“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

Judge them by their Success

By Robbie P.

As our class is gender, sport and leisure, I thought I would choose a topic which could hopefully create some discussion for everyone. Homosexuality is a topic which is widely discussed and abused globally. Many people use terms in a derogatory manner, often either implying that someone is a homosexual or their perceived action is viewed as being homosexual. It is not uncommon for words to be thrown around a professional sport clubs change room. I’m going to be focusing on the difficulties that homosexual football (soccer) players face in their change room, and why they are so afraid of letting their voices be heard. Whilst I am fully aware that it happens in other sports, this is my topic of interest and so my examples will derive from this sport.

I would like to address that football is a working class sport, loved and played by all. It’s the easiest and cheapest sport to play by a distance, with limited resources needed to play. The participation rates for males and females globally, are making it the world’s leading recreational sport by a distance.  Other sports like American football are largely watched and played, but only in one country, football is global. It is a sport which is accepting of all people, yet sadly there are some bad apples, like in every sport, which cannot accept certain people. An example of anti-homosexual behaviour came from a Brazilian judge, way back in 2007, who said “football was a virile masculine sport and not a homosexual one”. Okay, we have a few issue here. Firstly, as a soccer player myself it’s not a masculine sport, and I’ll be the first to admit that. There’s to much diving and rolling around to even consider that, it’s almost like play-acting (the irony is, it’s mostly Brazilians who do so!!). I’m not saying it’s not physically demanding, but it’s not comparable to rugby where they fly for each other. Secondly, the number of women playing soccer in the North American continent is unbelievable, and their Nationals teams are far more successful than their men’s. The third thing I’d like to mention is that a person’s talent should not be judged on their gender. It should be judged on their talent and success.

The most recent footballers to open up about their homosexuality was former male German international Thomas Hitzlsperger in 2014, and Casey Stoney, former Team GB captain at the 2012 London Olympics. Both athletes openly admitted, only after retiring from the sport. These athletes show that hegemony is not seamless and that there is a possibility of softening hegemonic masculinity in the sporting realm. The first ever player to publicize his affection to the same sex whilst playing, was English footballer Justin Fashanu. He took so much criticism from team-mates and managers at the time, but eventually committed suicide at the age of 37. A young male had accused him of sexual assault, which drove him to take his own life (article included in references). I am all for professional athletes coming out and revealing whether they are attracted to members of the same sex. I feel like it will include more people in the sport and opens a number of gates for more participants to feel welcome. I have included a link to comments made by Preston North End goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard (formerly of Manchester United), as his support for the LGBTQ community. He talks about the culture in the footballing world, how it would be accepted by the players and managers nowadays, but there are still some old school fans who would be completely against it.

One thing I am impressed with is the progress that is being made within the LGBTQ societies surrounding football, and more players are beginning to realize that change is needed. A study by Roper and Halloran (2007), looked at the views of heterosexual male and female student-athletes on homosexual male and female athletes. It was reported that the men were seemingly more negative in their views as opposed to the women. I would be interested in seeing a study of what this would look like, 10 years on, and how far we have come as a community. It’s all just a matter of who takes the big step forward and becomes only the 2nd person to openly admit to being attracted to the opposite sex, whilst they are still an active participant in the professional industry. Everyone should be judged on their success, talent and effort, no one should be judged by their sex or gender.

References and Links:

Anderson, E. (2016). Openly Gay Athletes. Gender & Society, 16(6), 860-877.

Roper, E. A., & Halloran, E. (2007). Attitudes Toward Gay Men and Lesbians Among Heterosexual Male and Female Student-Athletes. Sex Roles, 57(11), 919-928.

http://www.fifa.com/mm/document/fifafacts/bcoffsurv/emaga_9384_10704.pdf  (Fifa Survey)

http://www.breakingnews.ie/sport/football-needs-gay-hero-says-manchester-united-goalkeeper-575849.html (Anders Lindegaard)

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/167715.stm (Justin Fashanu)

 

 

LGBT in Sports: A Get REAL Perspective

By Lacey Purdy

There’s a phenomenon spreading throughout the country like wildfire.  A pair of students at Western University, in London, Ontario, with guts and an idea seemingly turned into a movement of hundreds upon hundreds from universities spanning across Canada over night.  This is called the Get Real Movement.

