The LFL…that stands for The Lingerie Football League

lfl_logoThe LFL…short for The Lingerie Football League…should really be short for “LaFf out Loud”. Please take a look at The LFL website if you haven’t yet. LFLMany of you who read this blog probably already know what my response to this might be. But first you should see some recent practice pictures featured on SportsIllustrated.com. Honestly I don’t even know where to start the critical commentary…the team names, the uniforms, the photo gallery, the concept…..(sigh).

If this league survives and thrives, then I guess we all have more data to help us answer the burning question “Does sex sell women’s sport?” What do YOU think about The LFL?

“Marginalization of women and girls—one of humankind’s oldest problems”

Recently U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered the commencement speech at Barnard College, an all women’s college located in New York City. Her speech had many good points, but there are two excerpts in particular which inspired this blog. First, Clinton states, “Marginalization of women and girls goes on. It is one of humankind’s oldest problems.” Given the dialogue generated around my past blog (and at Women Talk Sports) pertaining to whether Twitter is good or bad for women’s sport and if sex sells women’s sport, Clinton’s remarks about the use of social media are particularly relevant.

In her speech Clinton challenges the women of Barnard, and all of us indirectly, to use social networking tools to better the lives of girls and women. Clinton says, “But now, it [news] is beamed worldwide by satellites, shared on blogs, posted on Twitter, celebrated in gatherings. Today, women are finding their voices, and those voices are being heard far beyond their own narrow circumstances. And here’s what each of you can do. You can visit the website of a nonprofit called Kiva, K-i-v-a, and send a microloan to an entrepreneur like Blanca, who wants to expand her small grocery store in Peru. You can send children’s books to a library in Namibia by purchasing items off an Amazon.com wish list. You can sit in your dorm room, or soon your new apartment, and use the web to plant trees across Africa through Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt movement.

And with these social networking tools that you use every day to tell people you’ve gone to get a latte or you’re going to be running late, you can unite your friends through Facebook to fight human trafficking or child marriage, like the two recent college graduates in Colombia – the country – who organized 14 million people into the largest anti-terrorism demonstration in history, doing as much damage to the FARC terrorist network in a few weeks than had been done in years of military action. (Applause.)Clinton at Barnard

And you can organize through Twitter, like the undergraduates at Northwestern who launched a global fast to bring attention to Iran’s imprisonment of an American journalist. And we have two young women journalists right now in prison in North Korea, and you can get busy on the internet and let the North Koreans know that we find that absolutely unacceptable. (Applause.)

These new tools are available for everyone. They are democratizing diplomacy. So over the next year, we will be creating Virtual Student Foreign Service Internships to partner American students with our embassies abroad to conduct digital diplomacy. And you can learn more about this initiative on the State Department website.This is an opportunity for all of us to ask ourselves: What can I do?….no matter what you’re doing, you can be a citizen activist and a citizen diplomat.”

So while the jury is still out on whether social media is good or bad for women’s sport, how we might train female athletes to use it effectively, if female athletes can “have it all” (i.e., promoting sexy, feminine, yet strong athleticism) or if by doing so they are reproducing the same old gender stereotypes that undermine women’s athletics, or if sex truly does or does not sell women’s sport, we do know a few things.

Girls and women in sport, and unfortunately in many other contexts, continue to be marginalized. I invite everyone—women and men alike—who care deeply about sport and physical activity as a means for female empowerment and positive development, should reflect on Clinton’s remarks. How can we become “citizen diplomats” and use social media for the greater good of helping develop, grow and sustain women’s sports?

Note: As a related aside, when I was coaching Women’s Tennis at Wellesley College (’94-98), an all women’s college and the alma mater of both Secretary Clinton for former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the book store had a great t-shirt. On the front it said, “Wellesley trains women to be secretaries”…and on the back it said “Secretary of State”.

(photo credit to Secretary Clinton blog)

Does Sex Sell Women’s Sport?

I’ve been wanting to write a blog about this topic for awhile and a recent interview given by my colleague and the Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport Professor Mary Jo Kane on the Edge of Sports Radio with Dave Zirin provided me with a perfect opportunity!

