Saturday, July 4, 2015
Are Women (Athletes) Worth Watching?
Someone always has something to say about the female athlete, and it is usually has nothing to do with her athleticism. Being great isn’t enough. Women were banned from the sport of bobsled until 1940, when the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) opened the sport to women. Katharin Dewey won the U.S. National Four-Man Bobsled Championships, becoming the only woman in history in any amateur sport to win a national title in open competition against men. Days later, the AAU reversed its decision and banned women from the sport, striping Dewey of her title. Women bobsledders would not make their debut in Olympics until 2002.1
Female athletes have always had to look and behave a certain way to be successful in sport; they had to be pretty and “feminine” to get corporate sponsors. They were encouraged to pose naked or semi-naked. By the 1990s, however, women were moving into “gender inappropriate” sports, changing their attitudes, not to mention body image, on what a female athlete is. Suddenly, body contact sports such as soccer and basketball were becoming popular.2 In 1999, as a record 18 million people watched the nail-biting finale of the women’s World Cup soccer game, Brandi Chastain did the unimaginable after securing the winning goal. She ripped off her sweat-soaked jersey and fell to her knees, flexing a well-toned, beautiful, muscular body. And the world went nuts. What a conundrum for the female athlete. Sexy vs. powerful!
In 2001, 22.7 million viewers tuned in to watch Venus Williams defeat her sister, Serena. In fact, more World and Olympic records are being broken by women, and more men are watching women’s sports than ever before.3 Sports Illustrated dubbed MMA fighter Rhonda Rousey as the most dominant fighter, male or female, alive today, and FOX network is expecting record ratings for the World Cup championship game between the U.S. and Japan. Yet Sports Illustrated writer Andy Benoit tweeted that women’s athletics simply weren’t worth watching. What do we have to do? Become president?
1 Allred, A. (2000). Atta Girl: A Celebration of Women in Sports. Wish Publishing. p 150.
2 Kustok, S (2010), Representation of Women Athletes in the Media. Depaul University, College of Communications M.A. Thesis, p 6-12.
3 Clark, L. (2015, June 26). Five Myths About Women’s Sports. Washington Post.