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Babes, Bitches . . . and Blooming Awful Journalism!

This week, a blog post about the media’s sexist stereotyping of women in sport has got me all fired up, so I am sharing it with you here. There is plenty of research to show that when girls are involved in sports, it is a real boost for their self-esteem and body image, so it’s an important issue.
rachel hansenThis post is by our talented program manager for Enlighten Education in New Zealand, Rachel Hansen. Rachel is an experienced health and wellbeing educator who has a first-class honours degree in Psychology and a Masters degree in Criminology from Cambridge University (UK). Her research has focused on youth development, youth offending and women’s health.

Reading the Sunday newspaper over a coffee is an indulgence I absolutely love. Not being an avid sports fan, I usually give the sports section a miss. But last Sunday I picked up the Sunday Star Times sports section, because one of the issues I discuss with girls through my work with Enlighten Education is how the media portray women in sport. I had read research on the media’s treatment of women’s sport but I was optimistic that surely the situation couldn’t be quite that bad.

So I opened the 16-page sports section and started flicking through. Men’s rugby, men’s soccer, men’s rugby, men’s car racing, men’s rugby, boys’ soccer, men’s rugby. “Where are the women?!” I spluttered loudly, spilling my coffee in indignation. Finally . . . on page 14, women got a full page devoted to them. Yes, a full-page feature article on the US Open Women’s Tennis.

But don’t start celebrating. The headline?

Picture
Babes, Bitches and Bickering
And beneath the atrocious headline? Photos of five of the top women in the US Open, with a one-word description — go on, I invite you read this out loud using your best Grammy Awards presenter voice:
  • Contestant: Ana Ivanovic
  • Bitchiness: Elena Baltacha
  • Entertainer: Jelena Jankovic
  • Nicest: Caroline Wozniacki
  • Soviet Tank: Svetlana Kuznetsova.

After throwing the rest of my coffee across the room (OK, that’s dramatic licence), I started to read the article, which proceeded to illuminate for me why these sportswomen were awarded their titles above.

I soon realised that Ivanovic was not awarded the Contestant title for her tennis prowess – oh no:
“’Who’s the prettiest?’ she says,  buttering a roll, her slim wrist holding up a Rolex watch the size of a child’s fist. ‘Who’s the most popular, the most fashionable, who’s getting the most coverage?’ She smiles sorrowfully to acknowledge that, when it comes to these contests, she tends to do quite well.”
Ivanovic wins the Contestant award because she is winning the beauty and popularity contests.

The Bitchiness award seems to have stemmed from Elena Baltacha‘s comment:
“I wouldn’t go out of my way to start a fight, but if I feel someone has done or said something on purpose, then I will react. I wouldn’t just take it, I would defend myself.”
One comment seems justification enough to make a derogatory generalisation about a whole personality trait.

After being described as a “truculent teen”, Jelena Jankovic is awarded  the Entertainer trophy after stating:
“We are entertainers, as well, on court, in our own sporty way . . . We entertain the fans, they pay money to watch us play.  It’s nice to see girls who are feminine, who dress nice.  Maybe in the past there were only a couple of players like that, but now players pay more attention to it. I was one of those painting my nails different colours and matching them to my dress. If you are in a nice dress you can play better, feel better. More comfortable and confident.”
This statement sounds as though it comes straight off a Sporty Bratz doll’s packaging.

Despite being the number one seed for this event, Caroline Wozniacki, winner of the Nicest title, gets only the briefest of mentions:
“Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki . . . is one of the nicest in the top 10.”
Because really, what interest would there be in a “nice” tennis player when there are beauties and bitches to discuss? None whatsoever, it seems.

And Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova obviously doesn’t live up to the sexiness factor necessary for women to play in the US Open, taking out the Soviet Tank award.

To further my dismay, this derogatory and juvenile article was written by a woman. Numerous quotes are scattered throughout this Sunday Star Times article that portray the women as simpering bimbo fashionista bitches. Strangely enough, despite not once mentioning anything about any talent any of the tennis players have, the journalist at times seems to be trying to take a feminist perspective regarding the discrimination that abounds in the women’s tennis circuit — although she clarifies that the issue is definitely “not the most pressing in feminism today”. It is often women who are propagating the sexualisation and objectification of women.

