“Sorry, Not Sorry”: Analyzing Female Apologetic Behaviour in Women’s Sport

by Megan C.

Femininity can be defined as a socially constructed concept that states how women should look, act, and what they should value (Hardy, 2015). Hegemonic femininity is the sociologically “correct” version of women, which includes white, heterosexual, and middle-to-high class women. Additionally, hegemonic femininity is defined by traits such as “submissiveness, dependency, concern over physical appearance and emotional ability” (Hardy, 2015, p. 155).

“The social construction of sport [is] a space where hegemonic masculinity is defined, … and sport participation [is] associated with masculine traits, such as aggression, strength, power, dominance, and violence” (Hardy, 2015, p. 155). Therefore, women who participate in sport, specifically male-dominated sport, are often labelled with masculine traits and their sexuality is questioned. Female apologetic behaviour, in sport, exists to combat the masculine and lesbian stereotypes associated with female sport participation. Female apologetic behaviour is when female athletes ‘apologize’ for participating in sport by overemphasizing their femininity through clothing choice, physical appearance, self-expression, and style of athletic play.

The media plays an important role in continuing the trend of female apologetic behaviour in sport, specifically elite level sport, because increased media exposure and sponsorships are given to female athletes who conform to society’s idealized version of hegemonic femininity. “Emphasizing femininity reinforces females’ inferior status to males’ … and ensures that they remain desirable to men” (Hardy, 2015, p. 156). This is demonstrated through the media’s portrayal and sexualisation of female Olympic beach volleyball athletes. The women’s Olympic beach volleyball uniform and television coverage of the sport places a priority on the sexualisation and physical appeal of the athletes and the sport, over the comfort and skill level of the athletes, by focusing on the athletes’ body and not the sport. This demonstrates that being stereotypically ‘attractive’ should be more important to athletes than excelling in their sport, because that is the focal point of the broadcasting.

Female athletes “are always framed by their status as both athletes and women” (Hardy, 2015, p. 156). Furthermore, men can succeed and be publicly recognized as ‘just an athlete’, while women cannot solely have an athletic identity, it must be overshadowed by either their physical appearance or caregiving abilities. For example, the Olympic gold medalist curler, Jennifer Jones’, is the skip, a dominant and authoritative position within the sport of curling. However, when portrayed by the media and in commercials the focus is directed towards her nurturing and providing roles as a wife and a mother, not her success as an athlete, which gives the illusion her athletic accomplishments are not valid and not good enough. This may be harmful, particularly to young females, as it demonstrates that girl’s/women’s athletic dreams and ambitions do not matter, because being a wife and a mom should be the primary focus in your life, your main role, and what you will be known for.

These examples demonstrate that “women are still confined to two acceptable roles, sex object or mother, both of which trivialize their athletic abilities and inherent value” (Hardy, 2015, p. 157). Advancing women’s sport today proves to be a vicious cycle; increasing media exposure, sponsorships, and viewers seems to only be possible when female athletes degrade themselves and their sport, and focus on their sexuality and the physical appeal of their sport. Thus, the importance of female athletes such as Serena Williams who pushes boundaries and demonstrates that women do not need to limit themselves to be ‘approved’ by society; women can be strong, muscular, beautiful, and successful, all at once. And Lanni Marchant who is advocating for female body image in sport, by combatting the issue that female athletes’ appearance and uniforms attract more attention than their performances.

Female apologetic behaviour is more visible in elite level sport because of commercialization and media portrayal. However, this behaviour exists in all levels of sport. Therefore, it is important for coaches and parents to emphasize the importance of physical performance and not physical appearance in young athletes. This can be achieved by selecting athletes based on their talent and not physical appearance, which is particularly important in aesthetic sports. Furthermore, coaches should allow athletes complete control over their body’s and their choice of uniform (when possible), providing it fits within the guidelines and regulations of the sport.

We cannot alter the focal point ‘sex sells’ portrayed by the media industry, however, we can choose where our money goes. We select what products we buy and what we watch both live and on television. It is important to think critically and use your voice as a consumer, to give hope for upcoming generations of female athletes that their dreams are valid, and that talent and hard work is enough to be successful.

