Women and Sports
Media coverage of sporting activities performs a role in shaping attitudes of the society with regards to women’s sports. This is largely attributed to the thousands of hours or sports recording undertaken by the television network record each year. But for many decades, men’s sports activities have dominated the airwaves (Carlisle et al.). The domineering nature of men’s sports has led to women sports receiving little to no airplay; this is in large parts attributed to the lack of equal coverage between the two genders. A recent survey in the United States affirmed that women sports only received 1.6 percent airplay across all television network as compared to 96.3 percent given to men’s sports. This paper takes the position that the mass media is not doing enough when it comes to encouraging women sports (Messner and Cooky). The lack of adequate media coverage with respect to women sports has dealt a negative impact on the growth of the game. Even after the enactment of the Title IX legislation, women are yet to be treated in the same way as their male counterparts (Www2.ed.gov). The legislations ensure that men and women are treated equally when it comes to any activity that is federally funded, sports included.
- Problem definition
Mass media companies don’t accord women the same prominence in their sports segments only relegating a small portion of the airtime. Some of the reasons women get little airtime on mass media companies include:
Female athletes are still targets of being sexualized and objectified by the commentators. Despite the commentator not speaking about the athlete in a sexual manner, the inclusion of visual images of the women diverts attention from what is really important (Tanner). This is not an entirely new phenomenon, in the 1920s women basketball players’ pictures were used to draw the cognitive attention of the male audience to come and watch games. The women were being fitted with short shorts and tight t-shirts. Studies conducted in the United States revealed that women objectification has not changes even in the twenty-first century. The revelation was informed of the fact that most television networks were still portraying women in humorous and sexual as compared to their male counterparts. The objectification of women is further aggravated by the comments made by the sports commentators. Most of the commentators are male, as such they take most of the time to objectify women by putting sexual visuals and making trivial jokes that demean women sports (North).
Another impediment faced by female athletes is the gender marking on their game titles. For instance, when an advert is being put up to announce the finals of the feminine game it is always marked as “Women’s Finals Tournament” (Tanner). This is in contrast to their male counterparts when men are playing there are no gender markers in the advertisements. Most broadcasters and mass media companies assert that they use gender markings to differentiate games that are being played at the same time. For instance, In the United States Tennis opens, all the games are played on the same day and at most times simultaneously. Some mass media companies use visuals that reinforce gender difference in games played (Tanner). For instance, CBS’s coverage of the 1989 NCAA basketball tournaments used the pink color to denote women’s matches while using the blue color to denote men matches. The mass media companies ought to drop the genders markers for women games since it gives the notion that women games are in the “others” category (Tanner).
- Cause of the problem
This section highlights the different reasons why women are not accorded the same prominence in the sports segment in all major media houses. Some of these reasons include:
Society is another impediment to women’s sport and also gives mass media an excuse to reduce women sports coverage. Society defines that there are games that are lady-like which women can participate, these games include tennis and golf. But when women attempt to play games that are seen to be masculine in nature, the society shuns them. The main point as to why it is difficult for women to participate in such sporting activities is because it is seen as though they are going against social norms and customs. The stereotype with respect to the types of games women should play can be attributed mostly to media framing. Media framing can be defined as pieces or exhibits a journalist, or a news editor considers to be most important (Shaller). Through media framing, the editors bring about the most important characteristics of a story and highlight them; it is also an opportunity for both the editor and the journalist to stress the most important things they consider to be more important to their audience. The use of this tactic has been detrimental to women’s sports coverage; this is because most journalists and editors emphasis on masculinity as compared to femininity (Shaller). Media framing manipulates the audience’s psychology and makes the audience follow what the editor and journalist are putting across. Media framing one of the reasons why men sports are given prominence over feminine games in mass media. Another critical aspect is male hegemony; this can be defined as the process of male domination in the society. The mass media promotes male hegemonic beliefs when it comes to their domineering tendencies in the sports realm (Shaller).
