Sunday, February 24, 2013

Representation of women's sports in blogs needs improvement

Women's sports advocates might have hoped that the blogosphere would offer greater visibility and better coverage of women's sports than traditional media outlets do, but a recent study shatters this utopian ideal.

John Lisec, doctoral student at the University of Minnesota and Mary McDonald, professor of Sports Studies at Miami University (Ohio), published an article that compares the coverage of the WNBA in two blog networks: Deadspin and Women Talk Sports.

Considering the severe underrepresentation and sexualization of female athletes (see earlier posts on this topic), scholars have begun looking at the blogosphere to examine if content outside of the mainstream replicates ideas about gender and sports. Researchers from Penn State's Curley Center for Sports Journalism engaged in this scholarship as well. (See excerpts from a book chapter by Marie Hardin and Erin Whiteside, and excerpts from another chapter by Marie Hardin.)

Lisec and McDonald's article titled "Gender Inequality in the New Millenium: An Analysis of WNBA Representations in Sports Blogs," raises important issues about the ways in which women's sports are represented in the two blog networks. The authors found that Deadspin's coverage of the WNBA is limited and when existent, it disrespects female athletes' athletic abilities.

"Not only does the WNBA receive little coverage, but evidence of trivialization and mockery of the  blatantly suggests women athletes as inferior," the authors wrote (p. 161). Sexist comments and comments that reflect a fear of lesbian athletes were often unfiltered. As such, Deadspin's coverage is actually a backlash rather than progress.

Contributors from the other blog network, Women Talk Sports, were often much more critical both of the representation of female athletes and of the WNBA's marketing strategies that continue to position women in the context of their heterosexual relationships. Thus, these bloggers were found to challenge the ways in which female athletes appear in mainstream media, counter the idea that female athletes are inferior and contribute to the advocacy of women's sports.

Additionally to blog posts that further the women's sports agenda, Lisec and McDonald would like to see a closer interrogation on how issues of race and class intersect with gender and sexuality. The authors pointed out that athletes' race is often completely ignored. The authors are also worried that the proliferation of content results in an isolation of fans, who then go to the sites that they are familiar with rather than looking for alternative perspectives--such as Women Talk Sports--that disrupt gender norms.

It's not quite time yet to celebrate. Although critical views on power relations in sports are out there in the blogosphere, sexist and homophobic ideas that continue to undermine female athletes' accomplishments are also present.

Concerning also is the lack of analysis on racial relations, particularly when it comes to the coverage of the WNBA. As Lisec and McDonald write, "given that the WNBA’s playing force is primarily African American and silence about the articulation of racial, classed and gender politics within representations of the league serve to legitimate the power of whiteness" (p. 175).

Lisec and McDonald's insightful analysis reminds us that even though new media outlets offer opportunities to bring visibility to women's sports, that visibility might not manifest in ways that challenge dominant cultural ideas. 

-- Dunja Antunovic

No comments: