Sportswomen of the Year 2011: what do we do next?

by Guest Blogger // 15 December 2011, 12:29

From the Sport, Gender and Media Conference organizing team

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We are delighted to invite the readers of The F-Word to our Sport, Gender and Media Conference, to be held at the University of York on 10th March 2012. Partly influenced by her own PhD research on the coverage (or lack thereof) of women's sport in mainstream media, Amy Pressland came up with the idea for the conference. Geneva Murray, co-organizer, joined the team because of her passion for the topic, developed through her PhD research on all-female roller derby. She knows what it means for people to witness successful women in sport.

One way we can showcase positive role models in women's sport is through the media, if women's sport was actually covered. By the way, did anyone know that Team England took third in the first ever Roller Derby World Cup? We could talk to you about our favourite female athletes for days, but we've probably had to seek out most of what we know from "alternative" news sources.

We do read about some successes in women's athletics in mainstream newspapers; mostly when it can no longer be ignored. But, as of late, it seems that most of what gets covered about female athletes has been about sexist policies (the call for more female athletes to wear skirts, see boxing, badminton; the IAAF ruling that women cannot set records in mixed gender races because of the "unfair advantage" they gain from racing men) and decisions (the BBC's decision to include sports editors from Nuts and Zoo magazines as part of the voting panel for Sports Personality of the Year, aka SPOTY; the lack of women in the SPOTY top ten).

Through the Sport, Gender and Media conference, we aim to provide a platform to widen participants' knowledge of the key issues within the study of sport, gender and media. We're keen to hear from anyone who has a proposal for the conference that works within this topic, but have also highlighted several areas in our call for papers, including: media representations of race and national identity in sport; sports fans; sports journalism and gender equality; sports stars; mixed gender sport; sport in the age of the internet.

But this is not just about academic study; we want to inspire further investigations and action.

For example, we know that women should have been included in the SPOTY nominations. Their exclusion is indicative of the fundamental problem with media coverage of women in sport. This must change. We do not want to have to create an alternative top ten list, or an all-female list. A separate list would only be treated as secondary, a lesser version, to the SPOTY. Instead, we want to take direct action against the media who constructed this all-male list. That's why this past Saturday we mailed holiday cards to all those that voted for SPOTY. Our holiday card theme was "There may be a partridge in a pear tree, but there's no woman in SPOTY." We compiled a "naughty" and a "nice" list. We thanked those that voted for even one woman, while demanding that they do better next year. Those on the "naughty" list were kindly chastised. All the sports editors were given a reminder that women in sport matter and that their successes
throughout the year should be remembered.

SPOTY is yet another reason why our Sport, Gender and Media conference is not only timely but necessary. Why should we be appeased by the BBC's explanation of why they included Nuts and Zoo sports editors in the voting process for SPOTY? If we want equal treatment for women in sport, perhaps we shouldn't rely on magazines that in Google searches come up with "Girls: Nuts girls, topless and naked [...]" or "Assess My Breasts" (both courtesy of Nuts) or Zoo's "Girls: Sexiest topless glamour babes."

Furthermore, the recent study at Middlesex University illustrates the difficulty the public has in differentiating between what convicted rapists say and what lads' mags say. This does not instill confidence.

Yes, we're sure that these magazines "have a readership profile which reaches younger audiences and helps contribute to a balanced panel which is representative of all the BBC's audiences." But we question how this makes for a "balanced panel."

At the very least, we are not surprised that they did not nominate any female athletes. Additionally, it is absurd that the Director of Sport Barbara Slater is defending their decision to include them. We hope that news of the Middlesex University study will help the BBC understand why Nuts and Zoo are inappropriate members of the SPOTY nomination team. We should point out, however, that we do agree with the BBC that they should let sports editors decide who to nominate, free of a gender requirement.

But we also hold the BBC accountable for who they choose to include as voters in the nominating process. And we hold the sports editors who did not nominate a woman accountable for turning a blind spot to women's success in sport.

The Sport, Gender and Media Conference will create a "space" where scholars, activists, journalists, athletes and students alike can discuss and share ideas around the topic. We feel that a dialogue on sport, gender and media is particularly relevant because of the proximity to the London Olympic Games in 2012. However, this is a discussion that should happen every year, not just the year of the Olympic Games.

As the Conference approaches, we will continue to do actions with the media, thanking them and/or demanding improvement in their coverage of women's sport.

We've also begun to post photographs illustrating our disappointment, our joy, or a weird combination of these emotions, on topics relating to sport, gender and media. We want you to join us.

Please consider submitting a proposal for our Conference or register to attend. Even if you can't present, join us for the discussion anyway! Follow us on twitter (@womensportmedia) and on our blog. And, importantly, help us write to sports editors
and demand something different.

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