References:

Hardy, E. (2015). The female ‘apologetic’ behavior within Canadian women’s rugby: athlete perceptions and media influences. Sport in Society, 18(2), 155-167. doi: 10.1080/17430437.2013.854515

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7 responses

  1. Great post Megan! This was my topic for the discussion group, and I had a hard time STOPPING my writing. It was such an attention grabbing topic that deserves more attention than it receives; so I was happy to see your blog post when looking for ones to comment on!
    I liked how you made the comment on how the female apologetic isn’t just something that is prominent in professional sports. I know, that as an elite athlete in high school and university, it’s definitely present in amateur and collegiate levels.
    In high school, on game days we were required to dress up to show professionalism. The boys’ standard was to wear a shirt and tie and girls were told to dress as if they were going to a job interview. This instruction was meant to be interpreted as wearing dress pants and a nice blouse; but we went all out. We wore pencil skirts or dresses, tons of make up and heels. We did this to show off for the boys, in hopes of the ‘you look really good today ;)’ text. We wanted to show them that we were more than athletes with muscles, bruised knees and were feminine as all get out. We emphasized out femininity to an extreme, therefore conforming to the ‘female apologetic’. Outside of dressing up for game days, whenever there was a school dance or function, you can be certain we were the most made up group there. We’d spend hours getting ready just to prove to others that we had ‘more to offer’ than what could be seen in our baggy jerseys and shorts.
    In university, dressing to the nines when going out was a persistent habit. People know that I play on the UNB field hockey team and do CrossFit. These sports particularly have stereotyped as ‘lesbian’ activities. I continually find myself emphasizing my body and femininity when going out for the night with my clothing, makeup and hair to squash any questions concerning my sexuality. Additionally, when taking head shots or team photos for Field Hockey it can be noted that the majority of our team will bring their long ponytail in front of their shoulders (or even leave their hair down) so that it is visible, wear jewelry, have their makeup done and put their hands on their hips. They may do these things without even realizing, however, regardless it takes place as part of the ‘female apologetic’.
    Again, GREAT post!

    Kelsie P.

  2. Great post Megan! I love this topic, as I think it is a serious issue. Your post reminds me about the documentary branded that we watched in class. It is hard to see professional female athletes say that they have worked with companies to sell themselves as sexy versus what they can do athletically. I believe the documentary discussed the WNBA and how they do not promote their athletes to promote themselves sexually, as they want their athletes to be shown in their athletic form.

    I admit to not watching professional female athletes on t.v., but I never knew where to find them. I think that is one thing ESPN or TSN can do, is provide more television for the female athletes. Honestly, what harm could it do? Each of these stations has 5 or more other stations, and most of the time from early in the morning until noon or so, they show re-runs of the highlights from the previous night. But, I will say that since we have talked about this topic, I have gone out of my way to watch things like Women’s hockey, or women’s events on the internet, versus watching TSN on repeat. I want female athletes to make more money, so they do not have to sell themselves in any other form than their athleticism.

    Again,
    Great Post!
    -Danielle H

  3. Awesome post! This was also my topic for my discussion group and I found it very interesting to research the female apologetic and put a name to things that have bothered me for a long time in sport. For example, I play soccer and always play with my hair up in a ponytail, as do most female soccer players. I always hated when it came time for the female Olympic team pictures to be release because I knew that there would be women that were in their soccer uniform wearing their hair down. This always made me mad because it was an unrealistic representation of what female soccer players looked when they played soccer. I understand that if you are in a photo that the whole world is going to see that you want to look good, but why can’t this be done with your hair in a ponytail. After reading more about the female apologetic behaviour, I recognized that female soccer players having their hair and makeup down for their team photo was a way to compensate for unconventional feminine behaviours displayed in their sport.

    As a female soccer player, I have never personally felt like I had to compensate for my athleticism but I have definitely had teammates that I feel have displayed some of these behaviours.

  4. Megan congratulations on a well written article. Female apologetic behaviour in sports is something that I feel is very prevalent in our society. Like you said many female athletes dress in ways that reinforce their femininity, and I have also seen this in some of the sports I have done in the past. I watched many girls at the barn dress up by wearing makeup and styling their hair and while I never felt pressured to conform with this I never understood why people would put on makeup to go shovel horse manure, or to work hard at the barn. Another thing girls did at the barn was coordinating their horse’s equipment, They would go spend $60 to buy a saddle pad, and a matching fly bonnet, and polos, even though all the needed equipment was provided by the barn girls were coordinating all these things to try to look good. This can place additional financial burdens on girls and females when they try look a certain way. Considering that people who don’t fit the norm often experience more bulling and exclusion, trying to fit in in society and sports is a concern to females, so when it requires money to do it places additional barriers to low income individuals.

    Focusing on appearance does take away from the sport, for example often we see magazine covers of female athletes posing rather than them participating in their sport. All this media attention on our appearance is hard on girls and women, anorexia is a concern and focusing on people’s appearance is not helping.

    Andrea

  5. This is such a great post! Female apologetic behaviour is something that verifies the patriarchal society in which we live. For women in sport to be seen as powerful, people need to be able to relate to them, and this is when we see women being shown in the house as mothers and wives. Seeing strong women in sport is understood to be against hegemonic femininity and is why we see female athletes having to sexualize their bodies to be socially accepted.

    Ben A.

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