Saturday, August 27, 2011

Women's Sports Sell Without Sexual Objectification

This summer, I experienced one of those typical 21st century moments in my apartment in Serbia when talking on Skype while simultaneously chatting on Facebook and watching the Women’s Soccer World Cup on TV. My computer activities stopped when I vaguely heard one of the Eurosport commentators mention “voting”. Out of mere curiosity, I turned the volume up on the TV to listen more carefully to the “contest” that the Serbian commentators were conducting.

The viewers were encouraged to vote for “Miss World Cup.” The rules were simple: send a text message with the name of the best looking player. The players were to be evaluated solely based on their appearance and not on their athletic ability. The viewers were reminded of that distinction quite frequently throughout the broadcast just to avoid confusion.

To make the decision easier, the commentators pointed out the players’ many appealing physical traits such as “beautiful eyes” or “graceful figure,” though here and there they did offer a critical analysis on soccer ability, including the assessment of a French player who had “the skill-set of Zinedine Zidane, but luckily not his looks.”

Female athletes’ objectification and sexualization in the media are not news for those who follow sports. What may come as news, however, is that objectification and sexualization are, perhaps, not the most effective ways to promote female athletes.
Mary Jo Kane, from the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports at the University of Minnesota, wrote an article in The Nation about her most recent study which examined if the “sex sells” concept indeed increased interest in women’s sports.

Dr Kane argues: No, it does not.

Contrary to the common assumption, the majority of the participants in Dr. Kane’s research found the hypersexual images offensive.
Instead of trying so hard to sell a skewed image of the female athlete with an excuse that these images are necessary because only then can we attract more viewers and appeal to (male) sports fans, Dr. Kane suggests that “those who cover women’s sports [should] simply turn on the camera and let us see the reality.”

If you watched the Women’s Soccer World Cup in the U.S., you saw just that. If you did not, you might have come across some disturbing attempts to “sell” female athletes to the viewers. We are still far from being liberated from the sexualized images. We have much work to do if we want to see the “reality.”

Finding out that sex doesn’t sell women’s sports is a step. Believing, as a society, that women’s sports do not need the sex-appeal to attract audiences would be a stride.

-- Dunja Antunovic


Anonymous said...

Every time the camera has been turned on to women's team sports, people GET IT. They see the camaraderie, the intensity, and the results of women working as a team, rowing in the same direction for a common goal. The objectification seems to come primarily when women in sports are seen as individuals and not as part of a common goal or objective (World Cup example being a disappointing anomaly). The stride will be when the public sees women aspiring to be amazing individual athletes as non-sexual images and instead as amazing human athletes.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this article! I enjoyed it! I find the discussion of women athletes and their looks interesting. There's something to be said for being a good looking athlete, just like male athletes, but it shouldn't override their abilities. There's a good discussion of this over at TC Huddle. I found your article looking for more opinions on this.

This is a good article. Thanks! Here's the article if you're interested: