An Investigation in media representation of gender in sport

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Last updated: April 9, 2019

In the late 19th century only ‘functional’ activities such as horse riding and cycling were seen as suitable for women, even before this era it would have been inappropriate for women to be involved in any sporting or physical activity (Boutilier and SanGiovanni, 1983).However, over the past 20 years women have seen an increase in media coverage in sport due to government legislation – which states equality between men and women – as well as women being given more opportunities to reach elite performance within the sporting world (Coakley, 1998). In today’s society the media is still dominated by male sportsmen and traditionally male identified sports, including football, rugby and golf. The main media medium which covers sport is television broadcasting.

It has promoted sport; making it an extremely popular activity (Burton, 2005). Male and female athletes both perform in high status competitions, but it is possible to see through American television coverage of the 1996 Olympic games that male athletes are more likely to be seen and talked about on television than female athletes (women received 43% television coverage while men received 57% television coverage) found by Tuggle and Owen (1999).On Australian television less television coverage of women (33%) was found by Toohey (1997) and in Italy, during the 2000 Olympic games, television airtime of women was even lower than that of Australian’s coverage in the 1996 Olympics at 29% (Capranica and Aversa, 2002). Duncan et al. (1993) studied 126 newscasts from ESPN’s SportsCenter and CNN’s Sports Tonight (both American sport news programs) and it was shown that only 5% of airtime was allocated to women’s sport. In addition to this they also found that the stories about women tended to concentrate on physically revealing shots of women.

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This is consistent with Tuggle (1997), whose analysis included the 1995 U. S. Open tennis tournament, yet it was also shown that the little airtime was usually pushed to the end of the program after the men’s more detailed stories. There is more evidence to show that male athletes receive more praise and are less criticized in sport through the analysis of commentary during the 1992 tennis exhibition game between Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova (Halbert and Latimer, 1994). When the game was tied, Connors received 30 praise comments, while Navratilova only received 7.

In addition, Navratilova was criticised 12 times, which is more than double to Connors’ 5 times. Bryant (1980) found that only 2%-7% of sports pages in 2 regional newspapers were used for women’s athletics compared to the 13%-17% of articles, in 4 sport magazines, were devoted to male’s athletics. Furthermore Alexander (1994) concluded that coverage of female athletics was only 22%-28% in British newspapers, during the 1991 World Athletic Championships and the 1992 Olympic Games.From this evidence it is clear that the amount of television coverage and newspaper articles is dominated by men in sports, even though there has seen a rise in media coverage of female athletes and sports. Billings and Eastman’s (2002) study of the 2000 Olympic Games showed that the success of male athletes was due more to their skill and performance than that of female success. This was also apparent in 2002 Winter Olympic Games (Billings and Eastman, 2003) and also women athletes were criticised more than male athletes of failing due to lack of experience.Stereotypical comments about female athlete were found in common use by commentators (Hilliard, 1984; Messner, 1988), as well as some being named as ‘girl’ (Messner, et al. , 1993; Koivula, 1999).

On the other hand male athletes were said to be strong, tough, confident and independent (Hilliard, 1984; Messner, 1988). It was shown by Tuggle and Owen (1999), in the 1996 Olympic Games that female coverage tended to include physically attractive sports, such as swimming, diving and gymnastics rather than physically unattractive sports such as judo, discus and shot put.Eastman and Billings (2000) found that commentators on ESPN’s SportsCenter used comments to describe female athletes such as, “just not ready for this kind of competition” and “necessity was the mother of invention for her. ” However comments such as, “he’s a monster”, “Don’t mess with him” and “he is the man” were made for male athletes and the commentators compared them to superman and Jesus Christ. “Kryptonite,” “savior,” and “messiah” were other terms used to describe men; showing the strong position which men hold over women in sport (Eastman ; Billings, 2000, p. 08).

Difference in tones of the commentator’s voice was also observed by Eastman and billings (2000), with the tone usually belittling female athletes whereas praising male athletes. Often female athletes that are on the covers of sports magazines and appear in advertising campaigns are not always the most talented athletes in their sport but the sexiest. An example of this is Anna Kournikova, who is a professional tennis player with no notable titles to her name, yet she is amongst the top ranking female athletes in advertising.A study performed by Harris and Clayton (2002) revealed that Anna Kournikova appeared in 34% of total female coverage in the 44 newspapers during the 2001 Wimbledon tennis tournament. However, only 33% of that coverage was devoted to her sporting involvement. This shows how the media value her physique and attractiveness more than her skills as a tennis player. Findings from existing research and literature presented here, show that sportswomen are poorly represented within media and have little influence within sport in today’s society, compared with their male counterparts.

However, there has been a much greater increase in the amount and quality of media coverage which female athletes have had in male dominated sports and also in traditional female sports, such as netball and gymnastics. Further studies carried out in the next 15-20 years might show a more balanced and unbiased media representation of gender in sport as a whole. In addition to this, some investigations such as Tuggle’s (1997) need to be long-term studies to provide more detailed information on the gender inequality of sports broadcasting.

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