The field of commentators is largely dominated by men. A study of all major sports media companies indicated that there was an increasing incorporation of racial diversity in their news coverage (Messner and Cooky). But there was little progress with respect to women being given archonship positions or commentator positions. Most of the women in the sports scene are not regular anchors and used as auxiliary reporters. Despite the accomplishments that have been made with respect to women’s sports participation, there is still sexual segregation with respect to women holding influential positions on the sports desk. The commentator makes remarks that do not reflect women’s professionalism in sports. For instance, a commentator said, “the new mom Candace Parker leads the Los Angeles Sparks,” this was to reinforce the societal stereotype of women. This segregation ensures that the amounts of women sports feature being aired on these main mass media companies would largely remain the same (Messner and Cooky). As already attested to earlier, having more women on board and in positions of making decisions enable them to cover women feature stories better; as they tend to give their female counterparts better airtime as compared to male reporters in the same field. Racial diversity has not yet been emphasized in with regards to women anchors. The study confirmed that women anchors were still largely white, this means that women from all different ethnic backgrounds need to join. This will ensure that women from all walks of life would be able to participate in sporting activities or develop an interest in watching sports feature, this will mirror the accomplishments that have been done by their male counterparts (Messner and Cooky).
A study performed in America showed that mass media companies with female reporters as editors tend to shed positive light to women’s sports. The coverage was seen to be more positive with regard to the progress women have made since the introduction of the Title IX amendment. Despite these the positive indicators, the survey also affirmed that female reporters did not offers equitable coverage to women’s sports as their male counterparts (Kian and Hardin). But women reporters were apt to giving women athletes airtime as compared to their male counterparts. The study also confirmed that when an editor wanted a women’s sport story to be aired, he/she would assign the story to a female reporter; but this assignment is largely considered as trivial as compared to male sports (Kian and Hardin). The study also expounded on the decision-making process editors embroil in when trying to make a story coverage assignment; these factors include work routine, expectation of readers, organizational demand and also the editor’s attitudes and biases with respect to the a women’s sports. All these factors encourage editors to further neglect and put aside women sports in their coverage features (Kian and Hardin).
- The effects of seclusion
The constant neglecting of women in sports has an effect on consumer utilizing the mass media. It impairs their psychology in that they become bias with respect to what games they can watch and which ones not to. These effects can be explained through:
This theory explores the impact the comments made by sports commentators have on their audience (Tanner). This theory is highly applicable to those members of society that are considered to be big consumers of television content. The way these individuals experience the real world would be greatly influenced by the content they have been exposed to while they watched television. The act of cultivation occurs by the continuous accrual of images and voices they pick up while watching television; these pictures and stories that have accrued over time will thus have the ability to skew an individual to be biased against a particular social issue. With respect to sports, people are exposed to sporting actions most of the time during the day; this means they collect images and stories from commentators and store them in their minds. Most of the time, people are exposed to information that does not accurately portray the real image of female athletes. Some of the stories are exposed to suggest women to be sexual objects and does not highlight their competencies as athletes. The continuous accumulation of negative portrayal of women in sport greatly impacts the ability of the audience to be objective when it comes to female athletes; in the end, they dismiss media coverage of women games (Tanner).
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Another effect of cultivation theory is the mainstreaming notion. With respect to mainstreaming, heavy consumers of television content are not affected by the gains made by women in the fields of sports. The events happening in social realities have little impact in influencing these types of individuals; factors like politics, regional differences do not resonate with their belief systems (Tanner). Over the decades, women’s participation in sporting activities has increased. But heavy television users are most time oblivious to these facts while watching television (Tanner). They hold the notion that women are sexual beings and are emotional but do not appreciate their prowess when it comes to sporting actions. These types of individuals also believe that women sports are still second tier as compared to men’s sports; this is further encouraged by the use of gender markers while advertising the sporting actions that are going on. Such individuals in society will always view women as sexual objects first before considering them as competent athletes (Tanner).
