There I am, an infant, days old. Society has already decided what will be for me. This is simply based on one thing … gender. I am a woman, not a man. For both genders, life seems to be depicted as clear-cut. Something so black and white. Well, that is at least what society tells me. They tell me there is not one grey area where I can fit in but rather a mold to be defined by.
Kids hear words before they even know words, when they are 6 and 9 months. When parents talk to their children in various ways based on gender, then they are already treating them differently. Parents start to set up certain expectations for their children to live up to established by the language and tone they use. There are cultural theories that we inherit through the way we are brought up.
Why are my parents talking to me like this? Here I am and now I am finally 4 years old and they are doing this chipper, high-pitched voice. This is insanely annoying. My mother keeps saying, “Oh you are so cute,” all while pinching my chubby cheeks. I quite frankly don’t like this one bit, and although she can tell I am not enjoying this, she keeps grasping them harder, until she finally realizes they are turning as red as fire. As my mother is doing this, my father is getting on my brothers case about him not finishing all of his dinner. My father just adjusts his voice to a more stern tone with him and says, “Finish your food right now or no dessert for you.” I don’t think my parents realize that there is a difference in the way they talk to my brother and me, but I notice this. I don’t think they are aware on how they treat us different.
Dr. Meredith Bagley, Communications Professor at The University of Alabama said, “It’s like it is hardwired just to know that we are a girl or a boy. Families are such a huge influence because we learn this stuff so early.”
The “stuff” that Dr. Bagley is referring to, is the way that society puts us under a scope and tells us yes you can play with a Barbie doll because you are a girl or yes you can play with a G.I. Joe doll because you are a boy. Say you are a girl and you want to play with G.I. Joe, then you are stepping way too far out of your gender box.
My mother only let me play with Barbie dolls when I turned 4 years old. If I ever wanted to play Mario Cart with my brother, well then that wasn’t allowed. She would baby me and tell me to play something, “more appropriate.” She knows she sets up the climate for whether or not I am allowed to be who I want to be. She is just scared that I would stray too far from my gender norm and from our conservative roots as a family because in her mind that would be ridiculous. All I could really do in this situation was look at her and mind my manners because that is what my parents were trying to teach both my brother and I at the time.
So I went back to my room and played with the stupid platinum blonde Barbie. Looking at Barbie when you are 4 years old makes you feel like this is what society wants for me. Barbie is perfect in the essence that you want to be her. She has the looks that every little girl dreams to have when they get older. Barbie is petite, blonde and the American dream that society has set up for women, but what are her goals and admirations in life that she wants to achieve? I know that I want to be more than just a pretty face when I get become an adult. When I get older I will demand the respect that I deserve as a woman and will attain it by showing that I have the intelligence to be successful as well. I will be more than a Barbie doll.
Dr. Theodore Tomeny, assistant professor at The University of Alabama said, “If you are in a more rural setting versus urban setting and by that I’m thinking about politics and how progressive a place is. My guess is the more progressive areas of the country may be less likely to try to instill those gender roles. While more traditional conservative areas of the country are more likely to maintain those clear boundaries and roles.”
My father is walking me into a gigantic school for the first time to drop me off. I have butterflies in my stomach from seeing all these strangers, some of which will be my new friends. We make it to the brightly decorated room where kids my age are laughing and running around. I have made it to my first day of kindergarten. The teacher comes up and introduces herself to my dad and just smiles at me telling me how cute I am. He gives me a hug goodbye and leaves me with my teacher. I am really excited to meet all the kids in my class and play with everyone when we get to recess. My brother always told me that recess is the best part of the day. We finished rotating stations for our class activities for our day, so she decides that it is time for us to take a break and enjoy the warm fresh summer air. I loved running around and playing jump rope, so I was so excited to get outside. My friends and I were called in to huddle with the teacher because she wanted to teach us a new game.
The game was called red light, green light. I had never heard of it, even with having an older brother. Apparently one person is the leader and faces the wall. All the other players start at the opposite end of the room while the leader yells red light or green light. When it’s green light, you can run as fast as you can to the end where the leader is and when it’s red light, you need to stop really fast and can’t move. If you are to move when it’s the red light then you are out because that is cheating. The goal is to get to where the leader is so you can become the new leader.
