More balance needed in the commentary box

While watching the Melbourne Cup last week, no matter your opinion about horse racing as a sport, it was exciting to see the first win by a female jockey, Michelle Payne. As an advocate for female athletes, it was even more exciting to hear Payne calling out sexism in her sport, and telling doubters who think women aren’t strong or good enough to “get stuffed”.

Despite this strong message I couldn’t help but cringe when, in the moments after the win when the commentators were trying to fill the gaps before they could get an interview, Payne was described as a “beautiful young lady”, or words to that effect. I doubt you would have heard a male jockey described as “handsome” had he won. In addition, a few have since tried to suggest that Payne should not have called out the sexism in racing as she did, which of course just reinforces the problem.

For all the strides that women have made in sport, and the increasing acceptance of female athletes, there is a pervasive problem whereby media coverage continues to focus on women’s bodies, their fashion, or their social lives, rather than their sport. This belittles their achievements. Whilst in the case of Michelle Payne the comment on air was fairly benign, it highlights the fact that commentators still seem to find it hard to know quite what to say about female athletes. Continue reading

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Body Language – it’s time to change what we are saying about women in sport

Sportette has recently released its new online campaign, “Strong is the New Pretty”. The aim of the campaign is to showcase female athletes “with the theme that strength is beauty”, in order to provide “healthy, strong, fit” role models for young girls. The first (and so far only) role model is Matildas star Tameka Butt, and the website shows six images of Butt in various poses – most with a soccer ball. She is wearing just a crop top and shorts, so that her well defined abdominal muscles are evident. Although Sportette’s aim is to reframe the view of women in sport, through this campaign it nonetheless maintains the focus on the body and, indeed, what is ‘pretty’ (whether it’s strength or otherwise). The bigger issue, that we are still focusing on what women look like, rather than what they do, seems to have been lost. Continue reading