by Nicola S.
Female University student-athletes put in the same amount of dedication, commitment, time, and determination as male athletes, so why is it that we are still seeing a difference in the amount of fans at both games. I witness this divide every year as I play on the UNB Women’s Soccer team. Our games are right before the men’s game, and it is clear to see the trend of fans filling the bleachers near the end of our game in order to see the men’s game kickoff. Of course, being a female athlete, I can say I am very used to not having a huge fan base compared to the men’s team, but that does not mean I am not affected by it. Balish, Deaner, and Lombardo (2016) record that from 1995 to 2011, the German men’s national soccer team attracted six times as many TV viewers as the women’s national team did. Several studies have been done providing reasons why fans may prefer to watch men play sports rather than women, and in my opinion, media coverage plays a huge role in this trend.
Historical View of Gender Roles
The traditional view of gender roles from decades ago has produced the portrayal of sport as being ‘masculine’ in today’s society. Discussed in lecture and seen throughout research, are two key words: sex and gender. Sex refers to the biological differences of males and females. However, it is the word gender that causes a greater debate. It refers to society’s expectations of what it means to be considered a female or a male, and due to historical phenomenon, what is means to be therefore feminine or masculine. In a sporting context, gender differences are made even clearer as females are portrayed in a way of beauty rather than athleticism. Articles have consistently broadcast that men in sports, living up to expectations, are accustomed to showing fans their “strength, athleticism, competitiveness, risk, and excitement, ” and females just aren’t biologically built for it. Of course, there are statistics proving that men do become physically stronger than women. At age thirteen there is a shift such that by age 15, boys are around 12 percent stronger than girls in their lower body and 23 percent stronger in their upper body. Research indicates that by age 17, boys are 50 percent stronger than girls in lower body strength (Kelley, 2017). It is these statistics that have shaped why our society defines sport as ‘masculine’ and is why people are more attracted to watching men play a ‘man’s game’. This stereotype between masculinity and sports is, and will be, tough to crack as people are so indulged in such statistics.
Media Coverage Among Female and Male Sport
Although the evolution over the last four decades of women’s sport has been exceptional, the media coverage has not. Media is a system that is so powerful to everyone who is a part of it and can create a ripple effect of feelings towards whatever it is portraying. Media does not necessarily reflect reality; it constructs it and strongly influences our beliefs, values and attitudes concerning ourselves, others, and the world around us. That being said, Ottaway (2016) declares that about 90% of sports editors are men. If the majority of people broadcasting these sport stories, pictures, news’ articles are men, then the majority of media will have men as the focus of display. As previously mentioned, the historical view of males and females has dominated into the 20th century and media is only making it worse. It is an unfortunate trend because the money goes where the audience is, which only continues this downward cycle. Ottaway (2016) reviews some quotes broadcasted in the media for the world to see:
“It is a lady’s business to look beautiful and there are hardly any sports in which she seems able to do it.” –Sportswriter Paul Gallico, 1936
“Well, the vast majority of WNBA players lack crossover sex appeal…. The baggy uniforms don’t help.” –Bill Simmons, HBO sports personality, circa 2006
“Women’s sports in general are not worth watching.” –Sports Illustrated contributor Andy Benoit on Twitter, 2015
From 1936 to 2015, the media has proven to continue to display the division between males and females and further discourage women from engaging in competitive sports. The lack of media coverage for women’s sport has lowered the desire for people to watch women play, which happens at all levels of sport.
Lack of Fans
In my personal experience, as I previously mentioned, there is a clear difference in fans at our soccer games compared to the men’s games. I have heard several people say, “The men’s game is just more fun to watch.” This is a common theme among University sports. Their game is perceived as being faster, more aggressive, and more exciting and therefore more ‘worth the watch.’ However, I believe it is this notion of sport as a ‘man’s game’ constructed decades ago that is still affecting even University female sporting events today. This stereotype will not change overnight, however with a shift in media coverage towards publishing an equal number of men and women in sport, change will begin to occur. Again, media is the core of changing perspectives and can easily do so with its power. As soon as the connection between sport and masculinity disappears, it will be a level playing field. This will without a doubt increase the number of fans and therefore switch the direction of this trend towards gender equality in sport.
Balish, S. A., Deaner, R. O., & Lombardo, M. P. (2016) Sex Differences in Sports Interest and Motivation: An Evolutionary Perspective. Evolutionary Behavioural Sciences. Vol. 10, No. 2, 73–97
Kelley, C. (2017, Sept 11th). How Gender Stereotypes Affect Athlete Development. US Lacrosse Magazine.
Ottaway, A. (2016). Why Don’t People Watch Women’s Sports? The Nation.