How Female Athletes are Objectified by the Media – Katie Darnley

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          It is no secret that female athletes often receive the short end of the stick when it comes to sports. Female sporting events are not promoted, not well attended, and sometimes completely disregarded in both amateur and professional settings.  Once every four years, however, the Olympics provide one of the best opportunities for female athletes to be showcased and recognized for their abilities. The Olympics is one of the only times that the media pays almost equal attention to the women’s events as the men’s. As another Olympic season is upon us, I look back at the winter games held two years ago to see if this idea held true. During the Vancouver Olympics some female athletes would still argue, however, that while they were getting attention, it is not always the right kind. The media was focusing less on the female athlete’s skills and more on their looks. This type of attention is demeaning to the athletes and makes it seem as though they contribute less than the men; until this is changed females will never be seen as equals in the sports community.

            Throughout the games media outlets worldwide were suddenly enthralled by the Canadian curling team. It was not, however, because they were the favorite to win this year’s event but because of the pretty face adorning one of the team members. Cheryl Bernard is a mid-forties wife and mother who spends most of her time working in the insurance business. She is also a member of the Canadian Olympic curling team and this year’s Olympic sex symbol. Commentators, reporters, and writers across Canada were awe-struck by Bernard and shot her into the lime-light. Bernard was given the title of cougar or as one reporter said “curlgar.” Various articles were written about Bernard and a lot of on air time was focused on her. None of this attention, however, had anything to do with her curling. The media was solely focused on the sex appeal she brought to the sport. This use of Bernard for sex appeal was unforeseen and unique for a variety of reasons. To start, she is in her mid-forties. While the media constantly comments on the physical appeal of athletes it is almost always young women, typically ages 18-30, not middle aged mothers. Also, she is not like the figure skaters or similar athletes who wear very little attire and try to promote themselves in a sexy way. Bernard always wore the typical gear for a curler, a zip up track suit. This outfit is not supposed to be sexy, but warm and practical. Also, Bernard wasn’t fully accepting of this attention. She didn’t, like other athletes, cash in on the attention through magazine shoots or advertising. However, she didn’t reject the attention either. This ambivalent response made the media attention even more unprecedented. So, while it is outrageous that the media was objectifying Bernard based on her looks it was even more peculiar that they chose a middle aged curler, who wore zip up track suits and didn’t react to the attention, to scrutinize. It almost makes you wonder if there was something else there.

            Due to the culture of the world today the fact that the media was drawing attention to an athlete based on looks was not a shock, but it still does not seem right, especially for an Olympian. Olympic athletes are some of the most devoted and hardworking athletes in the world. They train their whole lives for a one-time event. Also, due to the nature of the Olympics, they are not allowed to be professional athletes prior to competing. This means that the athletes have never been paid for the time and effort they devote to their sport; they must be some pretty passionate people. So, it seems wrong that after all the training it takes to be in the physical shape the Olympics demand that when you finally are in the spot light it’s for your looks as opposed to your athleticism. Cheryl has a personal trainer who she works out with multiple times a week and spends hours on end in the gym. While this contributes to her physic, she is doing it so that she can succeed in the sport she is so passionate about, not so that she can attract the male masses of Vancouver.

            While it seems as though our society has progressed to a point where females are almost equal to men in most regards, this type of degradation only sets progress back. Sex is apparent in almost all sports today. If the participants are female, the commentators are talking about the sex appeal of the athletes. If the participants are male, attractive women are used as cheerleaders or commentators in an effort to still incorporate sex into the event. This unnecessary incorporation of sex into sports is not only degrading to women but to the sports themselves. All of this attention to looks as opposed to ability makes the sports seems less respectable, less credible.  In the case of Bernard, however, she does not reject the attention completely. While she does not like the fact that the attention is focused on the sex, she does like that the sport is receiving any attention at all, even if it is in this matter. So, while she would most likely prefer that the media discuss curling itself, not her, she does not deter them from commenting because it gives attention to the sport.

          While in the case of Cheryl Bernard she was both a tremendous athlete and an attractive female, there are many cases where this is not true. Athletes who lack in ability become popular only based on their appearance. This superficial popularity makes the sport seem like a joke. If ability is no longer the most important factor in becoming a great athlete what does that say about our culture? Also, it is offensive to those athletes who are truly exceptional in their area but are overshadowed by mediocre participants who happen to look better in their uniform. All of this focus on sex is making sports nothing more than a beauty contest, which is not a promising future. So, if women want their contribution to the sports community to be about more than just sex, something must change. It would be easy to say that it is all at fault of the media, but the media reports on what sells so they are not going to stop talking about sex if it is what gets them viewership and advertising dollars. It seems as though this is a much deeper issue within our society that is going to require time and hard work to change the mindsets and viewpoints of the public.

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