As a teenager, I asked my dad (an avid sports fan and a huge supporter of my 20+ year sports career) why professional women’s sports are not as popular as men’s sports. He responded by saying something like women’s sports are not as visually interesting or exciting as men’s sports, probably because professional female athletes do not have the power, strength, speed, agility, etc. as professional male athletes. He did not say this as a put-down to women in sports, just as a general observation of an avid sports watcher. So I took his word for it. That reason, combined with the other cultural constraints against female athletes, made sense to me.
Greer, Hardin and Homan (2009) conducted a content analysis of the television coverage of men’s and women’s track and field during the 2004 Olympic Games to analyze the visual “excitement” of men’s versus women’s events. Imagine my surprise when I read that “men’s coverage was presented as more visually ‘exciting’ than women’s – it used more shot types, camera angles, and motion special effects per minute. These differences may contribute to perceptions that women’s sports are inferior or ‘naturally’ less interesting than men’s, reinforcing men as the symbolic authority in sport” (Greer et al, 2009, p. 173).
Because this study is a content analysis, the researchers did not have the benefit of speaking with the producers to explore how their beliefs, attitudes and values could impact visual production decisions. In the study’s conclusion, the authors wrote, “It is vital that such research and activism continue to interrogate practices that minimize women in sport, for this will allow sports viewers to eventually receive mediated events that are naturally fair and, perhaps, interesting” (Greer et al, 2009, p. 186).
Not only should research continue in this area, but the public (adults and children, both male and female) should be educated about producers’ decisions and how they can affect their viewing perceptions and opinions. There are some programs for middle school and high school girls and boys on sports media literacy, but they do not address this issue. In the programs for boys, most of them address issues of violence in sports. For girls, the programs mostly emphasize the importance of physical activity to promote self- and body-esteem as well as other healthy decisions (GoGirlGo!; Girls on the Run).
Through my research on gender and media literacy, I have learned about so many subtleties (like camera angles) in different forms of media that can easily, and do easily, influence and reinforce gender stereotypes. These subtleties arise from cultural perceptions of gender. Until these cultural perceptions change, these subtleties will continue to exist, but if we teach children about these subtleties now, perhaps they can grow up to become the producers who use the same camera angles, cuts and special effects for both men’s and women’s sports. Hey, a girl can dream, right?
Greer, J., Hardin, M. & Homan, C. (2009). “‘Naturally’ less exciting? Visual production of men’s and women’s track and field coverage during the 2004 Olympics.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 53(2), p. 173-189.