As shown in a study by Purdue University, women’s athletic coverage remains the same as in the 1980s even though women of all ages play sports now more than ever.
“I’m constantly seeing a major disconnect between female and male athlete representation,” Long Beach State sports photographer Alyssa Gonzalez said. “Women’s sports is constantly being overlooked and they constantly have to fight to even get an ounce of spotlight in comparison to men’s sports.”
Athletes are great role models and figures for young people to look up to until their views become heteronormative.
A Kaiser Family survey about famous athletes as role models shows that children say that famous athletes rank second, only to parents, as people they admire most.
Seventy three percent of boys and girls name professional athletes among the people they “look up to or want to be like.” In addition, 40% of boys say men have greater athletic ability and 52% say they are more fun to watch than female sports.
Kaiser’s survey shows only a third of girls’ favorite athletes were women and although 66% view male and female athletes as equal in terms of athletic ability, the role models were still men. This leaves little girls modeling themselves to the standards of male athletes.
“I just wish women’s sports just got more respect for what they do,” Gonzalez said. “They put in the same amount of work for their respective sports and it’s disheartening to see the lack of representation in women’s sports.”
Cheryl Cooky, who studies the representation of women’s sports in the media at Purdue University, has collected over 30 years of data that show distinct differences in female and male athletic media portrayal. This includes lower technical quality, lack of energy and excitement, and production value for women’s airtime compared to men’s sports.
Their study found that coverage of women athletes on televised news and highlight shows in 2019, including ESPN, totaled only 5.4% of all airtime. This was only a 3% increase since observed in 1993.
“I think the hardest thing is getting fans to go to a women’s basketball game,” Gonzalez said. “Our women’s basketball team at LBSU is on a 12-game winning streak and were first in the Big West Conference, but we are still in shadows because fans are still attending men’s athletic games.”
In the 1980s and ’90s, Cooky’s study showed that women athletes are generally subjected to sexualized or humorous content which shifted in the 2000s when they began being seen as wives, girlfriends and mothers.
When it comes to sports photography, women are generally used for sex appeal. When analyzing various sports blogs, such as Deadspin and AOL Fanhouse, a study by J.S. Fink and Linda Jean Kensicki demonstrates that females are given less written coverage than males that tend to be sexual in nature.
This includes sexually objectifying poses, seductive gazes and scandalous clothing. In addition, the edits look more “polished” and tan, or are selective versions of themselves that are more “appealing.”
Fink and Kensicki’s study concluded that male athletes are portrayed in ways that support ideas of masculinity.
Whether these sexist ideals are intentional or subconscious, they are equally dangerous. The representation of female athletes in the media is just as important as men’s representation for women and girls of all ages to see themselves as strong, powerful athletes.
“Women’s sports has made huge leaps in representation in the media in more recent years which is great, but it starts with people like me and other photographers that continue to document women’s sports on a daily basis,” Gonzalez said.