of women’s college sports in relation to men’s sports.
In Judith Butler’s article (1988), Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenologyand Feminist Theory, she examines the effects of sexual gender in society. Butler states that, “… feminist theorists have disputed causal explanations that assume that sex dictates or necessitates certain social meanings for women’s experience” (Butler, 1). This provides the context that the sexual nature of women provides social meaning of a woman’s life. Subsequently it is possible that gender disparities in women’s athletics are due to the social understanding of gender roles in society. Butler describes the idea of gender performativity as the idea that gender identity is established through discourse (Butler, 15). This research will help provide an understanding of how discourse portrays women differently than men in media coverage.
Women Portrayed on Magazine Covers
The portrayal between men and women on sports magazine covers is immensely different. First off, the number of times that women have actually reached the front page of the cover is sustainably lower than that of men athletes. According to Dr. Nicole M. LaVoi from Women’s Talk Sports, “ In five years (2004- March 2009) females athletes have appeared on 5 of 168 ESPN covers (3.6%)” (LaVoi, 1.) This is a staggering low number and shows the misrepresentation of women in the media.
Not only are women not receiving the same amount, or even close to the same amount, of representation on sports magazine covers, but when they are on the cover, they are being portrayed as sex objects and not athletes. When men appear on the cover of sports magazines they are showcased as athletic specimens showing off their tenacity and skills. Women on the other hand, are showcased on magazine covers to show off their bodies and sex appeal. A representation of the two can be shown in the image below from all 5 ESPN the articles showcasing women athletes and 1 random cover showcasing a male athlete that I chose from random.
As one can see, the structure and implication of the women covers compared to the males is quite different. First off, the women covers are portraying sex appeal at its greatest. There are seductive stares, raunchy subtitles, and revealing clothing. The male athlete on the other hand is wearing his uniform and showing an athletic motion of breaking through a wall. The portrayal of women as sex objects on these magazine covers can be linked back to Goffman’s idea of the framing theory. This idea correlates to this theory because the media is framing women as sexual desires in the media.
Along with the pictures themselves on the magazines, is the actual written information regarding the women athletes. While I was researching, I found the article written about Candace Parker (the woman athlete in the middle that is pregnant). While reading, the first sentence of the story states, “Candace Parker is beautiful. Breathtaking, really, with flawless skin, endless legs and a C cup she is proud of but never flaunts” (Glock, 1). Therefore, a reader who is reading this immediately gets the picture of Candace Parker’s body, not her athletic ability. ESPN The Magazine is a sports magazine that is showcasing these women as sexual fantasies.
Women’s Sports Portrayed on Television
Women’s sports are an aftermath compared to that of men’s sports in regards to live television airtime and also sports highlight shows. Live television airtime refers to games being shown live on major networks including ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and the ESPN networks. Highlight shows refer to the television programs that show the events of the games that just recently occurred. According to authors Michael A. Messner and Cheryl Cooky, in relation to the highlight shows, “Men’s sports received 96.3% of the airtime, women’s sports 1.6%, and gender neutral topics 2.1% (Messner and Cooky, 4). This is a huge gap in the airtime between the two genders! Both men and women play the same sports at the same competition level and still men are receiving almost the entire highlight show concluding the games. Messner and Cooky also stated, “News and highlights shows’ scant coverage of pro or college women’s basketball was usually relegated to the margins, appearing more often on the scrolling ticker at the bottom of the screen rather than in the program’s main coverage” (Messner and Cooky, 5). Therefore, the majority of the women’s exposure on the show was a running ticker at the bottom of the program that simply just stated the final score. This truly misrepresents women in regards to sports and the media.
Along with overall airtime, is the commentary that the broadcasters describe the athletes while in competition. While researching, I came across a study by Billings and Eastman which analyzed the commentary of the 2002 Winter Olympics. These two authors set up a coding scheme which helped them analyze and put into categories different adjectives that described each athlete. From there, they were able to find gender disparities through the commentator’s descriptive phrases. Billings and Eastman concluded that, ““…most of the clock time went to men, most of the top 20 most mentioned athletes were men, and most of the athlete mentions and descriptors were devoted to men” (Billings and Eastman, 569). Additionally, women athletes received lower level athletic characteristics of that of male athletes. Tuggle, Huffman, and Rosegard (2002) researched NBC’s broadcast of the 2000 Olympics. The authors found that, “…women who competed in 2000 in sport involving power or hard physical contact received almost no attention” (Tuggle et. al, 361). Women athletes have embedded the stereotypes of weaker athletes. Angelini (2008) stated that, “Women are undervalued as athletes, due to their perceived lack of athletic skill and competitive spirit” (Angelini, 52). Women athletes are viewed and manipulated by the media as less superior athletes to their male counterpart. These three researchers were able to demonstrate that misrepresentation of women in the media based on their athletic skill and how the media presents what they see.
The misrepresentation of women in sports by the media is continuing to get worse through the years. Although more and more women are competing in sports at the high school, college, and professional levels, there is still a misrepresentation by the media in regards to coverage, highlight shows, magazine covers, and descriptors describing the athletes. It is hard to say where women can come from here in obtaining the same respect as men due to the audience want of men’s sports. But, women deserve to be represented more than just sexual allures in the media and need to be viewed as top tier athletes.
Angelini, James R. (2008). Television sports and athlete sex: Looking at the d differences in watching male and female athletes. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media. 52 (1, January).
Billings, A. C., & Eastman, S. T. (2003). Framing identities: Gender, ethnic and national parity on network announcing of the 2002 Winter Olympics. Journal of Communication, 53, 369-386.
Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” Theatre Journal 40.4 (1988): 519-31. Print.
Glock, Allison. “Is Candace Parker the Female Jordan? – ESPN The Magazine.” ESPN: The Worldwide Leader In Sports. Web. 11 May 2011. <http://sports.espn.go.com/espnmag/story?id=3967891>.
Goffman, E. (1974). Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. New York: Harper & Row.
LaVoi, Nicole M. “Oh ESPN The Magazine…You Never Cease to Amaze Me. | Women’s Sports Blog Network: Women Talk Sports.” Women’s Sports Blog Network: Women Talk Sports | The #1 Source for Women’s Sports News, Opinion and Discussion. Web. 11 May 2011. <http://www.womentalksports.com/items/read/38/756057>.
Messner, Michael A., and Cheryl Cooky. “Gender in Televised Sports: News and Highlight Shows, 1989-2009.” Center for Feminist Research (2010): 1-35. Print.
Nelson, T. E., Oxley, Z. M., & Clawson, R. A. (1997). Toward a psychology of framing effects. Political Behavior, 19(3), 221-246.
“Title IX and Athletic Statistics | AAUW.” Breaking through Barriers for Women and Girls | AAUW. 2006. Web. 11 May 2011. <http://www.aauw.org/act/laf/library/athleticStatistics.cfm>.
Tuggle, C. A., Huffman, Suzanne, and Rosegard, Dana Scott. (2002). A d descriptive analysis of NBC’s coverage of the 2000 summer Olympics. Mass Communication and Society. 5 (3), 361-375