We have seen a trend of athletes who came out after retiring from their sport such as Billy Bean, an MLB player, In this situation, it’s more so males than females who come out after retirement; likely due to the notion that females are more accepted to be a part of the LGBT Community than males but the discussion as to why this is, is a completely different topic. It’s commonly believed that if a male identifies with an orientation that is anything but heterosexual, then they are deemed as not masculine, or not masculine enough (to play the sport they’re in); which may be a major reason as to why gay or bisexual males decide to stay hidden from who they really are. There is also this idea of the “Locker Room Mentality”; the thought of LGBT teammates ‘looking’ at other players in an inappropriate manner in the locker room. This couldn’t be further from the truth, regardless, the unknown scares some into thinking this way.

Fortunately, as acceptance of the LGBT Community in today’s society grows, more male athletes are coming out during the height of their career. It seems that the majority of society is embracing them with open arms; defining the athletes as role models and heroes of their sport. Some examples are Tom Daley, the Olympic Diver; Gareth Thomas, the Welsh Professional Rugby player; and Michael Sam, the NFL Free Agent that was on televisions everywhere during the 2014 NFL Draft when he kissed his long-time boyfriend, the moment he realized he was drafted. There are also more women coming out during their careers as athletes; such as WNBA’s Brittany Griner and Sheryl Swoops, and Megan Rapinoe, a midfielder for the US Women’s National Soccer Team. Thus, they’re breaking down the rigid stereotypical walls that have held for many years; we have examples of masculine gay men and feminine lesbian women, those of the LGBT Community who have reached the highest level of competition and success in their respective sport.

No matter how much progress we, as a society, have made, there is still negativity and ignorance surrounding this topic. This is why Get REAL UNB has been established. We have the same foundations as Get REAL; we are looking to eliminate homophobia, hurtful language and bullying. However, our focus is on LGBT and Sport and creating a safe and positive environment for all. We do this by, first, creating presence and awareness on our campus and within the Varsity Reds athletic community and, secondly, extending that presence and awareness throughout the Fredericton community by giving fun presentations to middle and high school aged children. We aim for these ages as a part of our “starting young” approach; as the ignorance patterns seem to start around these age groups, as it’s a learned process. Ultimately, we want sport to be the safe haven it was meant to be; where athletes have a place free from judgment and criticism and just do what they love.

People should not be restrained by stereotypes that establish a belief that they do not belong in sport because of their sexuality. Although we have come a long way, in terms of acceptance, we still have a way to go. We’re hoping Get REAL UNB will aid towards equality for all athletes.

The Double Standard

by Hannah M.

Women’s equality in sport has come a long way in recent years. We are beginning to recognize women as athletes who are strong and competitive. We are seeing women’s sport on television more than ever before and recognizing their athletic ability. This may be true, but why do women still feel the need to sell sexiness? Can’t women just be good at their sport and not need to be concerned about their physical appearances?

In class we viewed a video that analyzed this issue in more detail. The video points out that the women who are most successful in sport, tend to be very beautiful as well. If you were to flip through a sports magazine, you will find many of the women athletes in revealing clothing, if they are wearing clothing at all. The double standard placed on women athletes to be both good at their sport and sell their beauty is very evident in the media. It is rare to see an elite female athlete who can get the sponsorship she needs just by being good at sport.

In the article “Medals aren’t enough: Women Olympians still have to sell sexiness” by TIME magazine, we read that women athletes have this immense pressure during the Olympics to get the sponsorship needed for their training. According to Keven Adler, there is a very evident double standard for women athletes. He says in the article that “For male athletes, it’s primarily about their performance. And for female athletes it’s definitely as much about their looks as it is about their performance.” The article continues to demonstrate this double standard by pointing out that women in all sports feel this pressure. For instance, there are makeup seminars for rookie WNBA players to ensure that these women get the sponsorship they need to play. We never expect a man to spend hours before a game applying hair gel and covering blemishes just to get proper sponsorship. We rely on their athletic ability and talent.