My teacher split us up into two teams. One being the girl’s team and the other being the boy’s team. The thing is, I wanted to show the boys I was faster than them. I asked her if it was okay if I played on the other team but my teacher told me that she just wanted me to be safe and not get hurt. It didn’t make sense to me because I had always played dodge ball and basketball with my brother and his guy friends. So why wasn’t I allowed to play with the boys at recess? Why were my skills of possibly being faster than the boys getting forced to just being lumped in with competing with the girls in my class? Then I noticed boys and girls are being separated.
Dr. Tomeny said, “Based on some of the developmental work that was done by a guy named Piaget a long time ago, it’s believed that preschool ages between 2-3 years old is when kids start to realize there is somebody outside of themselves and that there are these people and this world around them that they are interacting with. Well I think appearance has a lot to do with kids noticing the gender differences. I think before puberty there aren’t sexual organs to help children determine that. Hair and type of clothing are a few examples and the child’s name perhaps. Think of many classrooms and how it’s made pretty clear on who the boys are and the girls are. Most times they are separated for certain activities, like different restrooms and things like that. My guess is around preschool age is when kids start to notice those differences.”
Teachers who have students at such a young age can impact young children so much and in a way that the teachers don’t realize the impact is happening. In this case, the kindergarten teacher was thinking about the safety of the girls because she didn’t want the horseplay from the young boys getting too rough and one of her female students end up getting hurt.
One of the toughest times in a person’s life is middle school. It doesn’t matter what gender or sexual orientation you are. I am finally at sixth grade and all my friends seem to know what they want to do, while on the other hand I have no idea who I am. I am torn with whether I should be this girlie girl that does cheerleading or if I should continue playing softball. I don’t want to be judged because I choose to play the less girlie sport. I want to show my friends the amazing athlete I can become and the character I show while playing ball. All my life I have been told by my mother that to look cute and have been told that what I decide to make my hobbies will determine the person I am (a girlie girl or tom boy). As a little girl, I don’t have any idea as to why I can’t be strong and beautiful encompassed into one package.
Shortly after talking to my mother and father, I decided to try cheerleading because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. Half of the girls in my middle school were doing cheerleading, so I figured why not take a break from softball and try something new. My mother, being the over the top girly girl in her Dooney & Burke oversized purse, was ecstatic. So I went to go tumbling in the air, doing cartwheels, handstands, and even having that chipper voice. It was a very intimidating world and so different from softball. It just wasn’t meant for me.
It was a chilly and dreary winter for December 2006. It came around and I decided to quit cheering and in that moment I went back to travel softball and did what I loved. As a girl deciding to break away from the societal norms of my middle school, I ended up doing what I made me the happiest. As a young lady I am supposed to be passive and sweet but I enjoyed softball because it was aggressive and fast paced. In this moment that I told my parents my decision, in my mother’s eyes I saw fear and dark sadness take over. I looked at her and told her, “I will always be the girly girl you wanted me to be. The sport doesn’t define who I am as a person but it defines my will to be ultra competitive in something challenging.” Once this happened, I realized she would have this laissez-faire way of dealing with it and was going to accept whatever it would have been that I wanted to play.
Dr. Tomeny said, “In today’s society it is becoming more accepted to break gender norms but not many children think about it unless they perhaps go on to develop gender dysphoria where there is conflict of their assigned gender and what they subjected to feel as their gender. It’s in that process early on and those kinds of kids that question their role. Whether should have to wear blue versus pink or play with dolls versus trucks that sort of thing, so I think the vast majority of kids probably don’t think about that concept.”
I went on to be the captain for the varsity team in high school for four years and won numerous awards, including winning the state championship for my travel team. Softball developed my character and helped me learn there was something I wanted to change in the world and that was to create more equality in the world of sports for women and men alike.
Dr. Bagley said, “If the goal is to break society gender norms, there is sort of a threat involved and there is a danger in there. There’s lots of theories about this and cultural theories that we inherit through our cultural upbringings.”
Thank You To My “Crazy” College Professor
“Feminist! Feminist! Feminist!”
All I can think is please get me out of this women’s studies class. I look down at my black iPhone and realize I have 45 minutes left. I look to the girl to my right and ask is this teacher out of her mind? I continue to take notes with my pink Paper Mate pen and slowly start to doodle. As the semester goes on, I realize this professor actually knows what she is talking about and just because I can fully understand the points she is making in depth, that doesn’t mean I am a feminist. Maybe it just means I care about our society as a consummate.
