Sex Sells in Women’s Sports

A few weeks ago, the Women Center hosted the event, “Throwing like a Girl Since 1972.”  The event focused on Title IX and what it did for women’s participation in sports.  Although Title IX helped equalize the playing field for women’s participation in sports (pun intended) and provided opportunities for girls who wanted to play sports in school, I’m still not convinced that women athletes receive the same respect or regard as male athletes. 

In a recent article I read, I found that when it comes to women’s sports, sex sells.  Men’s sports still garner more attention and higher regard than women’s sports, and according to the article, in order for some female athletes to draw the same attention to their sport, they’ve had to resort to adding some sex appeal to their athleticism.  But does this attention equate respect?  I don’t think so, and I find it unfair.  Just because men are still the largest portion of sports fans, does that mean that women have to compromise their reputation as a serious athlete and pose half naked in a men’s magazine to get their attention?  And once she’s done that, she may have gained some attention, but I’m afraid she’s lost quite a bit of respect.  The article mentions Anna Kournikova, an okay tennis player several years ago who was talked about more for her supermodel looks and sexy TV ads, than for her ability to play tennis.  When sports fans tuned in to watch Anna play tennis, were they really there to see the sport, or were they just there to see her in her itty, bitty tennis skirt prancing around the tennis court?  I love to watch women’s volleyball, but each time I see a game, the female players get even more naked.  What are sports fans really tuning in to watch here? 

I think it’s difficult for women in sports to be respected as athletes while they are being objectified at the same time.  But unfortunately if some female athletes are looked at only for their athleticism, they can go unnoticed no matter how good they are.  According to the article, the championship female cricket team in England took the route to not portray themselves as sex symbols and keep their dignity and their clothes on.  Despite their winning record, no one knows who they are; nor do they know that the captain is one of the most successful captains in English sports.  In America, that would be equivalent to most people not knowing who Brett Farvre was. This objectification goes too far sometimes among some of the men I know.  On the rare occasions that my male friends watch women’s soccer with me, their comments are almost always about the female athlete’s physical appearance and seldom about her abilities to play soccer.

Sports Illustrated hasn’t done women any favors either.  As one of the top, if not the top, sports magazines in circulation, their covers are mostly occupied by male athletes.  The one time each year that they guarantee a woman on the cover, which also happens to be their best selling issue each year, they don’t feature a star woman athlete, but a bikini-clad supermodel.  How’s that for respecting the female athlete!  Even Sports Illustrated is telling its readers that it’s okay to see women as objects to be ogled at and not taken seriously in sports.

So what is it going to take for female athletes to gain the respect and attention that male athletes get?  Some women have come very close, such as the Williams Sisters, Sheryl Swoops, and Mia Hamm.  But when it comes to fan base, men’s sports still far exceeds the women. And does it really matter that some female athletes resort to showing a little skin to get people to pay attention to them?  Maybe this is not an issue for many people, but I think it is.  Women have been fighting for decades to be regarded for more than just their bodies.  We have brains and talents and, in the female athletes among us, we have exceptional physical prowess too.  That is what sports fans should be paying attention to.  Title IX gave women the opportunity to participate in the same sports as men, which in turn allowed some female athletes to excel to levels that deserve to be notices. But Title IX did not guarantee that once women showed up in the sports arena, things would be equal.  I think that in order for female athletes to get the same respect as male athletes it’s going to take a fan base that pays more attention to a woman’s athletic abilities and less on her physical appearance and sex appeal. It’s also going to take more female sports fans so that advertisers and sports magazines can stop trying to appeal to only a male audience.  Unless these things change, our female athletes and women’s sports will never get the respect they deserve.