Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

From the early female football pioneers to the female face of e-sports — Chapter 3

Posted on 9 March 2019 by Maria Lopes

This is the third in a multi-part series on women in sport. Chapter 1 explored the early days of the Olympic movement, chapter 2 grapples with the struggles wrapped up in sexual identity

Chapter 3: The influence of the media on gender views in sport

It’s clear that over the years, the influence of the media in recognising and covering sports has contributed to its growth. This extends to the number of women participating in the various athletic codes. With the power to create and refine gender values through its extensive audience, the media can influence societal views.

Female athletes have suffered from inadequate as well as insufficient representation for many years. The frequency of such portrayals is capable of fostering the normalisation of their objectification while spreading and upholding stereotypes.

The Centre of Gender Equality in Iceland has stated that when it comes to elite sports, there are evident differences and noticeable biological characteristics between men and women. That is undeniable, affirming that sport was established and based around masculine models.

Research suggests that male-domination is prevalent in the media and particularly prominent in sports news. The image of women in the media has however progressed over the years, but only in specific sports.

In 2014, the Women’s Sports and Fitness Foundation told a Culture, Media and Sports Committee report into Women and Sport that exposure of women’s sports in the UK makes up only 7% of all sports media coverage. Only 10% of broadcasted sports’ exposure is dedicated to women, 5% of radio, 4% of online resources and 2% of national newspaper is dedicated to women’s sport.

Mens sports and male athletes

Various studies not only mention that there is insufficient and inadequate sports media coverage in comparison to men’s, but the way in which men’s sports and male athletes are portrayed suppresses women’s sports and female athletes.

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Men’s sport is seen as more exciting and interesting due to the higher quantity and better quality of coverage, engaging the audience and creating an enhanced reputation among society.

Men’s sports and male athletes evidently dominate media coverage across all platforms. Illustrating that the ‘conventional’ shared perception is that men are dynamic, efficient and athletic, whereas women are not.

This goes some way in explaining why there is a lack of female role models in sport. If female athletes are not portrayed as efficient and skilled, younger athletes will not have anyone to look up to. According to research, this has affected younger female athletes in dropping out from athletic endeavours.

In 2015, Janet S. Fink affirmed that this tendency to objectify female athletes rather than view them as capable and skilful is the cause of the imbalance within the media coverage of male and female athletes.

The media fosters sports by inundating individuals with adverts across newspapers, online news, websites, magazines, television, radio and social media. Such adverts often contain narratives of what being a man or a woman means – as well as promoting the gender imbalance.

Eoin J. Trolan in the journal, ‘The Impact of the Media on Gender Inequality within Sport’ (2013), stated that the media is responsible for upholding the gender differences and inequality through the consistent visuals portrayed, across all platforms. However, the media also has the dominance to raise awareness on women’s sport in society through its impact to foster far-reaching news and information.

Although the media has the power to push women to participate in more sports by giving them a platform to emulate other successful women – more women’s sport has to be covered, to generate motivation among women, increasing physical abilities and mental health.

Female empowerment through multinational sports brands

Numerous multinational sports brands have created campaigns with the aim to empower women instead of their products directly. Campaign’s such as Nike’s ‘Better for it’, Under Armour’s ‘I will what I want’, Sport England’s ‘This girl can‘ , and ‘Like A Girl’ from Always all reached a wide audience through the use of multiple platforms.

From creating print and online ads to encourage female athletes to take on challenges and conquer personal goals (Nike), to targeting how women do not have the need to wait for permission or approval and should disregard society’s ideals to accomplish their goals (Under Armour), two multi-national sports brands have reached a vast audience. Under Armour’s YouTube has been seen by over 10 million people.

On the other hand, Sport England’s mission through their ‘This Girl Can’ campaign is to display real women who play sport by using images that are the complete opposite of the idealised and stylised images of women in the media. Their goal is to break these stereotypes attached to the ‘ideal’ female athlete. So far, their video has garnered over 13 million views.

At last, the menstruation topic. Always is a brand of feminine hygiene products, used worldwide. The ‘Like A Girl´ campaign consisted of 15 video ads on YouTube and across television, with the mission to maintain confidence amongst girls high, during puberty – by eliminating the negative humiliation and stigma devoted to it. Reaching 63 million views and redefining the saying ‘Like A Girl’ into an optimistic affirmation.

Still to this day, studies confirm that inequality amongst men’s and women’s sports as well as male and female athletes is prevalent and is clearly portrayed through their unbalanced media coverage. It is however, undeniable, that progress has been made from the days when women were not permitted to participate in the Olympics.

While huge progress still remains to be made, the media industry is finally revolving its attention to women sports, which could be greatly beneficial to women for both physical and mental reasons. 

Chapter 1: History of Women’s Sports

Chapter 2: The ‘Lesbian Stereotype’ in Sports

Featured photograph/Maria Lopes