In the interview with Zirin she discusses research, conducted with Heather Maxwell (Ph.D.), in which their findings refute the idea that sex sells women’s sports. Kane also discusses how the notion of “sex sells” is related to depictions of motherhood and female athletes—like the magazine covers of Sheryl Swoopes and Candace Parker pictured here, homophobia and Pat Griffin’s idea of The Glass Closet, and her thoughts on the Women’s Final Four sport media coverage. (Note: Motherhood and elite female athletes is a popular blog topic lately..see Maria Hardin’s blog and the Pretty Tough blog)Swoopes and Parker_pregnant

I also think Kane’s interview helps us think through why some female athletes feel it is important to “have it all” (i.e., be sexy, feminine, AND athletic)…which I’ve touched upon in a previous blog about social media.

The interview is less than 5 minutes and well worth your while to hear one of the leading experts on sport media, Title IX, gender, and women’s sports talk critically and share cutting edge research. In the end, as Zirin says, “Sex sells sex“. Sex does NOT sell women’s sports.

The “success” of Twitter in promoting women’s sports: ‘Show me the money!’

tweet-birdThere seems to be much discussion over Twitter and how it might be “the answer” to successfully marketing and promoting women’s sports. Jayda Evans (Seattle Times columnist & Twitter-er) wrote about it, the Women’s Professional Soccer League is using it, and Megan Hueter, Co-founder of Women Talk Sports, has two recent blogs about the importance of social media for women’s sport (A recent blog is about Twitter and an earlier blog was about Facebook). I responded to Megan’s blog, and she responded back (scroll down on her blog about Facebook to see our exchange). I enjoyed this dialogue and have been thinking about this issue ever since.

I get that social media is a platform to market women’s sports in a saturated market, and it is accessible, current, relevant, provides athlete-generated content etc…I got it. I love social media, really I do, so this is not a critique of social media or those that love it, promote it, and live for it. I have a Blog (obviously), a Facebook page, am connected to colleagues through LinkedIn, and recently conquered my Twitter fascination. However, even with my love for social media I’m reluctant to make claims about the effectiveness of it in promoting female athletes and women’s sports. It is the researcher in me—I’m critical and skeptical until I see the proof (i.e., empirical data).

I have seen ZERO research that demonstrates if, and how, social media tangibly and effectively promotes and markets women’s sports. I queried one of our very smart graduate students who is immersed in this research, and she didn’t know of any either. We will stand corrected if it exists. Just because everyone is all atwitter about Twitter doesn’t mean it “works” or will “save” women’s sports.
twitter-image1Here is what we generally DO know about Twitter and sport:
1. Twitter exists and is rapidly growing in popularity
2. Some people, but not many (~5% of the population), are currently using Twitter
3. Some professional athletes are included in that 5%
4. Many professional sport leagues have a Twitter presence

Here is the $1,000,000 question: Has Twitter lead to an increase in—attendance, ticket sales, merchandise sales, sponsorships, media coverage in mainstream sport media, number of teams in women’s professional leagues, or any measurable interest in or consumption of women’s sports? Right now, Twitter is a good listening tool and provides a way to listen to brand champions of women’s sport (i.e., the core, loyal consumer). But other than that, show me the data. It might be doing some good, but has anyone thought about the flip side?…. that social media might not be good for female athletes or women’s sports? So how might Twitter and other social media (including those not invented yet) be “bad” you ask? Well here are a few things to ponder.

It is a well known fact that female athletes receive only 6-8% of coverage in traditional sport media. This statistic has remained consistent over the last 20 years, despite increases in girls and women participation in sport. When female athletes are covered in traditional sport media, they are often portrayed in ways that marginalize or minimize athletic competence and highlight sexy, hetero, feminine aspects of the female body or identity.

A perfect example of this is the March 23, 2009 ESPN magazine cover of pregnant WNBA Rookie of the Year Candace Parker in which the opening sentence discusses that Parker “…is beautiful. Breathtaking, really, with flawless skin, endless legs and a C cup…” If you want a thorough, and I think well done, sociological critique of this article read this blog which appears in Contexts. I did a little mini investigation after I saw the Parker cover and found: In five years (2004- March 2009) females athletes have appeared on 5 of 168 ESPN covers (3.6%…less than the average) and when they do….well see for yourself.espn-mag-women-covers-5-yrs

While social media is changing the role of sport journalists, sport media scholar Marie Hardin argues this is both good an bad. I add it is good if it changes coverage patterns of female athletes, but I would add it is bad if it becomes expected that female athletes have to be partially or largely responsible for promoting themselves as well-rounded “girls next door” through social media as a way to “save” their leagues or bolster their own “brand”. Why isn’t it just enough for Candace Parker to play basketball to the best of her abilities? The NBA doesn’t ask Kobe Bryant to be more than a great basketball player do they?

