With the passage of Title IX in 1972, all federally funded programs were guaranteed equal funding, treatment, and opportunity for participation for men and women as an amendment to the Civil Rights Act. Since then, women have made great strides in their participation in professional and all levels of elite and interscholastic sport. Unfortunately, their treatment in mediated sport still lags behind. Although women have come an incredibly long way to achieve almost equal representation in the Olympics, the media has impeded female athletes’ efforts to gain social equality in elite sports.
Undeniably, women receive almost or just about equal amounts of media coverage these days, but sheer numbers are no longer the key issue in mass media coverage of female athletes. The type of media coverage is key. Mediated sport is constructed as entertainment, and women’s abilities and skill are often diminished compared to the cultural standards of male athletic dominance. How members of society, in this case athletes, view themselves, and how they are viewed and treated by others can be significantly shaped by their media representation. When female athletes are characterized in terms of their femininity above their athleticism, that is as a woman first and athlete second, their true abilities go unnoticed and unappreciated. Women are often afforded exceedingly sexualized roles in the media. The common practice of providing trivializing and marginalizing coverage within the mainstream media hinders the ability of female athletes to break the chains of the conventional female role and thus impedes their quest in achieving the much-deserved equal status and appreciation that male athletes enjoy in the world of sport. The media’s sexualization of female athletes not only denigrates the individual athlete but also has a trickle down effect through the rest of society, dictating appropriate standards for femininity. This summer I will explore how the media shapes the public’s perception of female athletes by belittling their success, reinforcing gender stereotypes, and ultimately undermining their athletic legitimacy by depicting them as sex objects. My project will focus in on the role of the media’s sexualization of female athletes today. How does the media portray women? And to what extent does this still encumber full equality?
Over the summer, I will be conducting extensive research and going abroad to Bath, England in weeks leading up to the Olympics to obtain a more global view of the issue while visiting Wimbledon and sport facilities for the Summer Olympic Games in London. While abroad, I will be taking the course “Play Sport and Culture: Olympic Year.” I will also conduct a set of interviews with female collegiate athletes as well as some Olympic athletes to get their first hand thoughts and impressions on the unbalanced gender biased representation of men and women in elite sports.