By Emily M.
Being in an all female sport, I have been subjected to a lot of insulting comments. “Oh look at those synchronized swimmers, wearing all that makeup and dancing in the water, aren’t they cute.” Just because it is a female sport, people tend to take the athleticism out of it. They do not see that we throw two, 120 pound women completely out of the water, not using the bottom of the pool, might I add. All they focus on is how pretty and delicate all these female swimmers are.
There are many ways that the media trivializes women’s participation in sport. One-way is by gender marking. Female events are listed as “women’s athletic events” and men’s are just “athletic events,” marking women as the “other” category. Another way media and the commentators minimize women’s athletics, is by calling females athletes girls, ladies, and women; however, men are consistently referred to as men. The word girl implies immaturity, and the word lady implies helplessness, elegance and lack of athletic abilities. Commentators use this type of language during female sporting events and this demeans women’s sport. You would never hear a commentator say, “oh these boys are really doing a good job”, no you would not hear that. They would refer to them as men, strong men or athletic men, never boys. There should not be this gender stereotype that women are delicate or non athletic. Elite female athletes train just as much as male elite athletes, so they should be treated as such. Men tend to be called by their last names and women by their first names. When commentators call female athletes by their first names, it reinforces an already existing negative attitude about female athletes. It diminishes their professionalism in comparison to men.
Commentators tend to focus on how women athletes appear rather than on how they perform. They discuss their outfits or their makeup. One of my competitions was televised a few years ago, and the commentators did not mention how strong the athletes were or focus on the extreme cardio it takes to swim through a routine. They said things like “what a beautiful splash” “look at the elegance and grace”, “look at the gorgeous makeup”. These comments were completely stereotypical. What it conveyed to me was that women are not supposed to be athletic; they are not supposed to have strong muscles or a competitive side. This gender-biased language reinforces stereotypical feminine gender roles, and undermines women’s involvement in sport as well as their achievements. The commentators are coming to terms with the fact that women are increasingly participating in sport and they are increasing their coverage. However women still have to be in a certain box, they cannot be compared to male athletes. They cannot have commentary that emphasizes their athletic abilities and strengths.
When commentating women’s sports, they tend to minimize the females strengths by pairing it with a demeaning word, such as “she’s a strong girl”. Positive comments followed by demeaning comments. This is in line with the gender roles we grow up with. As children we are constantly told women are delicate, passive, and focus on their looks. Men are aggressive, athletic, and macho. Although women’s participation rates are going up in sport, they are still not being recognized as true athletes. Female athletes are still expected to be feminine and are viewed as caring more about how they appear rather then how they perform in their sport.
Women have come a long way in the sporting context. Originally, it was exclusively a man’s world. However now you see women participation rates increase significantly. Seeing all these elite female athletes really motivates women to reach for their goals. However the stereotypical language used towards women in sport, is still a huge barrier. Women should be taken seriously in the sporting world. It is not about their outfits or their makeup; it is about their achievements.
Halbert, C., & Latimer, M. (1994). “Battling” gendered language: An analysis of the language used by sports commentators in a televised coed tennis competition. Sociology of Sport Journal, 11, 298-308.
Messner, M., Duncan, M., & Jensen, K. (1993). Separating the men from the girls: The gendered language of televised sports. Gender and Society, 7(1), 121-137.