Male perspective in sport: female athletes are sportswomen, not bodies to be listed


The world of sport has, for the most part, been associated with male participation and ideologies of power, masculinity and aggression. This ‘men’s world‘sport, has a history of discrimination against women, where under the banner of “fragility“, Women were refused participation and were confined to the status of”applaudersFor male athletes. Despite their ever-increasing participation in recent times, the ratio of media coverage of women to that of men is disproportionate.

Although the number of female sports participants is large, women’s sports receive very little attention from any sports coverage. Even within this limited coverage, women are often objectified and the media tend to portray female athletes first and athletes second, because for women, being an athlete contradicts the conventional female role. Consequently, the media tend to emphasize aspects of their “femininity», And target men as an audience. The media provide the male consciousness with what is wanted or rather expected: beautifully proportioned and conditioned bodies posing in an erotic manner.

This idea of ​​calming the male gaze further categorizes female athletes into “attractive” Where “not attractiveWhere falling into the first category gives them more media coverage but not for the right reasons. It is important to note that female athletes participating in traditional female sports like figure skating, gymnastics, swimming, etc. are very objectified for their physical appearance.

The growing commercial value of these athletes is used to associate them with mainstream brands, thus sanctioning them with better economic status. But, female athletes involved in sports like weight lifting are overlooked regardless of their skill level. Such a disparity in the evaluation of female athletes further confirms that skills do not sell in female sports. The feminine and pretty appearance is apparently an important element in gaining the acceptance of women in the sport.

The media sexualization of female athletes stems from sexist social norms and the perpetuation of patriarchal values. The convention concerning the body of a sporty woman was introduced as early as the ancient Olympics and included aspects like softness, grace and beauty. This conventional presentation of female athletes not only relegates the solemnity and importance of female sport, but also forces female athletes to become sufficiently sexualized and passive to match male consciousness.

In a hegemonically male society, while the success of male athletes is celebrated, the success of female athletes is often exposed to further dissection. The objectification of women in sport and elsewhere is not limited to the sexualization of their bodies, it also includes the use of sexist language. “Each language reflects the prejudices of the society in which it operates(Eitzen and Zinn. 2001). Gender-related language diminishes and trivializes women more in general, as well as in the context of sport

The uniforms of female athletes are also designed for the male gaze. While men can afford to be comfortable and just play sports, women need to play sports, appear modest, and look amazing. As noted in an analysis of the Tokyo Olympics 2021 by an American Gender Justice Society, women are ten times more likely to be objectified through a camera angle than male athletes. The focus of the camera shots on the bodily assets of a female athlete leaves viewers with lasting memories of her body rather than memories of her athleticism.

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This affirms the fact that sex and sexuality are used not only to promote the athlete but to “to sell‘sport to viewers around the world. In June 2021, the Norwegian women’s beach handball team opposite the requirement for a skimpy bikini bottom and chose to wear shorts.

In addition, the statement made by the former president of the governing body of world football, FIFA, suggested that players should wear “tighter shorts”To increase the popularity of the game. The very implication of the statement opens a discourse on how the sexualization of the media grants more popularity to female athletes only by centralizing sex appeal instead of athleticism and athleticism. skill. In sports reporting, more often than not, the portrayal of women serves to focus entirely on stereotypes that emphasize “”feminine“The features of the body in order to appease the” “male gaze”.

Read also : Male gaze and control of the body autonomy of sportswomen

Today’s female athletes have become so trendy that they have become sexy“, opines Dorothy Harris, eminent sports researcher. The depiction of athletic women in erotic poses rather than sporting actions on the covers of sports magazines glorifies the idea of ​​”sexy”As the prominent quality of female athletes. Maria Sharapova, a famous “tennis beauty», Appeared on the cover of Illustrated sports July 2004 issue of the magazine.

She was pictured wearing her uniform, with a seductive smile while holding a tennis ball that forces her skirt to pull up high on her upper thigh. Another issue of the magazine photographed Anna Kournikova in an off-the-shoulder top, flowing blonde hair, where she hugs a pillow, looking at the reader. As a result of this framing of female athletes, women internalize media messages and perceive and value their bodies in association with the viewpoint of the spectator. They see themselves as objects or sights for others to appreciate and focus on how their body looks rather than what it can do.

Naturally, the media only presents to the public what sells the best, and if the audience is predominantly male, the stereotypical bodily and personal characteristics of women will ultimately increase sales. What needs to be understood is that as long as the media continues to sexualize female athletes, women in general will remain in a less powerful role. In order to elevate the position of women in sport, we must recognize that female athletes are sportswomen and not just bodies to be objectified.

In a hegemonically male society, while the success of male athletes is celebrated, the success of female athletes is often exposed to further dissection. The objectification of women in sport and elsewhere is not limited to the sexualization of their bodies, it also includes the use of sexist language. “Each language reflects the prejudices of the society in which it operates(Eitzen and Zinn. 2001). Gender-related language diminishes and trivializes women more in general, as well as in the context of sport.

Implications of physical markers emphasizing female appearance, use of girl Where girl referring to a female athlete over 18 and using a male term are some of the sexist ways that commentators / media are incorporating for female athletes. “You’d hear comments like, she really strong, she must be part of the dude», Olympian Veronica Bernner noted. Perhaps the most infuriating testimony is the media reference to Serena Williams and her sister as “”Williams brothersFor their muscular physique.

The maintenance of order of femininity is at the heart of women’s sports where they are humiliated for their “”non-female physique”. An upcoming Bollywood film Rashmi rocket with Tapsee Pannu explores a similar theme and raises questions about femininity, what is acceptable or rather natural for women, and who decides these parameters. The film recalls the diminutive definition of biological sex and gender, thus highlighting a neglected demography.

Unlike the harsh portrayal of men, the portrayal of female athletes as too feminine rather than heroic or physically powerful, again, opens up a discourse on the male gaze which finds pleasure in seeing a woman as more beautiful and not powerful. This puts men’s sports on a higher pedestal and inevitably lowers the importance of women’s sports. This inadequate representation affects not only the media, but society as a whole.

The media often claim that female athletes can in fact have the power because they are giving them public attention and money for their powerful and beautiful bodies. However, these benefits are simply within the confines of the patriarchal agencies that organize and dominate society. Such perpetuation can reverse the progress of the first and second waves of feminism, tipping society into an archaic era.

Naturally, the media only presents to the public what sells the best, and if the audience is predominantly male, the stereotypical bodily and personal characteristics of women will ultimately increase sales. What needs to be understood is that as long as the media continues to sexualize female athletes, women in general will remain in a less powerful role. In order to elevate the position of women in sport, we must recognize that female athletes are sportswomen and not just bodies to be objectified.

Read also : Increase in domestic violence after the Euro final: organized sports, hypermasculinity and aggression


Swati Joshi is an English Literature Specialist from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. She sees people between the lines and pauses. When she’s not grooving to Cohen’s music, she certainly reads his poems. Her research interests lie at the intersection of feminist theory, gender studies and postcolonial studies.

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