by Matthew C.
Since its inception almost 40 years ago (1972), Title IX has shown great strides in bridging the gender gap in athletics. Legislating that equal opportunities be provided in athletics for both males and females, we are beginning to see the positive results intended of this titles passing. Intended to focus mainly on college athletics, we are now seeing the results extend to a national level as well. Over the recent past Olympic periods, several countries including Canada and the United States of America have been composed of teams that are represented by an equal number of male and female athletes. Along with this, women have recently contributed to more medal wins for Canada at Olympic events than that of men. With all this success in bridging the gap between participation rates among women, we are still bearing witness to women’s athletics being oppressed through narrowly defined ideals about women in sport, fortified through the presentation of women’s sports through the lens of a male dominated media.
Sports media continues to be a male dominated domain. With 92% of sports coverage centering on male athletics, while only 5% of that is focused on women’s athletics, with the remaining 3% accounted for by gender-neutral topics. Not only is the ratio of women’s sport coverage greatly under represented in contrast to male sports, often times, the media attention that female athletics receives, focuses on the sexualization of the female athlete, and her experience of sport, as opposed to her athletic ability. This approach perpetuates negative ideals suggesting the merit of female athletes or value, lies in assets such as her appearance or relationships, thus taking away from attention paid to her athletic ability, contributions to the sport, or achievements. Female sport is also the continual recipient of negative promotion by being portrayed or discussed as boring, entertainment value being contingent on the form of sexualization associated with the coverage. Examples of such sexism can be examined in the 2012 Summer Olympics held in London. Due to cold temperatures, female beach volleyball players were “permitted” to wear body suits consisting of long sleeves, and longer pants to stay warm. This caused a blow up on several social media platforms, suggesting that there was no longer a point to watch the women’s event now that the athlete’s bodies were covered up. The media’s attention being focalized on the sexualization of female athletes can be observed in the argued opinion of some, in regards to Russian tennis player Anna Kournikova. She possesses countless ads and sponsorships over her competition, despite the fact she has never won a major championship.
With all the strides Title IX has made over the past four decades, it is time for the media to evolve past damaging and sexist ideals. In recent years, such sports channels as TSN have made efforts to bridge the obvious gap between male and female sport coverage, and in such sports like curling, airtime is now equal for both male and female competitions. Along with this increased female coverage, interest in the sport has been increasing at a steady rate across Canada having visible female role models at the forefront. Recent rankings have even shown that the Women’s Final of the Pinty’s All-Star Skins game that took place in January between Team Homan and Team Jones attracted more viewers than that of their male counterparts.
Cases like this suggest that it is possible to gain interest in female athletics without the sexualization of the female body, but gain viewership and interest based solely on the athlete’s performance and ability. Other networks and media outlets need to use this example and increase female sports coverage and allow a fan base to develop. Title IX has shown an increase in female participation, and it’s now time for the media to make the changes to increase female sport coverage.
In closing, it is under evolved of us to ask female athletes to absolve themselves of their sexuality or physicality, in an effort to be taken seriously as participants of the athletic community, as Olympians and as professionals. But rather WE should be the ones, as consumers, as sport participants and as fellow human beings to absolve ourselves of our sexist ideals that serve to be constricting of female identity and experience within sport, and to think more critically of the portrayal in sport media.