“Patriarchy. Privilege. Prejudice. Sexual Scripts.” Some of these were the new vocabulary terms our professor gave for our weekly quiz. I was starting to enjoy this class because she connected it to today’s society and the issues our class didn’t realize we were facing on a day-to-day basis. It was really eye opening and shortly after taking this class, I noticed the little things. Whether it was when I was walking to class and seeing a couple act all lovey while the guy held all of his girlfriend’s chemistry and Romeo & Juliet book. Clearly the girl could carry her own books because she wasn’t holding anything at all. Society has created this norm and me feeling this way and saying she could hold it on her doesn’t make me a feminist, as my professor would call it. I think it makes me more of a progressionist.
Being a huge sports fan my entire life, I watch SportsCenter and ESPN on a daily basis. One day I noticed they just kept re-airing the same stories on a cycle every couple of minutes and most of the news was about male dominant sports. Here’s the thing, I wanted to see more female sports and how could I do so on national broadcasting if the majority of male sports is being televised? According to Think Progress, “SportsCenter, ESPN’s flagship program, dedicated just 2 percent of its airtime to women’s sports in 2014, according to the report.” I wanted change and some of the most ironic things were the story topics that were being aired instead of a women’s game. Topics from SportsCenter and Fox Sports Live stories consisted of, “A swarm of bees invading a Red Sox vs. Yankees game, An 18-inch corndog at the Arizona Diamondbacks stadium, and Whether NBA player Kendall Marshall will be able to find a decent burrito when he goes to Milwaukee,” according to a study done by Electronic news in 2015. Although these topics are interesting to hear about, I want to see women play and watch games happening in real time not just clips from the game after they are over and I wasn’t the only one.
After All He Is The King of Bleacher Report
King Kaufman, manager of the Writer Program at Bleacher Report said, that one of the sportswriters Kaufman admires the most is Red Smith. Smith wrote about an editor once telling him, “Will you stop godding up those ballplayers!” That is something Kaufman doesn’t partake in when it comes to reporting. He doesn’t enjoy, “Too much puffing up of athletes as wonderful human beings, whether they are or not. I don’t like the tendency of media coverage to equate success on the field to positive character traits. I’m also not crazy about the increasing prevalence and importance of what I call trivia.”
When referring to “trivia” in the media world, Kaufman means GIF’S, Photoshop memes, Vines, things going viral that are only interesting because athletes as celebrities are involved. One of the biggest stories of the year was when a photo of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Gabrielle Union and Carmelo Anthony were riding a banana boat this summer. He sees stories such as the banana boat one being an example of flawed sports journalism.
If there are the same components such as the competition, excitement and athleticism, what is stopping these women from being shown enough on TV?
- “What does “enough” mean? Is media obligated to cover women’s sports because it’s the right thing to do? Or should media only cover women’s sports to the extent that there’s a market for it? On the other hand, if there isn’t a market for coverage, is it up to the media to create that market, to drum up interest? I believe it’s not the media’s job to drum up interest in any particular subject, whether that’s women’s sports, or a niche sport like lacrosse or dirt track racing. On the other hand — how many hands is that? — It might be in a particular outlet’s interest to try to drum up interest in a sport to create a market to sell to.”
When Kaufman is referring to the “media” he means the professional media such as companies in business to make money and paying content creators for their work. In today’s media, it is made up of much more than that though. There are outlets such as blogs, social media and various apps that allow sports, leagues and teams to create coverage for fans, without the help of professional media. On the other hand, professional media’s business is constantly trying to get people to read, watch, listen to and use their product no matter what the segment of the sport is. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t equal or not, it only matters if the audience is demanding coverage of a particular sport. If they are demanding more football rather than volleyball, then football will be a story topic.
One major factor when professional media does stories is the level of celebrity that the players are. For example, how easy it is to get access to them and differences in the way they interact with the media.
Kaufman had a time where he accompanied the Cal women’s basketball team as a radio announcer on a season-opening road trip to the University of Montana. He stayed at the same motel as the team. It was the beginning of the year and the players and Kaufman didn’t know each other well at the time. During the afternoon, he was walking across the parking lot, returning to the motel from somewhere, when he looked up and saw a couple of players staring out the window of their room. As Kaufman recalls it, “it was a cold, bleak November day in a small town, pretty foreign for these big-city California girls. When they spotted me, they brightened and waved at me.”
The difference in that moment for Kaufman was the fact that no players on the men’s team would have done it. He finds that women athletes are usually quicker to talk to about their feelings than men and are more comfortable when showing a vulnerable side of them, and that is what makes for more interesting stories Kaufman said. Men try to be more guarded about those sorts of things and there are exceptions for both genders, but that is what the tendencies seem to be in the media world.
