Talking Point

How Women’s Status in Sport is Contained by Men

Dr. Mary Jo Kane, Tucker Center
Dr. Mary Jo Kane

Dr. Lisa Ingarfield and Dr. Mary Jo Kane from the Tucker Center discuss how sport can be a side of resistance and empowerment for women and how this potential is often contained by a male run sports industry seeking to maintain its dominance in sport

Talking Point is Presented by Dr. Lisa Ingarfield

Podcast length: 41′ 05″

Lisa Ingafield

Dr. Lisa Ingarfield

Dr. Lisa Ingarfield is joined by Dr. Mary Jo Kane who heads up the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport based at the University of Minnesota. Their topic is how sport can be a side of resistance and empowerment for women and how this potential is often, consciously and unconsciously, contained by a male run sports industry seeking to maintain its dominance in sport.



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Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport

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Mary Jo Kane is Professor and Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois with an emphasis in Sport Sociology. Professor Kane is an internationally recognized scholar who has published extensively on media representations of women’s sports. She is also one of the nation’s leading experts on the social and political implications of Title IX.

Professor Kane is the recipient of the first Endowed Chair in the nation related to women in sport: The Dorothy McNeill Tucker Chair for Women in Sport & Exercise Science. She is a Fellow in the American Academy of Kinesiology, the highest academic honor in her field, and is a past recipient of the Scholar of the Year Award from the Women’s Sports Foundation. In 2012, Professor Kane received a Distinguished Service Award from the Minnesota Coalition of Women in Athletic Leadership. This award is given to individuals who exemplify the highest levels of commitment and contributions to breaking barriers for girls and women in sports. In 2017, she was named one of the 100 Most Influential Sports Educators by the Institute for International Sport.

Professor Kane has appeared on the Today Show and her research has been cited by the New York Times, USA Today, and the Washington Post.


[00:00:00] Welcome to Episode 5 of Talking Point on WiSP Sports Radio where we delve more deeply into some of the systemic barriers facing women in sport. Talking Point is co-produced by myself and WiSP Sports. I’m your host Lisa Ingarfield and at WiSP Sports we believe women in sport deserve equal coverage. Last month in episode four we talked to Laura Okmin Fox Sports NFL and sports broadcaster and founder of galvanize. We chatted about the marginalization of women in sports media both in terms of opportunity and treatment. This week we’re extremely lucky to be joined by Dr. Mary Jo Kane who heads up the Tucker Center for Research on girls and women in sport based out of the University of Minnesota we’ll be talking about how sport can be a side of resistance and empowerment for women and how this potential is often consciously and unconsciously contained by a male run sports industry seeking to maintain its dominance in sport. Mary Jo Kane is Professor and Director of the Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport in the College of Education and the Human Element at the University of Minnesota. She received a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. But the emphasis in sports sociology Professor Kane is an internationally recognized scholar who has published extensively on media representations of women’s sports. She’s also one of the nation’s leading experts on the social and political implications of Title IX.

[00:01:25] Welcome Dr. Kane to this episode of Talking Point we’re really happy to have you join us this month.

[00:01:31] Thank you. I’m delighted to have been invited.

[00:01:33] So I was wondering if we could just begin with if you wouldn’t mind sharing with our audience a little bit about what you do and the work of the Tucker Center and perhaps share a little bit about some of the current projects you’re all working on.

[00:01:46] OK. Well this is my 30th, close to 30th year ,at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis Minnesota. And I am a faculty member in the school of Kinesiology who is emphasis as a sports sociologist has been mostly on sport media and gender and in addition to my role as a faculty member. I am also the director of the Tucker Center for Research on girls and women in sport and we are housed in the College of Education Human Development excuse me.

[00:02:17] And we remain the first and only one of its kind meaning a research center and a research one university devoted solely to how Sport and Physical Activity impact the lives of girls and women their families and their communities. And the reason that it’s called the tucker center is that it’s named after our primary benefactor a woman named Dorothy Tucker who died this last August but who was a 1945 graduate of the University of Minnesota and someone who cared deeply about being a pioneer and providing funds so that we could conduct research tracked graduate students and engage in a master’s thesis a dissertation that was related to some aspect of girls involvement in sport and physical activity. And this as we approach 2000 and 19 it will be the 20th the fifth anniversary of the Tucker Center. I have been the only director Dr Nicole Levoy. Some of your listeners may know of her because of the work she’s done on women and sport leadership. Dr. Levoy is the code director and most of the research that we’ve done over the years has focused either on my research which I think will get into a little bit later which is how media covers women’s sports versus how they cover men’s sports and what Dr. Levoy looks at is the dramatic decline of women in leadership positions at the collegiate level two decades after the passage of Title 9 in 1972. So that. In a nutshell who we are and what we do.

