Sporting women in the media
Sporting women in the media

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Sporting women in the media

3 Inequalities in sport

In the previous section you reflected on your own experiences of gender discrimination. Now, let’s look at how some of these inequalities are evident in top-level sport by examining global sporting events. You will start by examining gender at the Olympic Games.

Activity 4 Have we come a long way?

Timing: Allow 1 hour

At the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896, no women were allowed to compete. In this activity you will examine the progress that has been made in women’s sport since that time.

  1. Look at Table 1, which shows the gender balance at each of the Olympic Games up to 2012. What pattern do you notice since 1908 in relation to the three London Olympics held, and does this type of analysis give us the full picture of gender in sport?
  1. Read the journal article ‘Female athletes, women’s sport, and the sport media commercial complex: have we really “come a long way, baby”?’ by Janet Fink [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . As you read, answer the following questions:
    • a.What is the purpose of this article?
    • b.What are the key points arising from the article?
    • c.What is the purpose of a review paper?

Table 1 Male and female athletes in the modern summer Olympic Games, 1896–2012

YearPlaceCountries representedMale athletesFemale athletesPercentage female
1904St Louis1264560.9
1916Olympics scheduled for Berlin cancelled (First World War)
1932Los Angeles3712061269.5
1940Olympics scheduled for Tokyo cancelled (Second World War)
1944Olympics cancelled (Second World War)
1968Mexico City112473578114.2
1984Los Angeles1405263156622.9
(Coakley and Pike, 2009, p. 241)


  1. If you compare the percentages of female competitors at the three London Olympics, you can see that there has been a substantial improvement, with an increase from 1.8% in 1908 to 9.5% in 1948 and to 44.3% in 2012. This suggests that great strides towards gender equality have been taken, but does this show us the full picture? The data from the 2012 Olympics suggests that we have almost reached gender equality. However, the recognisability of women in sport is still less than that of men, so perhaps gender equality is further away than the participation data would suggest.

    • a.The purpose of the article is to raise awareness of the unequal representation of women in sport. This shows that participation data (such as that shown in Table 1) does not give us the full picture.
    • b.Fink notes that while there is an increasing number of women in sport, there is unequal media coverage. Furthermore, she analyses how female athletes are represented in the media. For example, she uses the term ‘gender marking’ when suggesting that male athletes and men’s sport are seen as ‘the norm’, rendering women and women’s sporting competition as secondary. Additionally, she highlights ‘infantilising’, which is when female athletes who are highly accomplished are referred to as ‘girls’ or ‘young ladies’. Skilled male athletes are rarely referred to as ‘boys’. She argues that the media focus on sex appeal, femininity and female athletes’ roles as wives, girlfriends and mothers instead of focusing on their accomplishments.
    • c.The purpose of a review paper is to provide a concise and coherent account of what is known in the particular field. The aim is to position the research into context, identifying strengths and weaknesses, questioning the design of the existing research and suggesting future areas of research to investigate.

Although participation in the Olympics has edged closer to gender equality in terms of participation rates, evidence suggests that gender discrimination does still occur in sport (Fink, 2014). In order to explore this further you will examine the experience of women’s football.

Activity 5 Gender discrimination in football

Timing: Allow 30 minutes

Watch the video below which shows clips taken from the BBC programme Sexism in Football, aired in 2012, and complete the questions/tasks that follow.

  1. In the video, there are quite a few references to women’s experiences of gender discrimination. Select an example and consider how sexism relates to gender discrimination.
  2. How can you link an example back to Fink’s (2014) paper in the previous activity?
Download this video clip.Video player: e314_2016j_vid048_640x360.mp4
Skip transcript


The game’s gone mad.
I wasn’t surprised.
I wasn’t surprised.
I don’t I think any woman is football was shocked by that.
It didn’t sound like it was the end of the world.
And actually, it was the real derogatory tone that really annoyed me. I think anybody who judges anybody’s talent purely on gender- that’s fundamentally wrong.
It was the sexism scandal that made headlines around the world-
The two Sky Sport presenters caught making sexist remarks about a female match official have apologised.
-and led to the exit of two of football’s highest profile presenters.
Andy Gray said he was devastated at losing a job he loved.
I wasn’t as shocked as the general public seemed to be.
People have a view that maybe the public are behind the curve. They’re not.
If I’m honest, I think I’ve probably experienced worse over the years. Who’s got the confidence to stand up when, for example, a well-known television presenter says to you in front of a room of 20 people, how many Premier League footballers have you slept with?


I think the Charlotte Jackson piece, particularly, had an undertone of real sinister- Charlotte, I don’t know her, but I know she is a very capable and able woman. It was the fact that she felt unable to respond.



