In past centuries, women were discouraged from participating in any physical activity. Women were seen as having inadequate strength and ability to perform any physical activity instead were expected to be submissive and obedient supporters of their male relatives in this “one sex” activity. In the contemporary world, women have the rights to participate in different sports, and are acknowledged for their expertise to a degree; however, it is obvious that men’s sport is still dominant. It is evident in nearly all societies that men were and still are receiving the majority of the media coverage, and are more recognised and rewarded for their athletic efforts.
When images are presented in the media for sport, they are often of muscular men who have achieved excellence in their sport. At a young age, children are influenced to follow the stereotypes created through the years. Young girls are often excluded in school sports and pressured to express themselves as more passive and beautiful beings. As a result, young boys are given higher opportunities in sport and are rewarded for such things as “getting dirty in a game of football” and “tackling players is rugby”. As George Orwell said, “Sport is war without bullets. Sometimes the language of sport borrows the language of war: we hear about battles, warriors, and some very real-life injuries”. By comparing sport to past events such as war, where women were subjected to roles that only supported men as they were seen as weak, feminine and vulnerable, it is clear that the media is encouraging this disempowerment.
While girls are increasingly encouraged to participate in sport, they are brought up believing that they are much weaker than boys, and cannot perform at the same level or intensity. Boys that do not fit the male stereotype norm in sports are often portrayed as having feminised gender characteristics. A young boy to be told that he “throws like a girl or runs like a girl” is considered an insult to normalised masculinity. Sport and masculinity are closely entwined, and as a result femininity has been defined as “the other” and distanced from sport. Men who enter the industry in traditionally female sports such as gymnastics, dance and diving are stereotyped as performing in a more feminine domain.
Women in Australia have become largely involved in a majority of sports and sporting events including the Olympics and the Commonwealth games. Over 40 percent of the total participants in the Athens Olympic Games in 2004 were women, and Australia had one of the largest contributions to this percentage. However, their achievements are less acknowledged as those of men, through receiving less media coverage on TV and in the print media, newspapers and magazines. Women’s sport receives a total of 9% of all sports coverage in all Australian television news and current affairs (Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, 2010). On the other hand, male sport receives over 80%. This unequal coverage has unfortunately created a difficult situation for sportswomen. Women are given less opportunities for professionalism and their media representation commonly portrays them as sexualised and feminine. Unfortunately the limited numbers of women in management within the industry means that changing this disempowerment is a difficult issue for women.
The minimal coverage describes women in ways that stress feminine beauty, weakness, passivity and insignificance, deflecting attention from their athleticism. As women are not seen as equally skilful nor worthy of this media coverage, women find it vital to have a strong focus on their appearance to attract the attention of viewers. In a majority of women’s sports, the outfits worn by female athletes are minimal and tight, and hair and makeup is flawless which portrays women as glamorous rather than skilful. Women’s sport in Australia sees the Opals in basketball wearing tight fitting bodysuits in contrast to the men’s knee length oversized shorts and baggy jerseys and women in beach volleyball wearing “skimpy bathers” while men play in shorts.
This image attracts the wrong attention from viewers and even though the number of viewers (usually men) may increase due to this, women are stereotyped and their true abilities are made insignificant. Women are forced to contest each other to find ways to attract coverage to grow their profile and draw much-needed sponsorship dollars. After attracting sponsorship women are pressured by their sponsors to continue to emphasise femininity and look glamorous and beautiful, in order to be successful. Martina Navratilova is one athlete that never followed the stereotype, and relied on her athletic skills in order to be successful. “Today’s women tennis stars are good athletes who shouldn’t have to wear dresses with plunging necklines to grab headlines” (Navratilova, M 2000) On the other hand, Tennis superstar Anna Kournikova, has never won a professional tennis tournament, yet is one of the most famous women athletes. She relies on her looks and chooses to promote herself sexually, generally in men’s magazine. “The courts are as a stage, people love to see attractive players. Yes it is true I always try to be as seductive as possible but I wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t play tennis” (Kournikova, A 2010). Majority of women athletes understand that to be entirely successful, they must have to follow the stereotype and have a strong feminine look to attract viewers.
