Stop ignoring objectification of women in sport

You know what upsets me? Objectification in sport. No sport is free from it. The culture is deep, it is embedded and it has to change.

Forgive me if this post descends into a rant. I have been quietly simmering all day.

A friend of mine earlier today sent me a link to a forum post that he found. The post was written by an individual calling himself “Aslan,” presumably after the wise, compassionate and brave King of Narnia. However, this Aslan would perhaps be better named “Cowardly Lion.”

Because surely that is a better fitting name for one who thinks it is appropriate to rank female tenpin bowlers according to their levels of “hotness.” The thread in question can be read here. I highly doubt that he would actually say any of this to the faces of the players. Yet, he seems to think it okay to objectify them on an internet forum.

This sort of behaviour is deeply embedded in sport. It is offensive. It is sexist. It is wrong and it prevents women’s sport from progressing. It was pointed out to me that this post was from 2015 and that it was best ignored, to not give the troll the air time he was after.

I disagree. The post may be 2 years old, but the behaviour hasn’t gone away. Ignoring it isn’t the answer either. It has to be challenged. We have to talk about it. Silence is complicit. Just this week, Cycling Weekly published a photo, with the caption “token attractive woman.” Hannah Noel, the pictured cyclist was quoted as saying “I made it into Cycling Weekly, it seems not for my ability as a female cyclist but as a ‘token attractive woman’ – I’m absolutely gutted and disappointed in the magazine.”

Hannah, it seems, was pictured in the role of “attractive woman” and not “cyclist.” A classic example of objectification.

I have seen the argument made on many occasions that “sex sells” and the suggestion that it is a means to an end. Once upon a time, I did agree with the argument “sex sells”. After all, a glamorous and beautiful young female endorsing a sport can only make it look great, right? Then I started growing up and realising the flaws in this argument. How many people have you seen dashing out to take up bowling because some male self-appointed expert on female beauty said a player was hot? It doesn’t get people interested in the sport. It doesn’t get people talking about the sport. It encourages people to see women as objects.

Beauty before talent

Lists like Aslan’s aren’t just confined to internet forums. The sports website, TSM Plug published an article titled “Top 35 Stunning Athletes 2014 Winter Olympics.” Worst than that, they even refered to needing lotion and tissues. Ugh. Multiple websites and publications leading up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio published numerous articles referring to the sexiest bodies, the hottest women, the list goes on.

This type of “coverage” is not good for women’s sport. It doesn’t promote sport. It promotes the expectation that women should be seen as beautiful and attractive to the opposite sex. The athletes are seen as sex objects first. Their talent is seen second.



Objectication is a barrier to participation


While objectifying women in sport is seen as acceptable, the myth that sport is for men is fuelled further. Objectifying women says that we are there to please our male audience and for no other reason. It certainly doesn’t inspire participation in women’s sport. On the contrary, this treatment is what puts women off participating. I’m not saying that the This Girl Can campaign is perfect, but it HAS inspired women to take part in sport by making them realise that you don’t need to meet some arbitary beauty standard set by the media. Movements like Julie Creffields “Too Fat To Run?” are also helping to break down barriers. But it doesn’t change the fact that objectification of women is one of those barriers to participation.

Where is the evidence that sexualising women has led to an increase in participation?

Why is the emphasis put on looks over talent?

Where is the respect we deserve?

Why are people afraid to speak out and challenge this?

Don’t stay quiet. Don’t be complicit.

This is 2017. We always teach our children that looks don’t matter. So why doesn’t this apply to women’s sport?

Is it #ThisGirlCan or #ThisGirlCanButOnlyIfAManDeemsHerHot?

(Many thanks to my wonderful friend Bethan for her encouragement in posting this!)

1 Comment

  1. September 3, 2017 / 7:29 pm

    Spot on, Helen! Yes there are still idiots that think like these guys, and shutting them up won’t change how they think (sadly). However it will hopefully stop the *next* generation from hearing this nonsense and thinking its acceptable, or even complimentary!

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