Sexism in the Media: Portrayal of Female Athletes in Media Coverage
Sexist portrayal of men's versus women's athletic events and sporting events has prevailed in the media for some time. Armstrong and Hallmark (1999) note that until very recently, women in profession NCAA Division I women's basketball teams, though popular, had received "virtually no television exposure" during key station segments; women also suffered unfavorable practice times and "hand me down uniforms" (p. 1). Perhaps no other area of media portrayal reveals as much gender inequality as the portrayal of women athletes. This is not because of a lack of interest in female sports necessarily. More and more women are participating in sports formerly considered male only. However the media portrayal or lack of adequate portrayal of women's events has contributed to the perceived lack of enthusiasm and interest in following women's events. The media utilizes sexist attitudes, language and images often when portraying women's sporting events, and these habits have contributed to the lack of popularity of women's sports. This idea is explored in greater detail below.
According to Armstrong and Hallmark, Zavoina (1999) visual imagery bombards our perception of what we see in the media, thus giving a false allusion of understanding and relationship. Media images come in a variety of forms, including photographs, illustrations and television media images. Media images that consistently portray male athletes in an inequitable fashion send the image that women athletes are not as competitive, interesting and valuable as male athletes, though this isn't the case. In contemporary society, a majority of individuals rely on the media as their source of feedback related to sports. Thus, if female athletes are portrayed in a less appealing or negative fashion, it is only reasonable to conclude that people in general will presume that women's athletic events are in fact less interesting and exciting than men's events.
Women college athletes in particular face much discrimination in the television and media frontiers. Title IX legislation was massed more than twenty four years ago, with the intention of "eliminating sports disparities" based on gender within the United States, yet the United States General Accounting Office recently documented that "a gap remains in overall opportunity between men's programs and women's program's" related to sports television (Armstrong & Hallmark, 1999).
This occurs despite the fact that in contemporary society women's participation in sports overall is rising. Leonard (1988) points out that women's participation in athletic endeavors has risen 35% from the 1970s, when participation was only approximately seven percent for women. Yet one would hardly notice this change observing modern media portrayals.
Initially women were not covered in the media because they were not afforded the same opportunity to participate in sporting events. Women were banned from the Olympics in early years; the Olympic committee for example had no members that were female until after 1981 (Davenport, 1988; DeFrantz, 1988; Armstrong and Hallmark, 1999). It wasn't until the 1996 Olympic season that women began to break out in media images; for example, American women's basketball "drew more than 30,000 fans per game" at this time (Zoglin, 1996). The Olympic games in and of themselves however, are helpful to the image of women portrayed in the media, simply because during this event women likely get more coverage than they would in any other arena.
Women have began competing in many different athletic areas, including archery and swimming and diving, all which have become more inclusive Olympic events (Leonard, 1988). Some changes have been realized in the media due to the increased portrayal of women athletes in the Olympics; for example, corporate sponsorship has raised awareness of women athletes as legitimate.
According to Rintala and Birrle (1984) newspapers often portrayed women athletes "as attractive objects rather than skilled athletes" (Armstrong & Hallmark, 1999:1). In addition many journalists were noted as using "sexist language" when reporting women's athletic events (Bryant, 1980; Armstrong & Hallmark, 1999:1). Media coverage in television is not alone in its sexist use of language and portrayal of women athletes; Hillard (1984) found that coverage of women athletes in magazine print similarly portrayed females using sexist language.
Women athletes also are portrayed in a sexist manner and with sexist language even in college newspapers and radio broadcasts, according to surveys. Women are certainly portrayed more often in college media venues that in the "popular" press, however in general less than 25.5% of sports articles in college…