Kaufman doesn’t like that there is typically low attendance at a lot of events but when there is good attendance, women’s sports are as exciting as men’s sports. He was in a sold out BC Place Stadium for a Women’s World Cup game over the summer of 2015 and “it feels triumphant.”
Big events such as the Women’s World Cup in the summer, helps move things forward. Although the interest doesn’t stay throughout the year, it comes back at a higher rate compared to the previous year. This year it was covered as a sporting event, not like a women’s sporting event which may seem like something so small but is rather something huge because if you look back to how it would have been covered 10 or 20 years ago, it was completely different. Although there may not be a massive leap forward, such as ESPN giving half of the airtime to women’s sports, the progress will continue to move on. There weren’t any features where the players were asked to model clothes or discuss cooking or something in that topic arena where it screams, “I am a woman.”
Kaufman believes that, “The next frontier is probably a women’s sports vertical that really connects with primary fans of women’s sports, while being interesting to those who are more casual fans of women’s sports, or fans of men’s sports who pay attention to women’s sports when it’s worth their while.”
ESPNW hasn’t figured out how to approach women’s sports, or even if it should concentrate on women’s sports in general versus covering men’s sports for a female audience. It hasn’t found its niche quite yet.
Society enjoys certain female celebrity athletes such as The Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova, The U.S. Women’s National Soccer team and Ronda Rousey. These women have built a name for them and have proven themselves in showing that they can be athletic and feminine. They are well liked and have built not only their name as athletes but also a brand.
Don’t Give In
Media coverage isn’t always flawless and sometimes there is too much reliance on what people say and social media is something that can cause a lot of flaws. Women’s sports get covered less than 5%. Dr. Roxane Coche, Journalism Professor at The University of Memphis, has a strong passion for progression in media coverage for female athletes.
When asked if she sees an expansion for coverage in women’s sports for the near future, Coche said, “In the near future? Depends on how you define “near.” I’m not an optimistic person so I don’t see it happening very soon. Possibly on ESPN 3 but not on their major networks because they’ve decided that people didn’t support women’s sports without even looking at what the research says. They found a formula that makes them loads of money and that’s all they’re looking for so they are sticking to it for now.”
Personally she believes that women should have more opportunities to play after college because many girls and women are passionate about sports and as long as women’s professional leagues don’t exist, or barely exist then these girls expectations of what she wants to become goes down. It goes back to the Barbie concept from the beginning, the concept that if this is what society sets up then this is who I am to become. People can’t sit there and tell a little girl that she can do anything when she really can’t. Lying is something that shouldn’t be done especially to young children, because one day when that little girl gets older and wants to play a certain professional sport, then she can’t do so, then her dreams are crushed.
Sometimes it is hard to tell whether society is accepting in having an open mind about this problematic issue because as Coche said, “Seattle is so different from Tuscaloosa, which is different from Memphis, which is different from New York. This country has too many different cultures for me to say “yes” or “no” categorically. That said, having an open mind is cute but it doesn’t do anything until acted upon.”
The media expanding their coverage in women’s athletics isn’t THE first step but it should be one of many. Going back to history of sports and media, in the 50s-60s, television became a huge part of American culture because of the first TV rights deal for football, while in today’s world people have cable because it is all about the live action.
Coche said, “Sports and media go hand in hand together, they have a special relationship. Women are ignored for the most part by the media, except when they can make ‘Murica proud because patriotism is strong in this country. It’s not about the female athletes, it’s about the country…So they show up in the media every couple of years for major competitions (Olympics, World Cups).”
Coche thinks that men are treated like Gods. Sometimes not being the most brilliant but still Gods. Male athletes are treated the same way other people are treated in other industries such as music and cinema. The media has “characters” like the villains and heroes. Some come from nothing and some come from something but they are all competing to be the best of the best. Then there is constantly rise and fall stories as well. On the other hand, women are discriminated against, but not only in sports.