Studies indicate that there is a vested interest when it comes to sports journalism. Male athletes are considered to produce the highest turnover with respect to sponsorships, advertisement revenues, and television viewership. In retrospect, mass media companies will gravitate toward covering stories that would culminate in them getting more advertisement revenues. The stories are designed to draw male viewers and increase the advertisement revenues from companies that advertise products while the sports news are commencing. This form of bias against women’s sport relegates women to waiting until the Olympics when they receive considerably better media coverage. In advertising, male athletes are usually chosen (Jones). The reason is because they are more recognized all over the world; this, in essence, means that the advertisement revenue would be higher as compared to when female athletes are on the magazine. Due to the low recognition of women as compared to their male counterparts, media companies are skewed to favor male sports as compared to women’s sports due to the advertisement revenue generated. In most magazines in the United States, men get almost 13 times more photographs in newspapers and sports journals as compared to women athletes (Jones).
Through agenda building, mass media conglomerates advertise events they believe are important and the audience should be waiting for (Tanner). This is done by carefully choreographic what events to give airtime to and what not to. As already asserted in the earlier, they do this because they have vested interest in the game. By giving prominence to a particular game and neglect, other sends out a message to the audience that some games are far important as compared to the others. This is what happens to women’s games. The media corporations ensure that they give a lot of airplay to games like Nation Football League as compared to women’s soccer (Tanner). This undoubtedly tells the audience that women sports are second tier to men’s games, the corporations also stand to make a lot of income with respect to advertisement that would be brought to them when they will start airing the games. Another factor that leads to poor advertisements for women’s games is the general lack of interest from viewers. The mass media conglomerates assert that the production of women’s events is below average (Kane). The producers of such events do poorly with respect camera work and graphics editing; the combination of these factors renders women’s events as less attractive to the majorly male dominated viewership. They also assert that some features in men’s games are missing, features like slow motion and broadcasting prowess that is in tandem with men’s games (Tanner). Another factor that diminishes the position of women’s sports in media conglomerates is the fact that men are present in all levels of management; this means that they have a say with respect to what stories to highlight and how the stories are going to be shown. Male dominance ensures that all male sporting events are flashier and more glamorous as compared to women’s sporting events (Tanner).
- Possible solution
For the mass media companies to make positive change with regard to women sports they need to hire more women. As already cited previously, when women are given the opportunity to interview athlete, they stand a better chance of giving fellow women more airtime as compared to their male counterparts (Kian and Hardin). The second possible solution is the media companies changing their agenda-setting strategies. As mentioned earlier, media companies turn viewers focus towards men’s games, it would be fruitful if the same tenacity is provided towards women sports. This will ensure that more fans gravitate towards women’s sports. These companies ought to invest the same amount of technology with respect to graphics like the ones in men’s sports. It has been cited that people dislike women’s sports due to poor graphics and lack of glamor. If this equipment is put in place, the game stands a better chance to gain more following both locally and abroad. Media companies ought to hire more women commentators who should work alongside their male counterparts (Messner and Cooky). Women commentators will ensure that the use of derogatory phrases and sexually objectifying visuals while depicting female athletes (Kian and Hardin).
Another front to improve women sports is the disbandment of gender makers in games. This phenomenon has been cited to relegate women’s games to the “others” category. The disbandment of gender makers would shed a positive light on women’s sports and make people more willing to watch the games. Finally, media companies have to use media framing in equal proportions; previously it has been used to incline audiences to watch male games as compared to female games. With positive media framing to women’s games, the audience’s psychology towards women’s games would be changed to a less bias one (Shaller).
Since the enactment of the Title IX act, women have made incredible strides in bringing their sports to the mainstream media. The act ensured that everyone participating in any form of sport funded by the federal government should not be discriminated against with reference to gender or race. But there is a considerable amount of resistance from the mass media companies. In tandem with other factors such as the objectification of women as sexual beings rather than considering their athletic prowess are major roadblocks. It is important and necessary that the media organizations put equal emphasis on the way the share out airtime. The media framing used for the men should also be used to women; this will ensure that the public perception of women’s games is gradually changed. This will ensure that the stereotype associated with women in sports is dispensed with, and a culture of professionalism is cultivated. Commentators are also supposed to refrain from making comments that are deemed derogatory to women in sports and also refrain from using visuals that don’t represent the professionalism of women participating in sports.
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