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 racing cars, men’s rugby, boys’ soccer, men’s rugby. “Where are the women?! ” I spluttered loudly, spilling my coffee in indignation. Finally – 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?
And beneath the atrocious headline? Photos of five of the top women in the US Open, followed by a one-word description - go on; I invite you read this out loud using your best Grammy awards nominee voice:
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 generalise a whole derogatory 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 packaging.
Despite being the number one seed for this event, Caroline Wozniacki 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.” In her poem ‘Sisterhood’, Kate Wilson makes the point that 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. Let me share with you this morning’s inspiring 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”. This is the chat 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!
Cloe: See? Good things come to those who work out! Btw, Yas was much better at tennis than she lets on. She’s got a mega strong serve.
Sasha: Enough about the game! Who’s this new coach?? I think it’s time to set up a group hang for Cloe’s next match so we can scope out the guy!
Cloe: Everybody chill! My tennis coach is awesome, he’s on the team at school, and we are JUST FRIENDS!! But I wouldn’t mind a cute outfit to wear, tee hee.
Jade: Totally! And I’ll make her a new outfit because the last time I watched her play she was in ratty old sweats. So NOT cute!
Yasmin: Ooh, I smell a makeover in the air! Not that our pal needs a makeover, since she’s cute enough on her own. Just a cool new look.
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 - firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Note: I was unable to access a free version of this article that was written online, but it appears to be an edited version of an article that appeared in the Guardian UK on 19/06/10.)
And while you are here check out this fantastic poem that covers a number of points raised in this post, and gives a call to action to all women:
Rachel is a writer and educator whose fields of interest include sexuality education, gender, feminism and youth development.