Could it be possible that social media, including Twitter, is just another means to replicate the ways in which traditional sport media marginalizes and sexualizes female athletes? Twitter’s existence does nothing to challenge the status quo or existing structural inequalities between men’s and women’s sports…especially since it is an “opt in” platform.

Another point to ponder: How are female athletes and professional leagues presenting themselves on Twitter? Stay tuned for results on cutting edge research two of our graduate students are just completing on this very question—this is cool stuff! In the meantime, I’ll give you one example that occurred on the 2009 WNBA draft day which caught my eye and highlights my previous point. I saved three (of many) Tweets written by draftees, the WNBA, and other attendees who were collectively discussing “how we look and what to wear” rather than “how we play” on Draft Day 2009. 2wnbadraft-day

What everyone should do who cares about this issue and the cause of women’s sport, is think less about hyping social media and more about how social media can be used to create real social change and lead to sustainability (meaning…show me not only the data, but the $$$$) of women’s professional sport leagues…and more importantly, how can we prove and measure “success”?

“You Gotta Be Tough”

3-fingers1I thought a triad of blogs about female coaches in youth sport was appropriate given the amount of emails I received and blogs written in response to this topic. It seems like there is a need to continue the conversation.

To that end, the video of Michael Messner’s talk delivered on April 22, 2009 for the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport 2009 Spring Distinguished Lecture, “You Gotta Be Tough”: Challenges & Strategies of Female Coaches in Youth Sport, is now available to view free of charge. Messner is a professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of Southern California.

Youth Sport Needs More Female Coaches

swim-girl-under-water_istock_000006357654xsmallA lot of my research is done in youth sport contexts, including examining the barriers that prevent females from entering into youth sport coaching. While the under representation of female coaches at the collegiate level is given attention (See Acosta & Carpenter’s longitudinal report and the 2009 NCAA Report on Gender Equity in College Coaching and Administration:Perceived Barriers), less is known about the youth level.

In some recent research I’ve done combined with that of colleague Michael Messner (Professor of Gender Studies and Sociology at USC) we found that less than 20% of all youth sport coaches are female. Messner’s new book It’s All for the Kids: Gender, Families, and Youth Sport is a must read on the many barriers female coaches face and how gender hierarchies and inequalities are reproduced in one of our most popular social institutions—youth sport. Messner recently wrote a great op-ed in a So-Cal newspaper titled “Let’s have more crying in baseball” which is also a must read.

How is it that despite record participation numbers for girls and women across all levels of sport, that females are not entering into youth sport coaching? (look for a future blog on barriers..it is a complex issue!) The vast numbers of Post-Title IX women and former female collegiate athletes who clearly have experience and expertise to offer youth athletes are not translating into more coaches. Both Messner and I discovered that when women do coach youth sport, they are often relegated to “less prestigious” teams—recreational level, girls’ teams, or younger age groups.

Why does it matter if less than 1 in 5 youth sport coaches are female?

istock__mom-coach-soccer_xsmall Female coaches provide a rich opportunity to influence social change, challenge stereotypical beliefs pertaining to gender and leadership, and provide visible, active role models for children and youth—especially for girls. Access and exposure to female role models in positions of leadership (i.e., a coach) is particularly important to girls, as they have fewer such role models in their lives than do boys—and this is especially true in sport contexts. Girls are more likely to emulate and identify with a matched-gender role model (i.e., daughter-mother rather than daughter-father)—therefore the visibility of female coaches may have a positive impact on girls’ motivation and self-perceptions. In the absence of female coaches and role models, female athletes may devalue their own abilities, accept negative stereotypes, fail to realize their potential, and limit their own sport career aspirations.

In order for youth sport to be realized as a mechanism for social change, females must be seen in equal numbers in all positions of power within this important social institution. Much work remains to achieve this important goal that will benefit all children.

