If you think women's sports seem less exciting than men's sports, it might not be your fault — that blame could lie with the people talking about the games.
In a new study that analyzed sports coverage over 25 years, researchers found that while the overt sexism that was once seen in sports broadcasting has lessened, it's been replaced by what they term "gender bland sexism," a method that is for all intents and purposes respectful of women's sports, but also, pretty boring.
Earlier on HuffPost:
As published in Gender & Society, a SAGE Publishing journal, the researchers looked at the difference between how women's sports are covered now versus how they once were depicted, as well as how the language changes when it's women versus men on the screen.
And while coverage now fortunately lacks those references to "female frailty" or "fears regarding the masculinizing effects of competitive athletics on women," as the paper notes, discrimination now comes in the form of talking in a monotone about women's sports — the exact opposite of what makes broadcasts so compelling to watch.
Sports news shows now disguise sexism in their 'matter-of-fact' reactions to women athletes' performance.
"Sports news shows now disguise sexism in their 'matter-of-fact' reactions to women athletes' performance, subtly sending viewers the message that women's sports lack the excitement and interest of men's sports," wrote the researchers in a press release.
Even if you'd hope not to be influenced by the tone in which news is delivered, there's also a visual part at play.
The researchers found that when they compared footage of men's games versus women's games, "impressive plays" were highlighted in more 80 per cent of the guys' coverage, while gals were frequently shown cheering on the bench for their team or hugging each other after winning.
It's not as though the message should shock anyone. Telling someone they throw or run "like a girl" continues to be perceived as an insult (despite the strides made by certain marketers to change the perception). And even though women's soccer is the one making breakthroughs in terms of U.S. viewership, it took a lot of negotiations for the women on the American team to come close to their male counterparts in terms of pay.
And for those who might be wondering why sports, such a male-dominated field in the first place, should be held accountable for these types of biases, as the researchers put it, because of the inherent segregation of men's sports from women's sports, it helps shine a light on what goes on in the rest of society.
Sport may illuminate underlying gender dynamics that are obscured within other realms.
So while women have been seen to be making strides in areas like business to entertainment, "sport may illuminate underlying gender dynamics that are obscured within other realms."
Call us hopeful, but we think as people recognize their bias, they'll work to change it.
After all, Canadian women were the ones who dominated last summer at the Olympics — and the more excited everyone gets about that, the more minds can change.
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