In the sports world, women continue to be the underdogs. Being the youngest and only female (athlete) of my siblings, I know firsthand what it feels like to be an underdog. Overall, women have come a long way in America throughout the last century. As in a baseball game, they’ve made a few great hits but have yet to land a homerun. The 19th Amendment brought women to first base in 1920 as they gained the right to vote. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was a double, and gave them the right to equal pay for the same job as a corresponding male. Almost a decade later, Title IX of the Educational Amendments in 1972 hit a remarkable triple and made it to third base by giving women the right to actually partake in sports. Despite these astonishing plays, females have yet to hit it out of the park because apparently, “we still have a long way to go in the achievement of full equality for women athletes” (Heywood 25). Women face a gender bias because women’s and men’s sports are differentially constructed by the media; the amount of sports coverage, the framing of intentional audience building, and the visual and verbal attributions made by the media create an ideology of male superiority and dominance in sports. Well you know what? Just because the majority of women are biologically weaker than men, it shouldn’t allow men to dominate women in sports media. The female population is a majority in actuality, and women should receive fair and equal exposure in the media. Title IX granted women the rights to participate in athletics, therefore, they deserve the same rights to equal exposure. However, the media is bombarded by an avalanche of male dominance, and that needs to change.
The scarce amount of women’s sports coverage in comparison to the men’s are a symbol of the annihilation of female athletes. According to a study of 6 weeks of television sports news coverage done in the early 90’s, men received around 93% of air time; similarly and shockingly, only 5 minutes were dedicated to women’s sports out of 200 hours of sports coverage on Australian television. In a newspaper studies, men’s sports stories outnumbered women’s by a ratio of 23 to 1 and about 92% of the photos published were of men. Around the same time, NCAA News devoted less than 10% of written coverage to female athletes or women’s sports(Messner). At one point, Sports Illustrated featured female athletes on their cover only four times in twenty years (Heywood 1). Both the television and print media underrepresent female athletes, and women’s sports in general, while exposing male athletes and men’s sports eminently. This underrepresentation and disproportionate amount of coverage for women’s sports portrays the male dominance in sports.
The insufficient amount of representation the women do get, however, is still always less appealing than that of the men’s. In Erik Person’s article submitted to The Sport Digest, he claims, “The media creates fans.” What Person claims that the media does not simply report news, but constructs it by framing it. Advertisements, announcements and commentaries on men’s sports events were noticed to be made excessively throughout the duration of women’s sports events, whereas little to no coverage of women’s sports events were made during men’s sports events. A common strategy used to frame and build an audience for men’s sports is the airing of many regular season games; this causes the viewers to become more familiar with the teams and male athletes (Messner 173). For instance, NBA season games are frequently airing, unlike the WNBA season games which rarely ever air. Another technique used by the media is the televised shows and commercial ads leading up to the sports events. Weeks before the event, there are commercials advertising the event, the competing teams, and players. Another example is the countdown to events in pregame shows, which include commentators, such as Monday Night Football. This is compelling to the viewers, and an effective way to evoke anticipation and excitement for what’s to come. All this hype and enthusiasm for men’s sports created by media renders women’s sports to be less interesting, less exciting, and less newsworthy. Media seems to neglect female athletes, lacking techniques in building an audience for them and their sports. Media’s framing tactic makes women seem inferior and far less important than men in the world of sports.
What is important to know is that the characterization of the coverage is just as significant as the amount of coverage. Ideologically, men have to maintain the image of strength and control, and media characterizes this image both verbally and visually. Gender marking is a perfect example of verbal characterization; Distinguishing between “basketball” and “women’s basketball,” or “tennis” and “women’s tennis,” positions man as dominant and women subordinate because it derives women from “the standard” (Messner 180). In his article, Person points out that women are stereotypically seen as the weaker, softer sex who even at their best, are not as strong as men, but are more desirable in appearance instead. Verbal attribution made by commentators in sports is an example of this characterization through the media: Strength-suggesting terms such as powerful, gutsy, or confident are most commonly used to describe the performances of men. However, women are tacked on with terms such as weary, frustrated, and dejected, suggesting weakness. Visually, males are portrayed as superior and dominant when photographed through their poses, especially alongside a female. Women are rarely ever captured in action shots (versus still and sexualized poses) compared to men because ads would rather capture a woman’s feminism and beauty than her athleticism, for the man emphasizes strength and the symbolic suppression of weakness. The male body is depicted as a symbol of power and dominance, verbally and visually, due to the obvious, yet significant, physical gender differences that the larger, more muscular body of a male is biologically superior to that of the lesser, female body (Messner 175).
As a female, I am very much feminine. Growing up with two older, athletic brothers, I grew up around sports and got involved myself: basketball, flag football, baseball, and softball. I then developed an athletic side. I played with boys and girls, and was more talented and stronger than a share of both genders. Thanks to stereotypes primarily portrayed by media, many people underestimated me as an athlete when playing alongside boys. Their doubts soon turned into admiration as they were surprised by my athleticism as a female. When it came to softball picture takings for high school, I had a pose for both the feminist and the athlete in me. For the “girly-girl” in me, I’d lie on the grass, looking pretty and posing alongside my bat & glove. For the athlete in me, I’d stand tall, softball in one hand, and flexing my muscles in the other arm. Once, someone called me the “alpha female.” The alpha female is the dominant female of a pack, as the alpha male is the dominant male of a pack. In no aspect should a male dominate a female and vice versa. Women become the underdogs, because in the sports world, media puts men up on a pedestal and male athletes are glorified at every corner. Women deserve the same respect and media exposure as men. Before Title IX and even after it, thanks to the media, sports were often seen as a showcase for men’s dominance and masculinity. Well the media and those hypnotized by it need to wake up. Women may not be the strongest, fastest or most powerful humans in the world, but we are strong, we are powerful, and we are fast. Instead of having one gender dominating the other because of any differences, our differences should be embraced, whether a man is more powerful or whether a woman is more aesthetically appealing; it should not affect what the sports media chooses to put out for the world to see, because equality is what we need to see. Once the media sees, accepts, and exposes that to the world, that’ll be the grand slam of all women’s rights movements.
“alpha female.” Dictionary.com’s 21st Century Lexicon. Dictionary.com, LLC. 29 Nov. 2012. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/alpha female>.
Duncan, Margaret C., and Michael A. Messner. “The Media Image of Sport and Gender.” Mediasport. By Lawrence A. Wenner. London: Routledge, 1998. N. pag. Print.
Heywood, Leslie, and Shari L. . Dworkin. “Powered Up or Dreaming?” Built to Win. Minneapolis (Minn.): University of Minnesota, 2003. N. pag. Print.
Heywood, Leslie, and Shari L. . Dworkin. “Sport as the Stealth Feminism of the Third Wave.” Built to Win. Minneapolis (Minn.): University of Minnesota, 2003. N. pag. Print.
Person, Erik F. “United States Sports Academy America’s Sports University.” Gender Bias in American Sports: Lack of Opportunity, Lack of Administrative Positions and Lack of Coverage in Women’s Sports. United States Sports Academy, 2002-2010. Web. 27 Nov. 2012. <http://thesportdigest.com/archive/article/gender-bias-american-sports-lack-opportunity-lack-administrative-positions-and-lack-coverage>.
Written for Carmen Nolte-Odhiambo’s ENG 100: Composition I