The journalist’s claim that most of the world’s top female tennis players consider their on-court fashion their primary source of “empowerment” is a ridiculous statement. What research is she basing this on? Whether it’s “brilliant exploitation of a sexist media” or “a complete sellout”, this journalist is part of it.

The article portrays the world’s top tennis players as if they were Bratz dolls, characters in an imaginary world of bling and beauty, the tennis a mere hobby on the side. In fact, I checked in on the Bratz website this morning and realised that the Sunday Star Times article was just a grown-up version of Bratz Chatz. (Note to the uninitiated: Bratz dolls are marketed at girls age 2–11.  There are five scantily clad, heavily made-up Bratz dolls, each with their own “personality” and “passion for fashion”.) Let me share with you this morning’s inspiring Bratz Chatz that occurred between the doll characters this morning:

Sasha: Dancing is sooo much easier for me than sports. I love watching Cloe play [tennis] but it is so hard for me in gym. I have to sing to get through it!
Jade: Yeah, I would much rather watch sports than play them but I get plenty of exercise walking around the mall every weekend, lol!
Yasmin: Cloe convinced me to play tennis with her and I totally fell in front of Cloe’s very cute coach. I don’t know how she focuses on the game!…

So our young girls play make-believe with sexy fashionista bimbos and the media continues the conversation for our real-life tennis heroes.

Thank you, Sunday Star Times, you made my search for discriminatory reporting of sport far too easy and time efficient. I am horrified that it is 2010 and demeaning and offensive drivel like this is the only mention of sportswomen in New Zealand’s biggest newspaper of the week. I am heartened only by the fact that it was not a New Zealand journalist. Yet why the need to import this from the UK?

I hope you will join me in emailing your dismay to the Sunday Star Times editor: david.kemeys@star-times.co.nz.

(Note: I was unable to link to a free version of this article online, but it appears to be an edited version of an article that appeared in the Guardian UK on 19/06/10.)

Media stereotyping of women in sport is universal, affecting not just NZ and the UK but Australia, too. I’d love to hear what you all think about this issue. To see some other perspectives, there is the guest post Women in Sport Hit the Grass Ceiling by Australia’s federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, and I wrote about this previously here: Sport: The Real Winners and Losers — Danni.

Published inMediaPower of WordsSportWomen and Careers

10 Comments

  1. Jane Higgins

    When working with teen girls who are heavily involved with sport, it is interesting to note that they think they are immune to media’s negative portrayal of women. However when we highlight the images of how the media pushes them to be “fashionistas” and “sexy” above their sporting achievements, they are rightly insulted and incensed towards the media.
    Girls and women want to be seen for who they really are and not the bitchy, nasty, bickering bimbos that the media would like us to believe we are. Great post Rachel!! xx

  2. Olivia

    WOW!!!! That’s crazy!!

  3. Nikki D

    Wow. This is truly sad. I also very rarely go near the Sports section but I always note the lack of Women’s coverage on TV as well. I always say to the girls I work with through Enlighten “Can you imagine the nation stopping for a Netabll Grand Final the way they do for the AFL or NRL final???”
    And I love that the girls are always shocked and get really fired up when I show them the Sportz Bratz motto: “It’s not how you play the game… it’s how good you look when you are winning”. This article is really just backing up this awful statement as you point out Rachel – Infuriating!
    Great post Rachel!

  4. Thanks for your comments guys. I was really shocked by this article (as you could probably tell!). I wrote a calm and rational letter to the newspaper, sumamrising some of my points, and inviting them to read my blog. I was really horrified at the deputy editor’s response – his final paragraph read:
    “I think the piece is actually a well-considered analysis of sexism based on a snapshot from the within the world of women’s tennis. Maybe you need to take off the dark-rose-tinted glasses and read the story a different way. But then I’m a man so what would I know.”
    I found this pretty insulting on a number of levels. And sad too – as I understand it, this deputy editor is also the sports editor. So really the content of the sports section is not a surprise at all!
    Another friend had an email from the Editor, and he acknowledged that he agreed with the points she had made.
    I showed the article to a group of Year 11 girls as part of an Enlighten presentation last week – they were suitably incensed!

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