[00:03:58] And there was a recent and I believe there was a recent document that came out related to women coaching in NCAA law and that the numbers and coaches are still minuscule comparative to men. Is that right.

[00:04:13] Correct. The great irony of Title IX and for all the critics of Title IX who say that it has certainly helped women but it has hurt men and men’s sports.

[00:04:24] The great irony and unintended consequence of Title IX is the dramatic decline of women in leadership roles within women’s athletics. So for example prior to Title IX nationwide over 90 percent of all had coaches in women’s sports were female. Today nationwide only 43 percent of all had coaches in women’s sports are female. And one of the things that we’ve looked at in the tucker center is why would that be the case. And what we have argued along with other scholars around the country is that as women’s sports came online because universities had to respond to Title 9 guidelines meaning you can’t discriminate in educational institutions on the basis of gender so if you have a men’s athletic program you better have a women’s athletic program. And I think what happened is that we went from as we went from sort of a model of volunteering where women physical educators would get an extra maybe thousand dollars a year to be the coach of the women’s volleyball team as universities knew they had to get serious quote unquote about women’s sports and enter the big time quote unquote. They decided that the real coaches were men. And so what has happened rather ironically in the wake of Title 9 is that with respect to employment opportunities men now have a dual career track where they can become a head coach in men’s athletics or women’s athletics where that is not. The reverse is not true for women meaning less than 2 percent of all head coaches and men’s sports are women. And when they are there it’s always an individual sports like track and field.

[00:06:02] There are no women head coaches in any men’s team sport like football basketball hockey in a Division One sports program.

[00:06:13] That’s fairly overwhelming statistic and anecdotally as I’ve been watching the Olympics I’ve noticed like a lot of the women athletes who have been successful thus far in the Olympics they have been embraced and supported in high fives by predominantly men.

[00:06:30] I mean I don’t know that these men are coaches but I don’t see any women around them outside of the other women competitors and so that’s just something that I kind of clicked yesterday and the day before as I was watching that. So.

[00:06:45] Yeah and we have not in the Tucker Center and really the person who’s been spearheading this research is Dr. Levoy and she’s conducting longitudinal research to see if there are any changes over time. But she does she does not I’m sure somebody well I shouldn’t say I’m sure somebody’s house but I know that Dr. Levoy has not tracked her or the coaches of elite female Olympic athletes. But I would suggest that again they probably have the same attitude that a lot of people around the country do which is if you’re going to be serious about being a true athlete then you better get a real coach meaning a male coach.

[00:07:22] So that whole narrative is completely gendered and as the as coaching became professionalized and quote unquote serious then the focus shifted to playing men in those roles.

[00:07:35] And because you are now going to have a salary versus some sort of volunteerism model with facilities and scholarships at the Division One level which did not exist prior to Title 9 then men became interested because it wasn’t simply about volunteering. It was about a career choice.

[00:07:53] And they have certainly flooded the zone. And I’m not saying by the way that they shouldn’t but but the point is the whole the whole spirit of Title 9 was to increase opportunities for women. And so when you hear critics of Title 9 complain about how much it’s hurt then sports even though Title 9 isn’t about employment opportunities it has benefited men to become coaches far more than it has benefited women. And in fact it has damaged women’s career opportunities as coaches and as athletic directors.

[00:08:27] And I think that this is the refrain that you talk about where when a when a group that has dominance in X Y or Z when that dominance is challenged either overtly or covertly right the response is often what you’re saying that this is this is dead.

[00:08:44] This has affected our participation. You’re limiting our opportunities now. You’re taking something away from us and so you know it sounds like that definitely has manifested in the context of coaching.

[00:08:57] And I think that it’s also manifested in the context of women’s athletics or at least that exposure for women in sport.

[00:09:07] Right. So we know that men’s sports still gets significantly greater exposure in the media as compared to women’s. And yet there is a pushback around when individuals articulate that women’s sport needs to be covered more regularly and the media needs to have a higher visibility then the inevitable pushback similarly is but that takes something away from men’s sports.

