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Playing Unfair

The primary inference one can make after watching “Playing Unfair: The Media Image of the Female Athlete,” is that there is a clear disparity in coverage and image association between male and female athletes. Issues that arise range from image projection of heterosexuality (and an unfortunate need for it) to coverage in media outlets. The barriers for women in sport are minimal with the exception of talent of course, and yet attention remains to be dwarfed in comparison to men in sport. Those who provided information in the piece such as Mary Jo Kane, a professor at the University of Minnesota say that there is a large amount of increasing support in the field of womens sports, however there is an equal backlash to the idea. The presented materials included the dichotomy between men on the cover of sports illustrated dressed in uniform whereas the women were all dressed in something other than their designated uniforms. The way the women were portrayed was much more sexually charged than the men, usually it was in a provocative position with minimal clothing. The film itself did a very good job of raising the questions with viable everyday examples, not just with the photos but also consistently having to show that most of the women had husbands and children. The non-verbal declaration of actual sexual orientation was immense. Some of the photos included athlete Marion Jones with her husband and children and and figure skater Nancy Kerrigan with her daughter (CNN).

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The variable of gender roles plays into the idea of media portrayal of female athletes in that sexual scripts are deposited subconsciously unto a society. The 20th century saw the development of modern sport as a business. No major sport which developed into an industry such as what became the National Basketball Association, National Football League, Major League Baseball or the National Hockey League included women. Within college sport cheerleaders were often men (George W. Bush was even a cheerleader at Yale). The sexual script in Americana applied roles to the genders as time went on, brute force and masculine ability seemed to be all that mattered, not the human achievement but the male human achievement. Specifically relating to sport this idea could even stem from Ancient Greece, who developed Olympic sport. Women did not participate in that and there was a large emphasis on the male and it's perfection. One could point to later interpretations of this script in Michaelangelo's “David.” It is known as a great achievement and it is, but it merely asserted the dominance of the male and ignores the capacity for females to be just as dominating. The sexual script is indoctrinated into the social norm fabric of American sports. It is because of this that female athletes are covered in publications, it is how our society is able to comprehend this. Unfortunately this is rather subconsciously unethical and is deeply rooted in the minds of sports fans.

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Along with sexual scripts comes the issue of sexual identity... which is a result of that imposed social norm. It is not traditional in a sense that women can be stronger than men. The reality is that almost any female athlete could not only take on but easily beat their male counterparts. It would sadly confuse fans due to sexual identity being an issue. It is even apparent in the names of leagues, for instant there is a NBA, where men play however women play in the WNBA, with the “W” being part of the acronym that stands for “Womens.” The NBA does not require an “M” before the league acronym. This contributes as a variable in sexual scripts and identity. There is an idea that these two leagues are separate and one is somehow better than the other. One could suggest an experiment where the best team in the WNBA plays the worst team in the male NBA and the odds of the female players winning is actually really high. This would cause some real turbulence in the world of sexual identity. It would also shatter the sexual script, and the backlash or “shock” from that event would be evidence of an actual sexual script existing. It would also cause people to wonder about these women who play in the WNBA as abnormal, not at the best psychical shape a woman can be in which causes interpretation of sexual identity to be skewed.

Heteronormativity is also a consequence of the sexual scripts, especially when discussing female athletes. People think women who do not fit some sort of construct where competitiveness and competition are natural. These concepts are normal in any gender, and do not fit in a disciplined and regimented way of things. When a magazine or media outlet portrays a female athlete in a super sexual manner it ignores the fact that rules do not apply and then superimpose superficial roles as a result. Then the female who rejects this external imposition is forced to portray themselves in manner that is inferred as overtly athletic. Being overtly athletic is somehow a masculine norm and these athletes are often perceived as being a lesbian, although this might be an issue for an actual lesbian, those who do not see themselves as lesbians feel encouraged to demonstrate in a rather blunt manner that they are indeed not lesbians, just athletic.

The way female athletes express this need to prove heterosexuality is by showing emotional intimacy with her partner. This emotional intimacy adds to the backlash Professor Kane spoke about in the video in that it only re-solidifies the misperception of female athletes. If a female athlete is depicted in a photo with her partner in loving embrace it shows that she is the one being embraced by the male... never the other way around. This kind of media depiction begs the self refutation of these public displays of emotional intimacy.

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These concepts lead to the idea of compulsory heterosexuality, where it seems that woman need men. Without the man the woman is incapable of achieving a full potential on any front be it economically or physically. That idea is incorrect, and it is spewed to the sports public all the time. It is partially the fault of the media outlets but mostly its the consumers of the sports media. It is these consumers who would ignore a sports publication with a female athlete on it unless the issue is the swimsuit edition. The market for these media outlets is already defined, and if the culture changed there would be an expansion of the market but not before the huge loss of a dedicated, defined fan base. ESPN schedules many basketball games on its networks, but rarely are the two flagship networks showing female sports. Most of the collegiate female basketball games occur on ESPNU, which is not part of a basic cable package. Instead viewers watch games where the men are as masculine as possible on the spectrum and the women are highly sexual as the cheer leaders and that division of roles is very explicit. Compulsory heterosexuality would challenge the notion that women should be cheer leading and men are playing, it would suggest the notion of role reversal. No major sport played by men have women coaches, not one. Only in the NBA does one see females referring, but even then they are required to wear hair short and other restrictions to blur the fact that women are officiating. In this aspect the NBA minimally redeems itself.

Once a female becomes the head coach of an all male team society will display the after shock of embedded sexual scripts in Americana. It will be then when the self-refuting tendency of emotional intimacy will be defeated. Sexual identity and compulsory heterosexuality will be examined within a public forum, and this will not only be incredibly beneficial to society, but will act as a liberation from subconscious social norms that we truly suffer from in this day in age.

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