I’ve written often about how media routinely sexualizes female athletes, rather than focus on their athletic abilities and achievements. This Vanity Fair piece and June issue is a rare example of the same pattern for male athletes. The argument is not that male athletes are never sexualized. The main point is that female athletes are disproportionately sexualized in the media (female athletes only receive 6-8% of all sport media coverage ) compared to male athletes. The other point is that when female athletes are sexualized it often undermines perceptions of their athletic abilities, while when male athletes are sexualized it rarely leads to the perception their athletic achievements are questionable. What do you think?
I have thought a great deal about this in the last year and a half, as a result of reading two good books Slide:ology and presentation zen. The authors of both books have challenged me to think about how I visually represent concepts when I give a lecture or workshop.
For example when I talk to coaches about writing a coaching philosophy, I use this image to portray that one’s philosophy is always changing and provides a road map for where you want to go as a coach and with one’s team.
Klein ends his TED presentation with showing the one image he has hanging in his office. What would your image be?
Nearly one year ago at the urging a few tech saavy women around me, I decided to begin blogging. I wanted to, but needed a push. I desired to blog to create an outlet for sharing my thoughts and critical perspective on everyday things, hone my thinking and writing, and have a place to share with a wider audience some of the work I do that usually only shows up in academic journals. I felt I had a unique perspective about sports to share, and one not usually represented in many media outlets. I also wanted to answer Dave Zirin’s call he made in Contexts for academics, particularly sport sociologists, to “get off the bench.”
I am so glad for starting to blog for the following reasons, I have…
met and connected with an entire network of creative, smart, and sports-minded women I would have never had the opportunity to meet if I didn’t start blogging (Thanks in part to Women Talk Sports Network!).
sharpened how I make my arguments, including improving my ability to see and accept both sides of an issue.
learned how to accept criticism of my work and my perspective, and not take it personally.
learned that a critical perspective of sports is not a common one outside the ivory tower of academe.
passed on what I have learned to my students and used my blogs as teachable moments in the classroom. This has helped connect abstract concepts to real life material, which I find enhances learning and increases student engagement.
been invited to participate in blog panels and talk about my experiences in blogging.
learned that everything I write is public, for better or worse…misspelled words, bad grammar, incorrect information and all!
encouraged other women to make their voices heard in the blogosphere and claim what they know or think.
thought about how easily I can be “found” on the WWW and how that is both good (i.e., brand recognition, marketing, relevancy) and bad (i.e., stalking, safety, can’t filter who reads or follows) for me personally and professionally.
wondered who is reading my blog and the reasons behind what drives them to continue to visit.
felt elated, proud, attacked, silenced, hesitant, skeptical, surprised, edified, and everything in between!
(I hope) become a better writer, teacher, and researcher.
thought about how digital media can both empower and further oppress marginalized groups who get so little attention in mainstream print and digital media.
been honored and have enjoyed when blog readers send me stories they think I might turn into blog fodder or want to hear my “take” on a certain issue (keep sending me things!).
wondered if I will run out of things to say.
…and most of all I have felt compelled to continue to blog. Thank you for reading this blog–One Sport Voice. I hope you will visit often, comment when you feel moved to do so, and encourage others to do the same.
I love March Madness. Every year I wait for the March Madness cover of Sports Illustrated. Every year I do a critique of the cover. Now that I have a blog, I can post the critique for the first time as I started this blog post March Madness in 2009 (April 5, 2009 to be exact). Here are the results of this year’s cover(s) [there are 4 versions of the March Madness cover this year]. The major point in this critique is to demonstrate that male power and dominance in sport is reproduced by the images portrayed and selected on this one cover. An equally important point is that women’s basketball, female coaches, female referees, and female sport fans are literally erased, marginalized and portrayed as secondary to team mascots.
1 giant male basketball player dunking a basketball (all 4 covers are of males dunking, despite the fact that Baylor’s Brittney Griner is well known for the fact she can dunk, thus it would of been feasible to feature a well known regional FEMALE player dunking)
2 male referees
3 cheerleaders (2 of which are discernibly female)
4 fans (3 of which are male, the 4th is not discernible)
5 coaches–ALL of whom are male, and I think they are all coaches of men’s teams. This is despite the fact UConn Head Coach Geno Auriemma’s team is on a very long winning streak (74 and counting as of 3/28/10) and is been touted as the BEST women’s basketball team ever.
~9 female basketball players (2 of which are almost not discernible as one positioned under the giant dunking male’s player right foot who I think is UConn’s Maya Moore and one player from Texas(?) is under his gluteus maximus, otherwise known as one’s buttocks)
A LOT of male basketball player (roughly I counted ~77…~8 times the number of female athletes portrayed. I’m pretty sure the ratio of male to female basketball players in the NCAA is not 1:8. In fact, according to NCAA research the 2007-08 numbers are 15,307 women and 17,081 male basketball players)
During the first week of media coverage of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, a few interesting things emerged in terms of sport media coverage and sport commentators.
1. It has been noted elsewhere by colleagues at the John Curley Center for Sport Media and Pat Griffin that commentators (and female athletes themselves!) continually call the adult female athletes “girls”, rather than women. I have yet to hear male athletes referred to as “boys”. They outline why this is problematic in a very clear and concise way, and is worth a read.