Another article from the 2012 summer Olympics talked about women’s beach volleyball, and the bikini issue. There was controversy initially about whether the women should wear more due to the colder weather, but it was decided that they would wear their usual bikini attire. The athletes were okay with this decision, many saying that is how they are most comfortable when playing. The major issue came up during the games when the media coverage of the event became nearly all about the bikinis instead of the women who play it. They focused on the way these women looked in the bikinis, publishing articles like “Olympic Beach Volleyball: Great Bodies, Bikinis and More”, forgetting to really cover the actual sport itself.

The campaign “Strong is the new sexy” has a great idea behind it. It’s empowering women to be strong and muscular, not worrying about having a muscular body. In the past, a muscular body was stereotypically a male ideal. This campaign has changed the minds of women to see strong as sexy and healthy. My issue with the campaign is pictures like the following:

Strong is the new sexy

Why can’t we just see a strong woman wearing more reasonable gym clothes? I understand that “its the new sexy” but this photo really takes away from the campaign in my mind. It’s not just showing her strength, it’s showing a lot more than that.

References:

http://time.com/6714/medals-arent-enough-female-olympians-still-have-to-sell-sexiness-2/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sarah-j-jackson/olympics-2012_b_1736415.html

DISCRIMINATION WITHIN WOMEN’S FOOTBALL IN THE UNITED KINGDOM

by Will J.

When researching what topic area to pick for my blog post, it was easy. Selecting gender discrimination within football (soccer) was an obvious choice for two reasons; firstly, my stereotypical love for football as an Englishman, and secondly; an opportunity to discuss a topic that maybe some, or many of you, may not be accustom with. This blog post will specifically look at the discrimination that women receive as female football participants.

A stereotype for many people to make would be that the majority of English males play football, and as a male who has lived in England all my life, I can confirm that it is an accurate stereotype. Football is by far the most popular and widespread sport in the UK.

So where do females fit in? Football is also the most popular team sport for women in England. There are 252,000 women who participate in football at least once a month, however this is only 1.2% of the women in the country. Putting this into comparison to that of males, for every twelve males who participate, only one female takes part, with only 5.6% of all club members being women (Women’s Sport & Fitness Foundation, 2012).

Discrimination of women who participate in football occurs often through stereotyping females who participate as “butch lesbians”. This discrimination is often forged through previous gender roles. During the 40’s and 50’s women were portrayed as being fragile and were expected to fulfill the role of homemaker, whilst the male was out at work. Relating these gender roles and stereotypes to sport, women’s bodies in the 1900’s were regarded as “delicate”, and because of their muscle build, beauty and expectation of genteelness, they were advised to refrain from participating in physical activity as it was believe this would lead to ill health and it was seen as un-lady like. However, this perspective is also still reflected in this day and age by some people.

As football is regarded as a masculine sport, similarly to when females wear their hair short, or dress in the fashion of men, and in this case play sport, women who play are stereotypically regarded as being lesbian (Caudwell, 1999). Female footballers are specifically discriminated against because of the notion that football is predominantly heterosexually masculine, and still holds a very male outlook. Therefore, women who participate are portray as masculine and homosexual, creating a butch lesbian stereotype. The lack of media and general popularity of women’s football may also be linked to the image of women’s football being a ‘lesbian sport’. This image is also a deterrent for young girls and their parents who may not want to be (or their daughters to be) associated with this image. It has also been suggested that keeping the status quo of having women’s football seen as a taboo and as a ‘lesbian sport’, is a way of keeping professional players from ‘coming out’, and maintaining the ideology of heterosexual male participation (Wagg, 2004).

Further Reading:

Caudwell, J. (November 01, 1999). Women’s Football in the United Kingdom: Theorizing Gender and Unpacking the Butch Lesbian Image. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 23(4), 390-402.

Wagg, S. (2004). British football and social exclusion. London: Routledge.

Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation. (October 2012). Football Factsheet: football is the most popular team sport for women. Thefa.com. Retrieved March 14th, 2014, from http://www.thefa.com

Society Putting the “Gay” in “Gay Athlete”

Meagan F.

Now more than ever, it is crucial that children become involved in physical activity to promote healthy practices for life. The benefits to sport participation have been referenced repeatedly; physical health, socialization to build strong relationships, problem solving skills, etc. Most athletes see sport as a way of life and feel comfortable within that specific environment while enjoying the experience with teammates, coaches and friends. For some gay athletes, it can be more of a challenge to share this same experience. For instance, what if that athlete is not openly gay? Furthermore, what if this athlete wants to be open, but does not have to courage to do so because of the stereotypes or lack of role models within the athletic field? I’ve taken information based on personal reflection, as well as multiple published articles to further explore the mindset of a homosexual athlete.

Megan Rapinoe, an openly gay US Olympic soccer player, believes that many sports still possess a certain “taboo” when it comes to gay athletes, and that there is actually a significant difference in acceptance depending on gender. “I feel like sports in general are still homophobic in the sense that not a lot of people are out,” she said. Still, she added, “In female sports, if you’re gay, most likely your team knows it pretty quickly. It’s very open and widely supported. For males, it’s not that way at all. It’s sad”(Wong, 2012). Rapinoe also delivers her input in regards to the current media attention surrounding Michael Sam, an openly gay NFL prospect. “It seems silly and even embarrassing to listen to people who say Sam being gay is a distraction to the team. There are many more things going on within a team that are much more of a distraction than one team member’s sexual orientation. I applaud Sam and his bravery” (Rapinoe, 2014).

When looking at male athletics, rugby could be considered as one of the most masculine, physically demanding sports in the world. In 2009, a famous Welsh rugby player, Gareth Thomas, came out while still being at the top of his game; maintaining one of the leading positions for the league. Relating to what Rapinoe mentioned in her statement, Thomas felt the pressure of being outcasted by his teammates and fans if deciding to become an openly gay male in a very masculine sport. To cover up his lifestyle, Thomas said that he consciously avoided being seen as gay by overcompensating with straight stereotypes (hitting on multiple women, eventually marrying a woman, drinking the most beer, going out of his way to do more masculine activities rather than feminine ones). Thomas describes the pressure of hiding so extreme, that it one day became too much, resulting in him telling his coach. “It was my coach. He knew that I couldn’t go through this alone anymore and encouraged me to tell my teammates.” Afterwards, a number of Thomas’s teammates came up to show their support saying, “You’re still the same Gareth Thomas” (Doward, 2009). Thomas also advocates other gay athletes to come out in their own time, mentioning that the power professional athletes have on the world is important to the younger generation.

Ellen DeGeneres interviews Gareth Thomas and he talks about his experience.

Obviously, stories and experiences differ based on the individual. With more and more athletes becoming comfortable enough with themselves, and perhaps a shift in cultural acceptance, this gives younger athletes a base to go off of. As pioneering gay athletes, they are not only standing up for themselves, but also for the rights and lifestyles of other gay/lesbian athletes around the world. It is tough enough to be stuck in the limbo of coming to terms with yourself, but to obtain the courage to express this with those you are closest to is a whole other level. Fear is learned, and the way society chooses to portray homosexuals either in film, television or news definitely alters how we fear. Society puts the “gay” in gay athlete, and until it is more comfortable for athletes and fans to accept life as it is, regardless of sexual orientation, we will continue to see “gay athletes” as just that; the “gay” athlete. Living with this label may have its burdens, but also holds empowerment to know that you are creating a conversation.

References:

Doward, Jamie. (2009). Gay Activists Praise Rugby Star Gareth Thomas’s Decision Coming Out.   The Guardian.

Rapinoe, Megan. (2014). If Your Team Can’t Handle A Gay Player? Get Out. The Advocate.

Wong, Curtis M. (2012). Megan Rapinoe Comes Out. Huffington Post Website.