Coche said, “We are in a patriarchal society, that’s just a fact. Sport is a strong patriarchal bastion though and that’s probably because of the qualities deemed traditionally masculine that are needed in many sports, especially the team sports that people here love so much. It’s all the remnants of the old society… Changing society is slow. People don’t like change so it takes a generation dying to start the change but people live longer and longer… Here’s an example: my grandfather was Chinese. His father fought against Japan in the late 19th century in the first Sino-Japanese war. So my great-grandfather had many friends and family members killed in that war by Japanese soldiers. As a result, he had strong negative feelings toward Japan… And so did my grandfather. My mother, born and raised in France mind you, is not a big fan of the Japanese either. Her feelings are not as strong as those of her grandfather or her father, but she’d probably still flip out if I decided to marry a Japanese lol. All that stems from a war that was fought in the 1890s. My brothers and I have absolutely no feelings toward Japan in particular. Actually, I went to Tokyo and loved it, so if I have any feelings toward the country, they are positive. Some of my best friends in Paris are of Japanese descent and I wouldn’t change that for the world. I was born in 1987, so it basically took 100 years (and a move to a different country because I’m not sure what my distant cousins in China think since I don’t know them) for my family to get over negative feelings. For others, it may be faster, but for many, it is slower. Change in society is slow, very slow.”
She enjoys both men and female sports but she doesn’t want to choose men’s sports because she is a woman and doesn’t want another 12-year-old kid giving up their dreams of professional sports because of lack of opportunities. On the other side of things she can’t choose women’s sports because she watches too many men’s sports.
ESPN’s Michael Eaves On Diversity
In the world of sports, there is a lack of diversity. Diversity has always been an issue in American culture. It seems to not matter if it’s in broadcasting versus papers and magazines that journalists never try to touch on the demographics of athletes or the communities where the games are taking place. In a way it makes it difficult for society to accept that reporting can progress. In America, we are consumers and if we don’t consume politically correct information and view sports shows that give more opportunities for women to be covered in such a way more so than just based around what they do at home, are we actually covering sports in the correct aspect?
If sports were to be covered in an equal sense then more viewers would think it is normal and there would be more acceptance to watching more women’s sports. All in all it’s the audience who determines which sports are to be covered. If the audience pays more attention to women’s sports than then the coverage will be there.
Michael Eaves, ESPN studio anchor as of May 2015 said, “History tells us that only a handful of women’s events consistently draw a large enough audience to warrant more coverage, which is unfortunate because I think there are some compelling stories to be told featuring female athletes.”
The main difference when a story is going to be told about a female athlete versus a male athlete is the locker room access. As a reporter you have to wait for a longer period of time to gain access to ask them questions but that doesn’t mean it prevents you from doing your job at all as a reporter. While there is some coverage on women’s athletes, ESPN strides to show more and more coverage in the future.
Eaves said, “ESPNw is doing a tremendous job covering covering women’s sports and the issues female athletes face. But again, the audience will ultimately determine the expansion of such coverage. If the ratings and digital views show fans want more women’s coverage, the content will follow.”
The main concept viewers tend to forget is that women have many chances to play sports professionally, is the fact that there are a massive amount overseas for them to have this opportunity. Another thing Eaves touched on was the fact that sports is a business, which means that if the marketplace is booming for women’s sports, and then they will have more coverage. These sports teams and events can be in existence professionally if it is enough of a moneymaker. Americans love competition so if they start to watch more women’s sports then we can see a transition with the sports media.
Eaves said, “The media will not dictate the creation of more professional sports opportunities for female athletes. Only the fans’ desire for more games and events featuring female athletes will make that happen. It’s basic supply and demand. If the demand for more women’s sports is there, someone will be ready to supply those sports.”
Although human anatomy has long proven that men tend to be bigger, faster and stronger when compared to female athletes. There are sports when men and women can compete but that is when it isn’t physical exertion. Our brain engrains that sports means male athletes because of these factors. If we tear these barriers in our mind down and don’t become so closed off to women possessing these qualities, then the population will pay more attention to women’s athletes, giving them the opportunity to be covered more on national sports television.
Most sports fans don’t find sports such as softball compelling to where they want to watch it all year round, it’s not that they mind them existing, it is just the fact that they don’t typically keep up with them consistently. It is all about the audience and while soccer is the most popular sport in the world it isn’t in the states when being compared to football, basketball and baseball. Those three sports are the ones that people tend to watch the most.
From Eaves perspective as a sports reporter, he typically likes to do stories that around the most popular games and athletes as well. He likes finding out something most fans don’t know.
Eaves said, “I also like to find good human interest stories from the world of sports that are so compelling that it would interest sports and non-sports fans alike. I prefer to watch the best of the best in sports, and that means the best athletes and the best matchups. The gender of the participants doesn’t matter to me. I just want to be wowed!”
Here’s the thing, we are in a vicious cycle that we as Americans can break. For us it is all about the money and what brings in the most revenue but so if we watch and take more interest in female sports, and then it would be broadcasted more. I leave you with one question … how will you break the cycle?