Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Wimbledon coverage perpetuates sexism

This year's Wimbledon brought much excitement. Additionally to the close, grueling matches, the first few days built up surprises one after the other as the superstars such as Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams unexpectedly followed each other out of the tournament.

Wimbledon will most likely be remembered, once again, for these thrilling moments, and not the blatant sexism that appeared in media coverage upon the closure of the tournament.

The coverage of the men's and women's singles finals tells us two things about women: 1) they don't count, and 2) they are only allowed to succeed if they are attractive.

To Andy Murray's win in the men's singles finals over Novak Djokovic, the media in a number of countries, and multiple languages suggested that Murray ended Britain's 77 years of pain without a Wimbledon winner. Some of these headlines proclaimed "British champion ends 77 years of tennis hurt" (The Mirror), "Andy Murray credits home crowd after ending 77-year wait" (The Telegraph), and "Andy Murray wins Wimbledon, ends 77-year British drought" (USA Today).

These headlines make me wonder: What exactly are British women? Next door neighbors?

The articles fail to account for four British women who won singles titles in that 77-year period. An article on Buzzfeed credits Dorothy Round Little (1937), Angela Mortimer Barrett (1961), Ann Haydon-Jones (1969), and Virginia Wade (1977) for the wins. Thus, The Atlantic points out "Britain's last Wimbledon champ won 36 years ago, not 77."

One must give credit to outlets that at least specified in the article that Murray was the first "men's" champion after 77 years, but even in that case information about female players is missing.

Once again, we see a normalized pattern in sports media coverage that positions male athletes and men's sports as the only ones that really matter while failing to account for women's accomplishments. The women are, thus, rendered invisible.

But, considering the somewhat exceptional level of equality in men's and women's tennis, the women's Wimbledon champion, Marion Bartoli, also received some coverage. Except, according to some fans and even one media outlet, she was too ugly to win.

The Daily Mail reported that Bartoli received extensive criticism over her looks on Twitter.

Perhaps the most disturbing comment came from BBC radio commentator John Inverdale, who said:

"I just wonder if her dad, because he has obviously been the most influential person in her life...did say to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe 'listen you are never going to be, you know, a looker. You are never going to be somebody like a Sharapova, you're never going to be 5-foot-11, you're never going to be somebody with long legs, so you have to compensate for that."

BBC apologized after hundreds of complaints. Of course, they should.

Still, we are left with blatant sexism perpetuated by some of the most respectable media outlets.

But beyond sexism, the above give examples also contain misleading and even inaccurate information. And that is simply poor journalism.

-- Dunja Antunovic

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

New documentary looks at locker-room access for women covering sports

Although ESPN has made dozens of documentaries for its acclaimed "30 for 30" film series, the number of those films that focused on women could be counted on one hand.
But a new film series, "Nine for IX," will turn the network's lens to women over the next two months. The documentaries, all produced by women, will start tonight with "Venus VS," the story of Venus Williams' successful campaign for gender equity at Wimbledon.
All of the documentaries promise to be "must-see TV" for any sports fan. Last night, the Center for American Progress in Washington was host to a premiere screening of two of the films, "VenusVS" and "Let Them Wear Towels," which takes a look at the struggles of female journalists for locker-room access during the first few decades after Title IX became law in 1972.
The documentary features pioneers such as Melissa Ludtke, Claire Smith, Lesley Visser and Christine Brennan, telling the compelling story of the struggle by these women to break through the legal and then social barriers to cover sports.
After the screening, Brennan and Ludtke, part of a post-screening panel, talked about trying to get equal access to athletes at a time when women were sometimes shoved or carried (literally) out of locker rooms. Ludtke described herself as a "quiet negotiator" who wouldn't call her editor after getting kicked out of a locker room but would instead steel herself to get the story. "We were just determined that no one was going to stop us," she said, adding, "Each of us was working out there on our own."
Brennan said that as an undergraduate at Northwestern, she had been inspired by Ludtke's story. The famous Bobby Riggs-Billie Jean King "Battle of the Sexes" in 1973 also influenced her to see sports as place where women belonged.
Brennan added that although problems still arise with access, "this is resolved....There are tens of thousands of locker-room entries by women."
"We're there. It's done," she added.
Ludtke said there is still a "cultural lag" around television, where relatively few women have made it into to booth for play-by-play and commentating for men's marquee sports. "We're in a position today that we were in the 1970s," she observed.
Almost as if on cue -- to underscore her point -- a 9-year-old girl in the audience raised her hand and told the panelists about the "wide gender gap" in her elementary school.
"I'm the only girl playing with the boys at recess," she said.
Laura Gentile, espnW vice president, asked whether the girl felt she was "accepted" by the boys.
"Not really," the girl replied.
"I get upset at times at how much hasn't changed," Ludtke said. "Let's keep telling the stories."
Brennan agreed that women have barriers to address. But she said the progress already has been notable. "We're just at the beginning," she said. She added, "Where will we be in 40 years? That's a fun thought."
 --Marie Hardin