[00:09:31] I don’t have an opinion on that.

[00:09:34] Well I do actually have an opinion that I spent 30 years of my career looking at the very topic of media coverage of women’s sports. Yes I think that again sport as we all know has been an institution that historically has been deeply identified with men and maleness and masculinity.

[00:09:53] And whenever a majority group in this particular case men as a stranglehold on an institution especially one that is not only as ubiquitous and powerful and glorified and worshipped like sports but also as I said deeply identified with maleness and masculinity the majority group doesn’t wake up one morning and say oh my gosh I’m so sorry we’re monopolizing all the resources and power and prestige in this particular institution we need to get 50 percent of it to women. That’s not how social change happens. And so Title IX has been a significant piece of federal civil rights legislation that advocates of women’s sports could use to force schools who were not interested in taking women’s sports seriously. They could force them. The schools legally to provide resources to women. And so what Title 9 has allowed to happen over the last two generations. Because last summer we celebrated the forty fifth anniversary of Title 9 excuse me is that after decades of being told that women aren’t good at sports and are interested in sports. I’m really sorry sorry again. I hope you can edit this out although I don’t know but in any event after decades of being told that women aren’t any good at sports or you wouldn’t be interested in sports. We built them a ballpark in the United States and they have overcome in overwhelming numbers. And so what that means is that we’ve gone from prior to Title 9 1 in 27 girls playing high school sports to 1 in basically one prior to Title 9 0 0 scholarships at the Division 1 level for women. Now 43 percent of all scholarship athletes in this country are female.

[00:11:43] So what then do you do about media coverage whereas before sportswriters and editors weren’t under any pressure to cover women’s sports really except the occasional Billie Jean King sort of situation.

[00:11:56] There was no pressure to cover women’s sports because there weren’t any women’s sports. But now what do you do after women have penetrated the sacred all male space in overwhelming numbers. Do you continue to deny the reality that women are deeply interested in sports and hey by the way are pretty good at sports and the media have done just precisely that. They have continued to ignore women’s sports. And so again even though 40 percent of all sports participants are female and 43 percent of all scholarship athletes in this country are female. They still only receive about three to four percent of all media coverage. And then within that three to four percent they are far more likely than male athletes to be portrayed off the court out of uniform and in highly sexualized poses. And I would suggest to you and to your listening audience that the result of that is to marginalize and trivialize female athletes as athletes and certainly to trivialize their accomplishments as highly gifted competitive athletes with fabulous athletic bodies.

[00:13:02] So what kind of. What are you seeing in your research in terms of the last part of what you just stated around the sexual objectification of girls and women in sport as a means to diminish their contribution. What kinds of examples do you have that you’ve come across.

[00:13:20] Well as I said what the research tells us is that certainly just in terms of quantity female athletes when they are portrayed are significantly more likely than male athletes to be portrayed. Off the court and out of uniform and in highly stylized and sexualized poses and I think the impact of that kind of coverage is that when you are again when you are told growing up and in a culture that says that females cannot be the real athletes in the way that males are because male athletes are bigger stronger faster when you are told that females have certain limited physical and biological capacities that they simply cannot measure up literally and figuratively.

[00:14:01] What then happens though when you actually see women as you do in the Olympics performing at the most extraordinary levels of physical skill and ability so you can take what you see in front of you empirically which is that oh maybe we were wrong about what we thought were the limits of women’s physical capacities and how do you then contain that power. Well one way that you can attain that power is that when you do cover them you emphasize traditional notions of femininity and sexuality or you don’t give them the coverage that that reflects the amount of interest and participation. And as a result you take sport and I think this is really important you take sport which can potentially be a sign of enormous resistance and transformation of what we think about women and their physical and mental capacities. And you marginalize that experience by treating them as silly fluffy sex objects and that happens in the media repeatedly and consistently then the question as a sociologist becomes who benefits from that kind of coverage. And I would suggest to you it is certainly not the female athletes and one of the.

[00:15:14] So one of the arguments I guess I run into are I hear a lot is that women’s sport isn’t as interesting. Right. Like that’s the reason why it’s not on television it’s got nothing to do with sexism it’s got nothing to do with systemic male privilege within the field of sport. It’s just not as exciting.

