The New York Times does soft core pornography feature of female professional tennis players

26 08 2010

Earlier I posted that today, August 26th, is Women’s Equality Day. No sooner did I post my blog and a colleague (thanks ED!) sent me something so distrubing I had to do another post today. What I will write about next is a perfect example of why Women’s Equality Day is important.

In my previous and many other posts, I argue and researchers have proven time and again, that female athletes are rarely seen in sport media and when they are, athletic competence is minimized (click here), and their bodies are sexualized as commodities to be consumed.

The most recent and blatantly sexist, disgusting and marginalizing example of sexualizing female athletes is a piece the New York Times just ran titled “Women Who Hit Hard.” The piece features professional female tennis players and I’m sure is meant to capture attention leading up to the 2010 US Open, and is replete with an article, slide show and slow motion videos of each player hitting tennis balls in sexy attire to eerie music. I’ve seen a LOT of examples of sport media that sexualizes female athletes, but this tops the list.

This is soft core pornography and has NOTHING to do with athleticism or tennis. It is pure exploitation of female athletes.


Women’s Equality Day is August 26th…and yes, we still need it!

26 08 2010

Today is Women’s Equality Day. Some may wonder why such a day exists, or that because women are achieving at all levels, why such a day should exist. Here are a few facts that point to the idea that women are far from achieving equality and Women’s Equality Day is still needed:

  • The Gender Pay Gap: women on average earn .77 cents to every dollar earned by a male (click here or here from more info)
  • Men outnumber women in all positions of power in all contexts (click here)
  • Women far outnumber men as victims of sexual violence, harassment and discrimination (click here)
  • The structure of our society disadvantages women who work outside the home, and who for the most part are still primarily responsible for care taking and household upkeep. Families need more flexible work schedules, comprehensive child care policies, redesigned family and medical leave, and equal pay as to help females succeed in life-work balance. (click here)
  • Women and girls are constantly exposed to what Susan J. Douglas (2010) calls Enlightened Sexism (a response to a perceived threat to the existing gender regime of male power) and bombarded by the media with messages that “purchasing power and sexual power are much more gratifying than political or economic power”…buying stuff and performing hyperfemininity has emerged as the way female empowerment (See Douglas’ book, Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work is Done for a complete explanation of the deleterious affects of enlightened sexism)
  • Female athletes are rarely seen in sport media and when they are athletic competence is minimized (click here).

What other ways can you think of in which females are not equal participants? Please comment and add to this list…

espnW, cheerleading, violence, Nike, Title IX…so many things to share!

22 07 2010

Sorry if I’ve been blogging less lately, there are to many things going on to take the time to blog! That said, I wanted to share with you some information you might find interesting.

1. A key Title IX ruling was recently passed down that has implications for girls and women in sport. In essence the judge ruled that cheerleading can not count towards compliance with Title IX.

2. Look for more changes regarding the way in which the NCAA calculates and oversees their Academic Progress Rates (APR). New data analysis reveals that current standards may be weaker than originally intended.

3. On the youth sport news front, The UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre commissioned and released a new report on PROTECTING CHILDREN FROM VIOLENCE IN SPORT: A review with a focus on industrialized countries. The report focuses on the fact that “it has become evident that sport is not always a safe space for children, and that the same types of violence and abuse sometimes found in families and communities can also occur in sport and play programmes. Child athletes are rarely consulted about their sporting experiences, and awareness of and education on child protection issues among sport teachers, coaches and other stakeholders is too often lacking. Overall, appropriate structures and policies need to be developed for preventing, reporting and responding appropriately to violence in children’s sport” (p.vii)

New espnW logo

4. I have two related bits I’ve recently been involved with regarding big sport brands wanting to create social change. What they also have in common is both initiatives have women in charge. You can imagine I’m a bit skeptical on both, but I’m currently cautiously optimistic on both fronts.

The first is the new ESPN  initiative to capture more female consumers–it is called espnW. (the “W” stands for Women). Its launch has gotten a little media buzz. I will keep you posted as I’ve been in communication with the folks at ESPN who are spearheading this new initiative. They are lead by a very sharp woman and her small staff and I believe the resources ESPN has dedicated demonstrates a desire to get this right (unlike Sports Illustrated for Women, which was a miserable failure). So far the process seems on target as they are asking key stakeholders to join the conversation and provide insight.   Added NOTE (7/28/10): Read the MinnPost article titled “Media critic and women’s sports advocate Mary Jo Kane is about to step into the belly of the ESPN beast”

The second initiative is a project of the Nike Social Innovation team, also lead by two sharp women. Nike wants to use current sport science research to help leverage their resources and brand to promote and sustain physical activity in the US and UK. I was asked to be part of a multidisciplinary think tank facilitated by ShiftN (a really cool company) earlier in the month where we examined a research-based systems model of the correlates, barriers and potential outcomes of physical activity.

