According to the cited study:
Despite females’ increased participation in sport since the enactment of Title IX and calls for greater media coverage of female athletes, women appeared on just 4.9 percent of covers. The percentage of covers did not change significantly over the span and were comparable to levels reported for the 1980s by other researchers. Indeed, women were depicted on a higher percentage of covers from 1954–1965 than from 2000–2011.
Not only that but:
when women athletes were featured as cover models, they were often sharing the cover with a male athlete, representing traditionally “feminine” sports or depicted in “sexually objectifying” poses. “Of the 35 covers including a female, only 18 … featured a female as the primary or sole image,” the researchers wrote, reported Pacific Standard. “Three covers included females, but only as insets (small boxed image), or as part of a collage background of both male and female athletes.”
Considering Sports Illustrated still insists on its popular swimsuit issues, it should come as no surprise that it fails to take female athletes as seriously as male athletes.
This fact about it is disturbing, considering it is at the top of the list of best-selling sports magazines. On one such list, it is described as follows:
Sports Illustrated magazine is a weekly magazine that is the sports authority for American sports. SI magazine features quality photographs and news articles inclusive of all sports–college and professional, men’s and women’s.
Remember, Anna Kournikova? She made the cover but you’d never know from the picture that she played professional tennis.
This tendency not to take women seriously as athletes permeates popular mainstream sports media. RantSports.com is an unbelievable website that first caught my attention for its article, The 15 Sexiest Sports Moments from 2012 Will Blow Your Mind. [sic]
I thought, “Sexy sports moments. Really?” The article turns out to include not fifteen but twenty-four “sexy sports moments.” Twenty-one of them have to do with sexy female athletes, sports reporters, and WAGs (Wives And Girlfriends). Four are more generic, including a moment offensively called “Kevin Durant and the Old Lady,” in which the basketball player kisses an elderly woman who was hit by the ball.
The commentary includes several gems. For example, one of the sexy moments is the moment Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor won gold at the Olympics in beach volleyball. This caption is typical of what you will see throughout the article:
It’s hard to believe but this team keeps cranking out gold medals. The duo brought gold home from London this summer and they looked amazing in the process. I know I took time out of my day to watch them compete.
And when soccer player Alex Morgan saves the day against the Canadian women’s team?
Morgan is probably the most popular lady on the USWNT. Her goal against Canada saved the match for the team and it was a great moment. It was even better because Morgan is a stone cold fox.
Links to other articles offered to people who land on the sexiest sports moment page include: Best-Looking Female Athletes in Bikinis; 20 of the Hottest Athlete WAGs You’ll Ever See; and The 50 Hottest Female Olympians.
What’s so relevant about the Wives and Girlfriends (I had to look up WAGs) of professional athletes. It’s proof that:
…professional athletes have it made. The gorgeous women that grace this list are among the most beautiful athlete wives and girlfriends we have ever seen. They are models, tennis stars, Olympians and much, much more. It would be easy to lose an entire day, flipping back and forth through these photos.
This focus on the sexiness of female athletes, on the wives and girlfriends of professional athletes, on the hot-factor among the elite women athletes who compete in the Olympics is a major contributor to their inequality of representation in major sports media.
Their athleticism takes the silver to their gold medal sex appeal. There is nothing wrong with being sexy, but when being sexy is the only thing that can gain us recognition, there’s a real problem.
Male professional athletes are more often than not depicted as actively engaging in their sport of choice. They are shown as competitors first and foremost. If women were given equal air time and press in the same manner — taking their athleticism seriously — then the occasional comment about their beauty or sex appeal wouldn’t be undermining.
But when that’s the overwhelming focus of attention, indeed, practically the only way they can get attention, it’s just a sad state of affairs for women in sport. It’s why, sadly, Sam’s blog post on crotch shots and upskirts is among the most popular posts on this blog. People literally search the internet for pictures of female athletes in action so they can peer up their skirts and look at their crotches.
Is it any wonder, then, that women’s sports aren’t taken as seriously as men’s by the top sports magazines and the popular sports websites?
One of the single best things we can do for women’s sport would be to promote media coverage and representations of the athletes in action, pursuing their sport, the way we do with men’s sports.
I realize that sport is big business, and can already hear people saying that if we didn’t play up their sexy factor, women’s sports just wouldn’t sell.
But then we need to ask the further question of “why?” Why in 2013 do women still need to bring their sexuality to the table if they want attention in realms where their sexuality is not relevant?
We can add that question to the list of things to say to people who challenge the view that feminism still has an active role to play in today’s world.