[00:15:32] What are you what do you say to people who share that perspective with you.

[00:15:38] Well I suppose it would mean what’s your operational definition of exciting the Olympics for example provides a very clear pattern of people’s interest in women’s sports which is when you provide an audience with an opportunity to see women’s sports like figure skating like downhill skiing and in the summer Olympics it’s like gymnastics and swimming. When you provide an audience with an opportunity to see female athletes performing at the greatest and highest levels of performance and athletic achievement there is an enormous audience and there’s an enormous amount of interest for women’s sports. I think that it took me probably two decades doing this kind of research because I heard the same refrain that you heard which is why we don’t cover women’s sports because nobody’s interested in them and then I realize that the referent for nobody is all those male sports editors and writers and I would argue that there is an audience out there that is very hungry and desperate for coverage. Women’s sports. And I’ve also believed if you accept my argument that the way to contain or marginalize women’s power in sports as they become more and more accepted as female athletes and as they achieve it even greater heights than we ever thought possible. If you accept my argument that that women are marginalized through their coverage then you will also accept that that’s a way to deny that there isn’t interest that there is an audience and that as a result we simply perpetuate the status quo. I have come to believe recently that the greatest concern or fear quote unquote among male sports editors and writers is not that nobody’s interested in women’s sports but that given half a chance.

[00:17:27] Far too many people would be interested in women’s sports and then men’s sports wouldn’t be the center of the universe.

[00:17:34] Interesting so it’s a protection of their position of power and dominance or you know maintaining this space is exclusively male.

[00:17:42] Whether it’s a conscious or unconscious behavior yes and how media coverage plays out with respect to female athletes which is again if you only give them two to four percent of all media coverage across the ubiquitous sports media landscape you reinforce the notion that females aren’t interested in sports and that nobody’s interested in watching them. And then within two to four percent if you focus on their femininity and their sexuality rather than their accomplishments then you reinforce for everyone the belief that by definition males are the superior athletes because we are taking them seriously and we see images of them expressing their athletic accomplishments and their athletic capacities. And we do just the opposite for female athletes.

[00:18:28] And what of the female athletes themselves to be done much research into their own understanding of their identity as as a woman and an athlete.

[00:18:38] Yes. In fact just recently began Dr. Levoy who is my colleague at the University of Minnesota in the tucker center and a woman named Janet Fink who’s a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. We did research in which you know we said to ourselves why don’t we ask elite female athletes if given the choice how they would actually like to be portrayed in the media and how they would like their sports to be portrayed. And so we looked at female athletes representing three individual sports and three team sports at the Division One level that’s how we operationally defined elite female athletes and we presented them randomly in one on one semi structured face to face interviews for different images of how female athletes are typically portrayed in one the image was of on court in uniform athletic competence. Another was off the court and opposed sort of silly fluffy image.

[00:19:36] And another one was kind of the all-American girl next door image and then finally an image of a female athlete as a sexy babe or often sometimes even bordering on soft pornography and we said to each one of these female athletes again pointing to the four images that were on the table in front of them which one of these images best represents how you would like to be portrayed and how you would like your sport to be portrayed.

[00:20:03] And a fascinating and unexpected result was that over just 50 50 percent of those student athlete participants said to the person who was interviewing her spontaneously said can I pick more than one image which we were not anticipating at all. But we were smart enough to say sure picked to follow the data trail and in every case the female athlete who asked to pick more than one image always is one of the images picked the competence image to represent her sport and her self self representation. But she also then picked the sort of classy girl next door image.

[00:20:44] And when we asked them why they wanted to pick two images they said routinely because I don’t want to be known as just a sweaty jock. I don’t want to be perceived in a one dimensional role. I am more than my identity as a female athlete. And I want to be seen as feminine. Off the court. And so we interpreted that to talk about how females feel the need especially in team sports to perform femininity because unlike males when you’re a female athlete you have to deal with a dual identity that’s tied to traditional notions of femininity and so that was I guess an empirical finding that reinforced the notion that female athletes even those at the most elite level internalize all the messages they get about what it means to be a female athlete but still be pretty in pink so the messages that exist in our culture that we breathe in every day are extraordinarily powerful and in some ways we unintentionally reinvent them more.

[00:21:53] I’m trying to think of a different way from regurgitate what we reproduce them based on how we can construct our own identity.

[00:22:01] Yeah yeah absolutely and the other thing that was interesting is that we also asked them two other questions meaning these elite female athletes we said which again which one of these four images best represents which image would increase respect for your sport.

[00:22:20] And you know ninety nine percent of them picked the competence image when we then said which one of these images would best increase interest in your sports.

[00:22:33] Again they went with some levels of competence but they picked off court classy lady. And it was the only question we asked where they also picked soft porn sexy babe images and when we asked them why they put their sport marketing hats on because they have internalized the deeply embedded belief that sex sells women’s sports. And they said well we might not like it because we don’t necessarily want to be portrayed as sexy babes but if you want to get interest in our sports you got to attract the real fans meaning male fans and the best way to attract male fans is to make us be sexy and pretty. Now I would challenge both of those assertions.

[00:23:16] But again it gets to your point that female athletes have internalized these messages just like the rest of us out if not more so for years and years and years ago when I was 16 I was looking I grew up in England and there’s a there’s a point at 16 where you take different exams and I was looking at doing a media studies exam and I remember vividly walking into the kind of open day where I was learning about these different subjects that I could take and there was an image of a woman. It was a athletic woman but she was in a particularly provocative or sexy pose and the instructor was asking us so what do you see in that image and essentially sex was what came out of that and he’s like right.

[00:24:08] Sex sells. I like this moment. It’s like four minute interaction that I had when I was 16. Kind of pulling together these strands of femininity women and athleticism and advertising and what’s attractive and what sells and they all kind of wrapped around sex.

[00:24:31] So that’s it’s funny the things that you remember right the things that you stick with stick with you for your life and it sounds like at least in your research that’s what you’re finding is that these are pervasive and problematic tropes that women are internalizing even as they’re winning Olympic gold medals.

[00:24:49] Yeah and the other thing the other study that we did earlier than that that I didn’t that I haven’t mentioned is which is again what I wanted to do was to empirically toast empirically test the notion that sex sells women’s sports. And so Dr. Levoy and Dr. Fink and I conducted a study this time with focus groups not of elite female athletes but of individuals. We had individuals who were 18 to 34 and 35 to 55 meaning to different age groups that marketers in particular are interested in. And we looked at those two age groups we also looked at men and women and we also looked at people that had high and low sports backgrounds and sports interests. And we once again randomly presented them with images of female athletes that you find all the time in the media ranging from on court competence to off court sexy babes and then we said to them of these images that you see in front of you. Which one of these images most likely increases your interest to watch women’s sports read about women’s sports. Attend a women’s sporting event or to purchase season tickets to sporting events.

[00:25:58] And not surprisingly all of the women the core fanbase of women’s sports are females and sort of the dads with daughters demographic and what we found that is that the females across the board regardless of age group or sports background and older men meaning the 35 to 55 year old dads with daughters demographic they almost always chose competence as the the image that would make it that would make them have their interest in women’s sports increase the 18 to 34 year old males did pick compared to the other focus groups. Sexy babe images more than the other groups. But when we said to them OK you’ve picked this image but would it make you want to go to a sporting event. And they said no. It would make us want to buy the magazine. Like the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. But it wouldn’t make us want to go and watch women’s sports because that’s not what they look like when they play sports. So they’re interested in consuming women’s bodies as objects of sexual desire not as highly gifted competent athletes. On the other hand when you sexualize female athletes you alienate your core fan base which is women and older men. So in fact selling sex not only doesn’t work at least with this limited group of of individuals and this study by the way needs to be replicated. But you actually alienate your core fan base because you sexualize female athletes in ways that offend women and older men.

[00:27:34] So given what you’re saying and I understand this is one study and it needs to be replicated. Why then does sports media and sports writers and all of the in-between continue to do to objectify women and to minimize their exposure. On on the field so to speak.

[00:27:56] Well that is I think you know Lisa that’s the 64000 dollar question right that’s the sort of sweet spot question which is in America and certainly in sports where capitalism and profit and money is you know at the center of the universe what would what forces would be at work that would override the desire to look at objective data and say you know what maybe sex doesn’t sell women’s sports in fact what I would argue is the same people who are telling us that sex sells women’s sports are the same people that tell us that nobody’s interested in women’s sports. Well if nobody’s interested in women’s sports and you’ve been selling sex why don’t you try something else. And I would you know it’s not rocket science just portray women the way you portray men which is as highly competent gifted athletes that people want to go and see. So the question is what forces are at work that would override or Trum to use an unpleasant word. What forces would be at work that would have male sportswriter writers and editors and people in charge of the media go against their own economic interests.