I am excited and honored to be a part of both these initiatives, however I am both happy and concerned that women are at the helm of these new, risky initiatives. I’ve written in an earlier post about the research on the glass cliff and I wonder if this is what is operating in the background in these instances where two big brands are taking risks.

While the glass ceiling is metaphor commonly used to describe the often subtle and unseen social-structural gendered barriers that prevent women from reaching the highest echelons of corporate leadership.

The glass cliff is a similar metaphor used to describe the phenomenon of women’s appointments to precarious leadership positions. The glass cliff illuminates the stress experienced by women who have made it through the glass ceiling (i.e., Head Coaches, CEOs, Presidents of WNBA teams) and find themselves in a more vulnerable and precarious position than their male counterparts. Women on the glass cliff often fight an uphill battle for success, without the support, information and resources needed to effectively execute the job.

Researchers have recently uncovered that when organizations are in crisis and have a high risk for failure, women are more often appointed to positions of leadership. Two explanations are offered: 1) women are perceived as particularly well-suited to manage the crisis, or 2) women are appointed to glass cliff positions because those who appoint them want to protect men (or expose women).

I hope I’m wrong, because the women I’ve met and talked to in charge of these initiatives are movers and shakers I want to see succeed in their visions.

Women and the World Cup

16 06 2010

The 2010 World Cup in upon us and with it a host of things to keep a critical eye upon. I’ve written before that women are rarely perceived to sports fans or knowledgeable about “real”  (i.e., men’s professional) sports, even though both are true.

I’m keeping my eye on how female fans of the World Cup are being included, erased and portrayed in the media. I have two contrasting examples to share.

1. The first is a page on Deadspin dedicated to “sexy world cup fans” (i.e., scantily clad women). The narrative accompanying the photos suggests the featured attractive women in attendance could not possibly be real fans, but planted there as marketing ploys. I’m not naive enough to believe this doesn’t happen, but the text is offensive. The author insinuates that women would not attend a World Cup game possibly because they enjoy and know the game, but were paid to attend. You would never see pictures of sexy male fans and text that implied they were planted…would you?

2. The second is a Portuguese ad that suggests women do enjoy and know soccer. It is a nice contrast to how female fans are usually portrayed. As points out, this ad is in nice contrast to the 2010 Super Bowl ads that insinuate that women ruin the lives of men.

If you have anything to share along these lines, please comment here or send it my way!

Another Example of Sexism in Sport

9 06 2010

This started as a repost from Christine Brennan’s blog about the sexist ad the Chicago Tribune ran featuring NHL Flyers player Chris “Chrissy” Pronger, and has turned into more. It always amazes me that feminizing male professional athletes is seen as humorous, an appropriate marketing strategy, and a savvy attempt to denigrate a male athlete’s level of play.

Sports bloggers have weighed in as well here, and here as well as others.

Late Addition/More Thoughts: So I’ve been thinking about this issue some more and have additional thoughts after discussing it with Austin Stair Calhoun (one of our graduate students at the U of MN who appeared on Fox 9 News to discuss the issue…she raises some additional points as well and the piece is worth watching). Many have been asking the question, “What is the effect of this picture on young girls?” I can’t say for sure, but I think the bigger more interesting question is-“What does this picture communicate to young boys?” It tells boys that being associated with anything female is to be feared, avoided, and mocked, let alone face the stigma of have one’s sexuality called in question by being feminized (which unfortunately is still not deemed positive).

Does this create tolerant and equality-minded boys that grow up to be men who act respectful and empowering towards the women in their lives and the workplace? I would argue it communicates to everyone that it is appropriate to objectify women and make fun of men by equating them with the “lesser sex”. Females are not treated equally in the workplace and anyone who argues otherwise is just plain wrong. To read more about this issue, there are numourous sites– go to The Equality Myth, this Newsweek article or this one,or the Womens Media piece. Many, including sport columnists and commentators, have said the ad was “just in fun, and meant to be humorous”. The tactic of minimizing the impact of a sexist or racist comment and dismissing it as humor has long been used as a strategy to ignore and erase the real impact, by discrediting the person who raises the issue by accusing them of being stuffy and politically correct. I’m sure I’ll have more to say after I finish the books in my Summer Reading List, which can be found in the right margin of this blog.

Late Addition: 6/17/10  Read the Women’s Sports Foundation press statement and response to the Pronger ad here.