Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sex And Selling Women’s Sports

The Nation magazine has a special issue on the role and impact of sport on U.S. culture edited by Dave Zirin. One of the articles in this issue is “Sex Sells Sex, Not Women’s Sports” by University of Minnesota sport scholar Mary Jo Kane. Kane has conducted research using focus groups differentiated by gender and age to debunk the common assumption that sexualizing woman athletes or downplaying their athleticism are necessary to sell tickets, especially to the demographic coveted by corporate sponsors who advertise to sport audiences : Young males. You can read her article here and see a short slide show of the different ways women athletes are portrayed in the media here.

Kane’s research shows that sex does not sell women’s sports. Sex sells sex. Young men who think Serena Williams, Lindsay Vonn and Danica Patrick are hot don’t necessarily become fans of women’s sports. They just become fans of sexy pictures of these women. Moreover representations of women athletes in sexy, pornographic or non-athletic poses turn off women’s sports core audience: women and older men.

Some of the comments in reaction to Kane’s article reflect how resistant many men and some women are to the results of Kane’s research. Kane is derided as a humorless feminist who should lighten up and stop trying to take the fun and titillation out of women’s sport.

I want to challenge these folks to watch a replay (if they didn’t watch it live) of the USA matches against Brazil and Japan in recent Women’s World Cup. Depending on your preferences, you might think Hope Solo or Amy Wambach are sexy women, but the riveting, heart stopping, scream yourself hoarse reaction to these games came from the competition itself and how well the amazing athletes on all teams played the game. It wasn’t about the make-up, the pony tails (actually some women actually had short hair), who had a husband and children or who posed naked in Playboy. It was about tough and determined athletes playing their hearts out and keeping us on the edge of our seats (or in my case leaping around the living room trying to help them get the damn ball in the net).

That, my friends, is what sells tickets and garners high TV ratings, not seeing Hope Solo or Amy Wambach lying half-naked on a beach with soccer balls placed strategically in front of her breasts and pubic area. Can we please learn something from the Women’s World Cup and from Dr. Kane’s research: Exciting competition, whether the athletes are men or women sells sports. Portraying athletes in the media as the strong, tough, talented, competitive people they are sells sports.

You young guys who are fixated on seeing women in stale, posed soft porn photo shoots, go somewhere else to get your porn fix. You are not a real sports fan unless you can appreciate excellence regardless of the gender of the athletes you are watching. Plus, athletic women playing at the top of their game are pretty sexy just as they are. One doesn’t exclude the other, but if powerful women are scary to you, it might not be your cup of tea.


Wyman Stewart said...

Rare, we pretty much agree on this issue.

When I fit the magic demographic they're looking for, athletic skill meant a lot to me. I know sex sells and some of the ladies are beauties, but if you are a racecar driver, tennis player, or basketball player (to name a few), it makes more sense that your identity is in your sport.

Once your finite playing days are over, then devoting yourself to a new field and a new identity, is fine. "Joltin Joe" had his Mr. Coffee, etc., but I know Joe for his baseball career, though I never saw him play; better, than I knew him for the Mr. Coffee commercials I did see him in.

That may be what's being taken away from these ladies, when their body and beauty are sold as more memorable than their sports skills.

Their sports identities, and possibly their true identities, are being lost; to model as a sex object to sell a product. But, that's just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Those that characterize Kane as a humorless feminist are being both kind and generous. The truth is that she is a radical feminist idealogue hiding in academia who publishes "results" based upon weak, dated and unsupportable research. I suggest readers refer to Wendy Parker's blog for the reality on Kane.

The truth is that "professionals" like you and Kane both have an agenda and it has little if anything to do with actual women's sports competition and everything to do with your burning desire for societal change. Sports is just your chosen vehicle to try to make that happen.

I watched the WWC and found it entertaining in spite of our #1 rated team being defeated by Japan. In spite of that failure the media treated them as heros which most certainly would not have happened had a #1 rated U.S. men's team been defeated under similar circumstances.

Wambach is certainly a talent but sexy? Not so much except possibly to a focused demographic that you are familiar with. Solo is talented and attractive to that wider demographic you seem to dislike so much. That probably explains why she has agreed to be featured in ESPNs next "Body" issue. You may not like it, but that's the way the world works.

I suggest you and Kane concentrate on building women's sports based upon true interest in the contests and quit complaining about sex and men.
If the competition in women's sports is as compelling as you claim then success is assured. Time will tell.

escorts tenerife said...

To my mind one and all ought to look at this.

Stefaan Vanopdemaan said...

Did we read the same article? Because I did not see any "research" or "debunking" a "common assumption".

Showing people pictures and asking if those would make them watch sport, is not research. If I showed people cigarette adverts and asked them "does this make you want to smoke", would you accept my conclusion that those adverts don't have an effect? BTW "focus groups differentiated by gender and age" sounds better than "random group of people", I agree.

She claims that "those charged with covering and promoting women’s sports" think sex sells sport. And to prove them wrong, she points to marketing campaigns for leagues like the WNBA and the coverage of women's sports on ESPN as examples of how it should be done.
Did she not realize that "those charged with covering and promotion" are the ones who do the coverage and marketing? Is this maybe the cognitive dissonance she mentions?

As for Sports illustrated and Playboy, their job is selling magazines.

And regarding the "offensive portrayal" of Lindsey Vonn: If there's anything offensive then it's not the pictures of women athletes, but rather her implication that these athletes are incapable of making decisions for themselves. Most telling is how she shows implicit approval of one man's statement: “If she [Serena Williams in a sexually provocative pose] were my sister I’d come in, slap the photographer, grab her and leave.”

Talk about respecting women...
she's not even worth this reaction, but hey..

muebles baratos said...

So, I don't really believe it may have success.

CMK said...

I believe that sexualizing female (or male) athletes completely takes away from the sport. If you are a true fan of the athletic event, you would be watching it for better reasons than to watch "sexy athletes." It is true, magazines like Sports Illustrated want to sell copies and make a profit, but doing so by portraying female athletes in a way that resembles pornography is disgusting.

If fast cash is the ultimate goal and the only way to have success, where is the line drawn? I don't believe in censorship, but the sexualization of female and male athletes is taking away from these talented people and reaffirming that it's okay for women to be objectified by men.

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