Teaching Law

Sunday 23 December 2012

Faster, higher, sexier: women in sport

Sportswomen in the media - as rare as unicorns*

Sports writers Phil Rothfield and Darren Hadland, in a ‘lighthearted review of the year’s sports highlights’, today declared Black Caviar, a horse, as ‘Sportswoman of the Year’.
Their 'Sportsman of the Year' is the Australian cricket captain, Michael Clarke.
In response to outrage on social media, Rothfield pointed out that Black Caviar is a girl and implied that the piece was funny.  Unfortunately, as Wendy Harmer has so effectively pointed out, this is wrong.  He is possibly wondering why so many are so angry.
First, and obviously, a woman is a human being.  In fact, a girl is also a human being.  Black Caviar is not a woman, nor is she a girl.  She is a female horse.  It is both incorrect and uncalled for to consider women and horses in the same category.

For the record: Kim Crow is an actual sportswoman**

But the really offensive aspect of this ostensibly hilarious joke and the lame attempts to defend it, are that they reproduce the crippling sexism of the media in reporting women’s sport.  We know this article is sexist, because it would never happen to men’s sport despite Rothfield’s attempt to suggest otherwise.  But it is also part of a much wider culture of sexism in reporting women's sport.
Women’s sport is underfunded and women athletes are underpaid.  Women’s sport is under-reported and when it is reported, women athletes are often patronised.  Older male Olympic Games commentators continually referring to women as ‘girls’ is an example of this.  In another way, so is the sexualisation of the so-called lingerie league football where women are said to be athletes, but the context of the sport indicates its true agenda.  In a similar vein, Rothfield and Hadley cited Australian Olympian Leryn Franco as the 'hottest Olympian'.  Faster, higher sexier?
I can read the sports pages of mainstream media for days and days without seeing a single report of a woman athlete or women’s sporting competition.  The message I get is that women simply do not play sport.  This is patently incorrect.  While I learn daily about the slightest twinge or pain (particularly in the groin region) in any number of sportsmen and endless speculation over their games, their training, their coaches and their administrators, sportswomen and their world of training, coaching and competition is all but invisible.
Invisibility is not a new experience for women and this accounts for the angry response to the Black Caviar ‘award’.  How dare the media heap insult onto injury by ‘joking’ that a horse is the best Australian sportswoman in 2012.  The attempt at a response, namely that women can’t take a joke, is a typical strategy of devaluing women’s experiences, propping up the man’s perspective and his status.  This response confirms absolutely that this is no joke, but a deliberate belittling of women athletes.  Perhaps if women athletes were more regularly and consistently visible in the media, there would not be so much outrage at this article.
It’s about time the media stepped up.  Failure to report women’s sport daily, as men’s sport is reported, is lazy and offensive to all of us who wish to know about all types of Australian athletes.  It is also offensive to the many many women athletes who compete, coach, umpire and manage sport daily at all levels of competition.  The newspapers that publish columns such as this one are as responsible as its authors in allowing the disgraceful imbalance in reporting of women’s sport on a daily basis and the culture that validates it.
We should perhaps thank Rothfield and Hadland for pointing out so eloquently the truth about the culture of mainstream media when it comes to women in sport.  Let's hope that the media is listening to the response.

*picture from http://boingboing.net/tag/unicorn 
**photo from http://www.themercury.com.au/article/2012/08/01/350681_sport-news.html


  1. Excellent work!

    Too many beers the night before perhaps, to get a buzz? Judgement impaired. Drunk publishing?

  2. They were just suggesting that they'd like to shag a horse.
    Maybe they require removal from their employment?

  3. Kate,
    Failure to report womens sport daily as mens sport is not lazy and offensive. It's a reflection of the market. It's simple, not enough people watch and more importantly support womens sport. If the did, it would have equal media attention.
    There's a simple solution .... http://www.therangaandthekraut.com/women-in-sport-are-paid-less-than-men/

    1. Thanks for your comment The K. A great link - thank you. I agree that for things to change we need to support women's sport. However the media has a role in promoting what sport there is already to assist a wider awareness and to validate investment in women's sport. In fact women's sport is already very popular - netball enjoys amongst the highest participation rates in the country yet gets negligible coverage. So I think it's a multi-pronged approach that's needed: your important and practical suggestion, as well as a more engaged media. That's why the media is lazy - relying on a furphy that it is only men's sport in which people are interested.

  4. The K,

    So what parallel universe do you live in where people are given equal opportunity to watch women and men play sport and they consistently prefer to watch men?

    Tomorrow I'm going to watch the boxing day test. (men). Every friday and saturday night during footy season I can watch (men) play NRL. In the afternoons, I can watch the state (men) play NRL too.

    Tell me what channel I can switch to watch the women's cricket team? -Which has been for the last few years much more successful than the men's.

    I used to watch the netball on the ABC until they started showing highlight reels instead of games and refused to put them on at a consistent time.

  5. Hi Kate,

    I remember In 2009 AP published their top 10 sportswomen of the year (including two horses) which prompted Women's Health to create a TV campaign drawing attention to the issue. They styled up a faux fashion shoot and brought in one of todays great female athletes, Stephanie Gilmore - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g61mKRm4bjc

    Similarly, the Telegraph's list for 2012, in particular the naming of Black Caviar as sportswoman of the year is sure to be the subject of a number of articles and blog pieces like your own.

    However just last month Australian Vogue published a shot of Black Caviar on the front cover, with the theme of the magazine being "Celebrating Australian Women". They also (ironically considering the approach from Women's Health) did up a video of the shoot http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdsK8L_LzJs and an article syndicated across the News Limited network. An example article as well as cover image can be found at http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/celebrity/black-caviar-races-onto-cover-of-vogue-australia/story-e6frfmqi-1226504824905

    The article talks about BC as a "cover girl" and Vogue editor-in-chief Edwina McCann says in her editor's letter: “Black Caviar certainly knows when the lens is focused on her, and it’s terrific to celebrate her beauty, rather than just her speed.” There are many other examples of Vogue personifying Black Caviar for the purposes of the magazine.

    I was waiting for the usual backlash, but to my amazement I have not found any negative criticism, analysis or commentary, other than people talking about the way in which the horse was photographed, and what Julia Nobis is wearing etc. I was just wondering if you might speculate as to why that could be?

    Perhaps I am missing something (and respectfully ask to be set right), but it seems rather hypocritical to be up in arms over Black Caviar being named sportswoman of the year, yet be silent when Vogue places BC on their cover, particularly under the theme "celebrating Australian women".

  6. Turn TV off and get down to the cricket grounds.
    What a buzz for these women to see fans in the stands!


  7. ^^^but will do nothing to solve the problem at hand.