An Investigation Into the Media Representation of Gender in Sport

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An investigation into the media representation of gender in sport.

There have been many studies and investigations into the different types and intensity

of the media coverage in sport involving both sexes. This investigation will look at

previous studies and reports carried out by researchers to discover why different

genders receive different media attention in sport, and to see whether this has an

adverse effect on other issues such as participation.

It is a clear fact that men receive much more media attention and coverage than

women in most sporting events. To support this statement Boutiller and San-Giovanni

(1983) report shows that there is very little newspaper coverage (text or photos) of

women sports. The report mentioned that of the 1,200 covers in the first 25 years of

publication, sports illustrated featured only 115 women on their covers. Similarly in

Australian newspapers, only 1.3% of their space was contributed to women's sport

(Mackay and Rowe, 1987).

In fact when media coverage was devoted to women it tended to drift away from their

performance and focus either on their beauty or image (Hargreaves, 1994) or to

highlight female athletes becoming more masculine. For example Willis (1994)

concludes that in order for women athletes to succeed in sport they must fail as

women i.e. women losing their femininity, replacing it with bulging muscles and no

breasts, in order to become the complete athlete.

However, what is mentioned above may not give a clear indication as to why women

are not represented in the media as much as men. One possible reason as to why

women are under-represented in sport is because of money. Media organisations, such

as sports illustrated, are run to generate a profit and will therefore need to focus on

the needs and wants of their customers (Sagas et al., 2000). For that reason, it is

possible that other institutional force will have an influence on media organisations

(especially profit making organisations) when involving women's coverage of sport.

In order to get a better understanding of this it may be more suitable to look at non-

profit making media sources and their attitude to coverage of women's sport. We may

predict that media sources, who do not seek to gain a profit, should provide greater

coverage of women's sporting events. However this is not the case. Shifflett and

Revelle (1994) investigation into the NCAA news discovered that women received

less written coverage and fewer photographs than men and when articles and photos

where produced involving women in sports they often appeared in less-desirable

places.

Shifflett and Revelle (1994a) report examined issues in 1988 and 1991, and although

it provides us with information regarding media attention towards women at those

times it does not give us findings which are necessarily relevant in today's society or

sporting world.

The implications of women being under-represented in the media can have damaging

effects on both women's sport and women's place in society. Media is a vital tool in

the way in which society views and understands issues such as gender relations and

role differentiation (Low and Sherrad, 1999). Since the majority of media

coverage on sport tends to focus on men and leave out the achievements of women

(Pirinen, 1997) this can lead to stereotypical views and women becoming isolated

from certain sports. For example, golf has traditionally been seen as a sport for fit,

young and able males. Asch and Fine (1997) go on to indicate that women golfers

who are older or have a disability can become remote from the sport because of the

little or no media coverage that these types of women receive. Sagas et al., (2002) reinforced

this by acknowledging that the unfair media coverage that women receive hinders their

development in sport from...
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