If you are in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Area and want to hear Professor Messner talk about “You Gotta Be Tough”:Challenges & Strategies of Female Coaches in Youth Sport on Wednesday, April 22, 2009 7-9pm, visit this website for more information. You can also read Rachel Blount’s column Studies blow the whistle on lack of women coaches in the StarTribune.

The invisibility of female professional sports

This might seem insignificant to some, but it is another example of how female professional sports are erased. Last night I was at the Sugarland concert at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Near the end of the concert Sugarland played a cover of the Bon Jovi song “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” that Jennifer Nettles and Bon Jovi recorded together.

During this song on the giant screen behind the band they showed logos of all the local professional sport teams in Minnesota….except one. Any guesses which one was left out? If you guessed the WNBA franchise Minnesota Lynx—you would be correct. The Twins, Vikings, Wild, and Timberwolves were included and when each logo appeared, fans in the audience cheered loudly for their favorite team. What made this omission even more ironic was the fact the Sugarland concert was held in the Target Center where the Lynx (and Timberwolves) play!

lynx
I’m sure Sugarland and their producers didn’t intentionally leave out the Lynx, but it is an example of how womens’ sports get erased—telling the public what is valued and important, and what is not.

What do online biographies of NCAA coaches tell us?

I’m posting some information on a research project poster that a graduate student, myself and a colleague developed for the Sport, Sexuality, & Culture Symposium held March 18-20, 2009 at Ithaca College.

Examining Online Intercollegiate Head Coaches’ Biographies:
Reproducing or Challenging Heteronormativity and Heterosexism?

Pat Griffin and the It Takes a Team curriculum she helped develop has raised attention to the many ways that GLBT athletes and coaches experience prejudice and discrimination in overt and subtle ways. We were interested in analyzing heterosexism on university-sponsored athletics websites. Online biographies are a universal component of intercollegiate athletic websites and provide the public with an accessible “up close and personal” source of information about coaches and teams. This project extended work of sport media scholars who contend that coverage and framing of athletes and coaches present females in heteronormative ways in print (Fink & Kensicki, 2002; Kane & Buysse, 2005), broadcast (Billings, Halone & Denham, 2002) and new media (Jones, 2006; Maxwell, 2008).

Online biographies of NCAA Intercollegiate Head Coaches of the Big Ten Conference (N = 226) were examined for patterns of textual representations that reaffirm heterosexuality as the norm.

sssc-conference-2009_poster

We found two interesting trends:
1. The pattern of underrepresentation of female coaches in the Big Ten was apparent.
2. A complete absence of diverse sexual orientations was reflected in biographical narratives.

To read more about the trends that emerged from the data, see all the results, or download the poster click here.

Got Milk? Dara (I mean Dairy) Torres does.

The ‘Got Milk?’ campaign has a long history of featuring celebrities and athletes who encourage consumers to increase milk consumption for improved health. dara_torres_milk-adpdf4Athletes for example such as, Diana Taurasi, Steve Nash, Serena Williams, and David Beckham have appeared in the campaign. With the release of her new book Age is Just a Number, swimming Olympian Dara Torres seems to be everywhere, including in the most recent Got Milk? ad pictured here.

While this ad is just one of many Torres’ sexy “see my body at 42” pictures (See TIME cover also pictured here) what ‘Got Me’ is the ad copy.

dara_torres_timeTorres is not featured as Dara Torres…but “Dairy” Torres. Why is this a problem? Dara Torres is a five-time Olympian with 12 medals. Dairy Torres is a fictional character…she does not exist. The play on words at the end of the ad copy also sexualizes Torres (“Lap it up” and Dairy…I don’t need to make the connection for you do I?). These two ad copy examples demonstrate how even the most successful female athletes can be marginalized, often in subtle (or not so subtle) ways.

I looked at numerous other Got Milk? ads featuring athletes, and I did not see one ad that referred to a person by a name other than their own—male or female. For example David Beckham’s ad says “Goal By Beckham. Body by Milk”. Why is it that one of THE most decorated female Olympians who has defied assumptions about optimal performance, age and motherhood is portrayed in this way? To prove my point would a similar ad featuring male Olympic swimmer Micheal Phelps say “Milky Phelps” and end with a tag line saying “Lap it up” or “Suck it up”? The ad for Torres could of simply said, “(Alot of) Medals by Torres. Body by Milk”.