2. Despite the fact the first-ever Pride House for LGBT athletes and friends at the Vancouver Winter Olympics (which does not have any official affiliation with International Olympic Committee or the Canadian Olympic organization), sport media commentators continue to make derogatory remarks about certain athletes masculinity and femininity (or more accurately, the lack thereof). This is particularly true when it comes to US men’s figure skater Johnny Weir, the target of many stereotypical jokes. I watch The Today Show on NBC most mornings and it never fails that Matt Lauer, Meridith Vieira and Al Roker will make a joke or imply something about an athlete’s sexual orientation–listen for it!
3. If you’re watching ski jumping, you probably won’t hear a word from sport commentators about female ski jumpers, as the IOC voted last year to not allow them to compete. Much of the general public has no idea about this issue, as evidenced by the Huffington Post article a friend sent me last week. She thought I’d “want to know” and she was surprised and a bit outraged these women were denied the opportunity to compete. I had to laugh, as I (and many others) have been following this story for some time it seemed like old news.
In rebuttal to the “Vonn Watch” Sports Illlustrated cover blog post I made, many people commented and pointed out that A.J. Kitt was similarly posed in 1992 and no one called it sexual. I don’t recall the media buzz, so I’ll have to take their word on this point, but I’m inclined to believe it to be true.
Many argued the cover of Kitt was “exactly the same” which provided evidence that male athletes, particularly skiers, can be similarly portrayed in the media.
I would argue from a sport media research perspective that these covers, while at first glance appear to be “exactly the same”, they are in fact not similar in many key facets. The reason why the Kitt photo is unlikely to be interpreted as sexualized, while the Vonn cover might, is the focus on this post.
1. Kitt is literally “in action” doing his sport, Vonn is posed in a tuck position–she is not literally skiing.
2. Kitt has his helmet on, Vonn does not. Skiers don’t ski without their helmets.
3. Kitt is looking down the hill as he would DURING COMPETITION, Vonn is posed looking sideways (not downhill) into the camera.
4. Kitt appears to be actually in context on the mountain, Vonn in her picture appears to be super imposed with the mountains in the background. (However, I am not certain of this)
5. Kitt is leaning down the hill which connotes forward motion during his event, Vonn is static and while she is in a tuck position there are many other positions she performs in the course of a race that could of been used that might be construed as less sexualized.
Another point many made on the blog about this photo comparison, is that we had to “see Vonn without her helmet” because otherwise no one would know who she is because skiing is such an obscure sport. However, Kitt is pictured with his helmet on where we can’t see his face. He is identified by a caption. I would argue skiing is no more or less obscure today than it was in 1992. Therefore, the argument that we need to “see Vonn’s face” to know who she is does not hold up.
I will make one last point that might lend credence to the sexualized argument (albeit subliminally). There is one ironic twist to the Vonn cover photo if you didn’t catch it prior. Someone who works in the media pointed out to me that if you look at how the text in the bottom right corner aligns, you can clearly see the word “AsS” is spelled out vertically (start with the capital “A” in America and look down to the next line of text). Is this coincidental?
Is it great that a female was on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Olympic preview issue–YES! Could the photo chosen been a better representation of the great athleticism and talent of Lindsey Vonn–YES!
One of our local Minneapolis NBC affiliate KARE11 reporters, Jana Shortal, did a great piece on why the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and Lindsey Vonn SI cover might be problematic. It is short and to the point. To watch the video, click here.
Ok, so if you didn’t agree with my critique (and many didn’t!) of the February 8, 2010 Sports Illustrated cover of Olympian Lindsey Vonn that can be interpreted as sexualized, the photographs of Vonn and other female athletes inthe 2010 SISwimsuit Issuebeing released today (shown here below) might help illustrate some of my original points.
I became aware of these pictures, from a news story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that ran today which stated, “Minnesota skiing sensation Lindsey Vonn is among a quartet of Olympic athletes featured in this year’s Sports IllustratedSwimsuit Issue that is out today in print and online.” The online version of the SI Swimsuit Issue includes video clips of the Olympic Stars doing their photo shoots.
The critique here is the same, when we DO see female athletes (some of the best in the world at their respective sports!) which happens in only 6-8% of all sport media, they are more often than not in poses that highlight physical attractiveness, femininity, and can be interpreted as sexualized. Is it coincidental that the four female Olympians portrayed here are all blond, attractive, feminine looking, and sexy according to societal norms?Arguably, the Vonn SI cover can be interpreted (or not) as sexualized, but these images are clearly sexualizing in nature and tone.
The point being, by seeing Vonn on the cover of SI, these images of female Olympians, or any other female athlete… does it make the male demographic more likely to attend and pay for a ticket to an event where these women are competing, buy merchandise, or read a story about them? Researchers say it is unlikely. So yes, sex sells sex but it likely does not promote women’s sport or female athletes in a way that helps to grow women’s sport in a meaningful and sustainable way.
The last point I want to highlight is these type of images also reinforce to consumers what is most important and valued in terms of female athletes and females in general, and meaning is constructed from what is chosen to be included and not included. If you want to read more about how the sexualization of females affects everyone, particularly young girls, go to the American Psychological Foundation’s Task Force Report on the Sexualization of Girls. The report can be downloaded for free, and in short states, “The proliferation of sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising, and media is harming girls’ self-image and healthy development. This report explores the cognitive and emotional consequences, consequences for mental and physical health, and impact on development of a healthy sexual self-image.”
Therefore, I hope to see many more images like the one below in the weeks to follow, as Vonn (who I really hope is healthy enough to race given her shin injury) and other female Olympians have great potential to be positive role models, not only for girls, but for us all.
To see a video segment of me talking with KARE11 reporter Jana Shortal about why sexualized images of female athletes are problematic, click here.