If thousands of fans at a game shout racist abuse, there is a law to protect that person that’s being abused. A TV female reporter who thousands of fans were shouting "slut" at her, there’s no legal recourse for that.
Being in a champion’s league round in a large section of the Manchester United fans started singing, “get your tits out”, and you just thought, well, just carry on watching the game and pretend that the glass is so thick is we can’t hear them, even though they were the thick ones.
And so we carried on watching the game, thinking that Sir Bobby, bless him, who was probably about 72 at the time, wasn’t hearing this, because he never said anything. So we’re watching the game, and eventually, Sir Bobby just stands up, pulls his top up-


Annie and I almost died.
Sexism, to me, in football, it’s like is the final discriminatory act that not exists, but is deemed acceptable to exist.
Yeah. You could, quite happily, without any action being taken against you, say to someone, what do you know? You’re a woman.
Absolutely, they should complain, because how do you ever get anything changed if you don’t tell the people right at the top what’s happening to you and what you expect to be done as a result of it? If there is something that’s fundamentally wrong within that organisation, if your immediate boss doesn’t want to know, you’ve got to tell the shareholders. You’ve got to tell the media. You’ve got to tell the press. You’ve got to get change to happen.
In one form or another, physical and sexual abuse, as well as discrimination, are all still happening, and when incidents occur, many women seem afraid to speak out. I think that’s because if they do, they feel they stand alone.
I have a bet going with a mate that there’ll be a female Premier League manager within 10 years, because you know, whatever’s said, at the top level, we’re an entertainment business.
You never know. I don’t want to rule it out and say, no, never, but-
That would be probably the last big barrier to break through.
Who dares to be the first lady to do that?
That would be fantastic.
I don’t think I’ll see one in my lifetime.
Someone somewhere will appoint a female manager, and whether it’s because she’s the best person out there or whether because the commercial aspects that come with it- whatever the reason, the reason will be that that is the best situation for the club.
I think there are a number of women in the industry who have been incredibly brave and broken through those glass ceilings.
I just think the level of woman’s football is not great enough where a woman could be in charge of a team championship level, premiership level. That’s just my personal opinion.
It will happen.
If it’s questionable whether there’ll ever be a top female manager, it’s even less clear which body stands for women with issues in the game.
The body that represents women?
No. No. No, the racism thing is obviously well-documented, because every start of the season, you see them photographed with let’s kick racism out of football.
Well, there isn’t, is there, really, in that sense? I mean, obviously, the FA would look at the women’s game. But the women’s game is- there’s a subtle difference between representing women’s footballers and representing women in football.
If we, collectively, the women in our organisation can’t make it better, then who’s going to do that for us?
I think that’s the point that we’ve come to with the WIFs, and previously, we were happy to just keep things amongst ourselves, not be a campaigning voice, but the turning point was really the Sian Massey incident, and realising that anybody who came out and spoke on behalf of women around that time, they had to do so as individuals, and therefore, they had to take the full flack on their shoulders, and it was very exposing for them.
It’s very difficult. I mean, when I was a lawyer in the really early days of harassment, it is always about who breaks the silence, you know, and it takes massive courage to do that. So to that extent, I think it’s been- there were some positive repercussions out of some very unacceptable comments that were made.
I think it’s really important that the role of women in football is looked at seriously in the same way that weight is given to homophobia and racism, and that the women we spoke to who have experienced some terrible treatment never have to go through that again, and the people that come behind them don’t have to experience that.
And I think that will be better for men and women in the game, and I think it’ll be better ultimately for the game itself, the game that we love, the beautiful game.
End transcript
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  1. Sadly, many examples of sexism were highlighted in the clip. Two notable examples are:
    • a.Andy Gray and Richard Keys making sexist assumptions about a female football referee links to gender discrimination because the woman in question is being treated less well because of her sex.
    • b.Manchester United fans chanting ‘Get your tits out’ at Gabby Logan. Again, this is an act of gender discrimination because the woman is being sexualised and treated less well because of her sex. Sir Bobby Charlton stands up towards the end of the game and pulls his top up to expose himself to the fans. This gesture could be viewed as an act of defiance and a way to highlight the different treatment that men and women receive in sport.
  2. Fink’s (2014) work enables you to understand the differences in the way women and men are treated in sport, as well as providing understandings for why this is.

Hopefully Activities 4 and 5 have helped you to understand that equality means more than just equal numbers of women and men in sport.

In the next section you will investigate the idea of gender ideologies in sport. Gender ideologies are a set of beliefs typical of how men and women are expected to behave and be treated. Key to these beliefs is the culture of masculinity, which you will also explore in the next section.


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