The language used by the media to describe women athletes subjects them to downgrading and sexist language. Women are often described using words such as “vulnerable”, “choking” and “defeated” while male athletes are given empowerment through the language used to describe them. The majority of descriptions of men include words such “strong”, “powerful” and “gutsy” giving them confidence to perform. Commentators and writers in the media push this disempowerment by not only using this language, but by relating women to children and treating them as amateur, unprofessional athletes through using their first names only.
Lack of sponsorship hampers the growth and professionalism of women’s sports. As the women are unable to obtain substantial sponsorship, they are unable to receive an increase of media coverage and vice versa, therefore the situation is difficult to overcome. The Australian Bodyboarding Pro Tour has been around as a contest for men to express their surfing abilities. For women, this contest has only been available for a few years, with most girls funding their own participation and travel expenses. Out of over 20 women entrants from Australia, only 4 received sponsorship. For women to be able to continue to perform like men, and grow in professionalism, they need to acquire funds like men do.
The minimal of coverage is limiting the sponsorship opportunities therefore restricting career and training opportunities. Earning a minimal income from their competitions makes women unable to balance a professional sporting career and a family life. Without sponsorship, or a high winning income, women are forced to also work for a living in order to support their sport, and their family lives. Their busy schedules mean their hours to daily exercise and training are limited, which affects their chances of performing at their best ability.
It was once thought that perhaps male athletes were more powerful athletes and therefore deserving of a higher salary. Society believed that the athletes performed at a harder and more exciting standard and for longer periods of time. However, this fact is entirely false and majority of sports are played, and at the same standard, by both men and women. Kira Llewellyn, who surfs for a living, is usually paid between $1000 and $5000 for her competition winnings. She received $20,000 US prize for the Sintra Pro in Portugal which was the largest sum for a woman in this contest. However, this prize money is not acceptable when the male winner received double the amount.
Society has minimal understanding and knowledge of the sports due to the restricted coverage. Shelley Maher, president of Women’s Lacrosse Australia said “Australia is number one in the world in women’s lacrosse and yet a very small percentage of the population would know about our sport, let alone that we were champions”. Women strive hard to accomplish their goals in their sport. Sadly though, the lack of coverage means they are not credited for those achievements. “It’s not fair that a tennis player, for example, gets a half page article for breaking into the world top ten and we have the best in the world right here under our noses and nobody outside the sport seems to care,” body boarding enthusiast Amanda Dahl says. In fact, the sportswomen from Australia in the 2006 Commonwealth Games won more gold and silver medals than men.
Consistent media coverage can benefit a sport by creating positive role models for society’s younger generations. These roles models sadly are limited in the world today because of this minimal coverage. Roles models are needed in contemporary Australia to help girls to set goals and accomplish their dreams. Once children reach adolescence, participation in physical activity declines immensely. Having role models in the media, allows the children see that women athletes do exist and therefore these children will begin to see athleticism as an important part in the female identity. The media needs to show a diversity of models, some with a strong athletic ability to ensure, to ensure that the younger generation is able to break through the construction on feminity.
In conclusion, women have always been seen as the second sex when it comes to sport. Even though it is evident that coverage has increase over the years, it is clearly still a major disempowerment. Women’s sport needs to be given equal coverage as men and needs to focus on their talents rather than the stereotypical images of women such as beautiful and sexualised. This will help create a standard for Australia that both women and men are equal beings, and will be expressed to the world through their media coverages. These factors as above need to be addressed to allow women to succeed in the sporting industry. Being given equal income, and not making women sexualised will create role models for the younger generations and will allow the industry to grow positively. Providing more physical education for girls in school based institutions will encourage young girls to continue exercise and understand it is achievable to perform at an elite level. As Kate Ellis, the Federal Minister for Sport stated, “In a country with such a rich sporting culture as Australia, where women’s sport is competitive and very successful on the international stage, it is incredibly disappointing that female sport remains so starkly under-represented in the media”.
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