[00:29:06] And I would go back to the notion that the real concern is not that nobody’s interested but that if given half a chance. Far too many people would be interested in sports and then the whole notion the deeply embedded ideological belief and practice which equates sports with maleness and masculinity might come tumbling down.

[00:29:26] And when it happens who knows how we can put that back together again because it’s inevitable crumbling would be a travesty.

[00:29:37] Clearly right.

[00:29:39] Well it means that they wouldn’t have they wouldn’t have a unitary grip and stranglehold on one of the most important institutions in this culture.

[00:29:47] Right.

[00:29:49] Right. And that’s just an unacceptable reality.

[00:29:51] And so yeah that’s such an interesting point that they’re going against their own economic self-interest because selling sex in that context has actually Aylin alienated a significant population of consumers. So it doesn’t benefit them per se to do that.

[00:30:07] Yeah but I would I would that to use an economic term that if you ask any of them if sex sells women’s sports and if you told them that it didn’t and that they were going against their own economic interests they would not believe you they would not agree with you. They would point to the number of eyeballs that click on their Web sites when it has to do with men’s sports. But of course what they won’t say is that Will the reason that more people click on your Web site is because there’s coverage of men’s sports if you’re interested in your web site because of coverage of women’s sports and it’s not there they’re not going to come and click on your Web site. So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. So even though we can show them lots or some empirical data that sex actually doesn’t sell women’s sports I don’t think that that any of them would truly believe it because they’re too heavily invested in seeing themselves as the center of the universe.

[00:31:01] Yeah. And then just for clarification when we say they in this discussion we’re talking about folks who are in leadership roles who are setting the agenda for media and largely these are predominately men.

[00:31:14] Oh yeah. The vast majority of them are men. So and.

[00:31:19] I’m curious to know how does this research that you do the TACA Synar of your colleague break down in terms of race and ability. Have you done any intersectional work in terms of those identities.

[00:31:34] No we have not looked at race or other identities. And again these are I do want to caution folks by saying these are the first and only studies of its kind that have been conducted and we do need to have them replicated looking at issues of race looking at issues of sexual orientation. But we just haven’t followed up yet looking at those variables. But it is it is research that is much much needed and so I would encourage any of your listeners out there to pick up this research and replicate it only extended with with other kinds of variables like race like sexual orientation.

[00:32:12] Right and there has been I am familiar with a couple of studies that have looked at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics and and then also at tennis in regards particularly to the way that Serena Williams is referred to by media commentators visa be white tennis players and then the ways in which Olympic athletes were discussed and broken down by race and invariably women of color are sexualized at a greater degree. And there are numerous racial micro aggressions that come up in the course of conversation but I only know of one or two studies that have addressed that specifically.

[00:32:56] Again we need a much larger body of knowledge in this area where people are replicating this research and showing consistent patterns across a variety of studies.

[00:33:07] So I mean so that’s one call to action right if there are any researchers or interested academics listening to this podcast then this is an opportunity for you to take up that mantle and further and continue the research that we’ve been talking about that since we’re right smack bang in the middle of the Olympics.

[00:33:24] I’m wondering if you have any tips or tools that the listeners of this podcast could take with them moving forward as they watch the Olympics and perhaps watch it with a more critical eye.

[00:33:38] Well I think the first thing to do is to look at both the visual representations of how female athletes are portrayed versus male athletes and then also to look at the narratives that the commentators used to look to talk about these female athletes so for example and I have in the interest of fairness I have not watched all of the Olympic coverage but I was struck last night by some of the media coverage on NBC in which they did talk to us about Jamie Anderson the U.S. snowboarder who has won who won a gold medal in slopestyle.

[00:34:19] And I was aware of the fact. Now again this is just last night but it is primetime coverage and I apologize if NBC spent a lot of time on her actual performance. But they spent a lot of time about Jamie Anderson on the podium standing there during the playing of the national anthem. Well OK that’s fine. But I would much rather have you show us Jamie Anderson actually showing her athleticism winning the event. Now I don’t know if they’ve done that with with the male athletes but I think that that would be something that you would want to look at. Which is how much actual time is devoted to female athletes doing their sport. And then when they’re interviewed what is it that they’re focusing on. Are they focusing on their families their boyfriends their children. And how does that compare with what they talk about when they talk about male athletes in terms of their mental toughness and fortitude their training their athletic performance those would be obvious signs or to use your word tropes to see how female versus male athletes are covered. So just in terms of the overall amount of coverage and then when they are coverage what are the themes that the commentators are pursuing and some of it’s subtle right.

