Sexism in Sports Media: Reading Response 9/24

In Rowe’s Framed and Mounted, he discusses the different ways in which female and male athletes are portrayed in sports media. Rowe references an analysis of gender in sports media done by Kane and Greendorfer (1994) in which they argue sportswomen are continually made inferior by not only the amount of coverage they receive but also by the quality of the coverage. Bringing in evidence, Kane and Greendorfer cite studies including the analysis of the 1979 Sports Illustrated Silver Anniversary issue, which, as Rowe states, “found 60 percent of all photographs of sportswomen showed them in ‘passive, non-athletic roles’ compared with only 44 percent of all photographs of sportsmen.” This wasn’t exactly shocking as Sports Illustrated is by no means the only publication which this sort of statistic is true for. As I was looking at other sports magazines online, one that really stood out was ESPN: The Body Issue. While both male and female athletes are photographed naked, female athletes are often positioned in non-athletic, often sensual stances while male athletes are captured in ways which emphasize their athleticism:

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As Rowe states, “The image of women in the media is already a heavily sexualized one (van Zoonen 1991), meaning that whatever activity a woman is shown to be engaged in is likely to present her as sexual first and foremost.” In a male-dominated world, it is not surprising that the images of sports media are primarily captured through the male gaze.

Female athletes are recognized first for their appearance and second for their skill. Before the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, sprinter Marion Jones declared she planned on winning five gold medals. Jones, broadly-set and extremely muscular, is by many, viewed as more masculine than feminine. On the other hand, Amy Acuff, part-time model and pole-vaulter, did not mention anything about wishing to medal when asked of her goals during the pre-Olympic Games media coverage. Instead she spoke of her desire to be picked for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition “because people get a lot of attention for that.” You can probably guess which of these two women was most photographed during the Games.

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Why do you think women, even in magazines targeted at women, are constantly captured in passive, non-athletic ways? Do you think there will ever be a day when women are not objectified in sports media (or at least objectified no more than men) and showcased purely for their talent rather their sex appeal?

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