[00:35:36] Some of it’s not obviously in your face but if you’re paying attention and you’re watching it over the long haul you can pick up on the themes and the repetition of these little sprinkles as problematic narratives that come up.

[00:35:52] Yeah and again you know it’s it’s fine to see Jamie Anderson and have coverage of her standing on the podium during the national anthem. But how much of that coverage then takes away from showing us from showing her actually doing her performance as a snowboarder and then you can do a direct comparison with males snowboarders and to see how much coverage they get and what kind of coverage they get so that would be a huge lens if you will for your listeners to take as they’re watching the Olympics again very subtle because of course you would say that the coverage of Jamie Anderson was very positive. Yeah OK.

[00:36:34] But standing on a podium or being engaged in her sport as a highly elite athlete and then what advice do you have for listeners who do this they watch the Olympics maybe they noticed some things that feel a little problematic and they they mention it to a friend and they say hey did you notice that there is this discrepancy in the way that women athletes are being talked about and portrayed these men who are performing in the same sport and their friend or family member tells them that they’re overreacting and that it doesn’t mean anything and that they’re being too sensitive.

[00:37:10] Well I think what you can do is say well why don’t we just imagine the reverse. Why don’t we imagine the young men whose name I’ve forgotten who’s the 17 year old who was the first person the first American to win a gold medal in these Olympics. And he was a snowboarder to say let’s just imagine in reverse what would happen if the only time we saw any coverage of him was standing on the podium. But we actually never saw him on the slopes. And yet the opposite was true for females. Just ask them to imagine what it would what it would be like if the reverse were true and how they would feel about that. On the other hand sometimes you’re just never going to win these arguments. But but that doesn’t mean that you can’t take what you have seen and if you’re somebody who’s engaged in social media put it on social media and get a discussion started in terms of the ways in which the coverage of female and male athletes at the Olympics is deeply and highly gendered. That’s great advice I think sometimes many of us notice the problem and then we struggle about how to take that conversation further how to engage with our friends and family members in a meaningful way about.

[00:38:20] This is this is a thing this is real and it has consequences both for our generation and the generations who are coming after us. Exactly. Great. Well thank you so much Dr. came for speaking with us today. This has been wonderful and enlightening. I think that it really has helped continue to pull the curtain back on some of these deeply embedded gendered messages that we receive through the media in schools throughout our lives and how it shapes our understanding of school culture and sport relevance. I really appreciate the time that you’ve taken on the work that you’re doing at the TACA center so folks if you’re interested please check out their website it has a wealth of information on there. Is there any final thought for the day docs that you’d like to share with our listeners.

[00:39:11] I think the only thing first of all I want to say again thank you so much for inviting me to be on this podcast. I think the thing that I want to just leave you with is that our work is never done. It’s a constant challenge to give female athletes the respect that they deserve and also the respect that they have earned through their hard work and their commitment to being the greatest athlete they can be. So let’s do everything we can to have them be able to share the spotlight with men and be given the resources. And as I said the respect and the admiration they so richly deserve.

[00:39:45] Thanks again to Dr. Mary Jo Kane for joining us today and sharing her perspectives on why women’s sports coverage is so limited and why the focus on women’s athletes tends towards sexual objectification instead of their physical and athletic capacities. For show notes including related links and a full transcript of the episode visit You can also find hundreds of additional podcasts on WiSP Sports Radio. Subscribe to us using your preferred podcast player. And don’t forget to leave us a review on iTunes from more conversations from the world of women’s sport including blogs articles and videos visit Post your comments questions and suggestions on our Facebook page or email us at info at and follow share air and like at WiSP Sports on social media. You can reach me Lisa Ingarfield directly @tritodefi on Twitter and Instagram. Thank you for listening and supporting women in sport everywhere. We’ll be back next month with another in-depth thought-provoking conversation.







Photo: Dr. Mary Jo Kane supplied by guest
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