More Thoughts on: “The Most Watched Game You Never Heard of: Sexy Sexy World Cup Soccer”– Me @GAB

Two weeks ago I published an article on the tension between the sexualization and profesionalization of women’s soccer at Gender Across Borders. Yesterday I bumped into an article at The Nation: “Sex Sells Sex, Not Women’s Sports” which gave my general observations/hunches a bit of statistical back-up. According to the author, Mary Jo Kane:

Scholars have long argued that a major consequence of the media’s tendency to sexualize women’s athletic accomplishments is the reinforcement of their status as second-class citizens in one of the most powerful economic, social and political institutions on the planet. In doing so, media images that emphasize femininity/sexuality actually suppress interest in, not to mention respect for, women’s sports….

To investigate empirically whether sex truly sells women’s sports, I conducted a series of focus groups based on gender and age (18–34; 35–55) with a colleague at the University of Minnesota. Study participants were shown photographs of female athletes ranging from on-court athletic competence to wholesome “girls next door” to soft pornography and asked to indicate which images increased their interest in reading about, watching on TV and attending a women’s sporting event.

Our findings revealed that in the vast majority of cases, a “sex sells” approach offended the core fan base of women’s sports—women and older men. These two groups rated the image that portrayed athletic prowess as the one most likely to influence their interest in women’s sports. Said one younger female: “This image [of a WNBA player driving toward the basket] really sucked me in. I want to be there. I want to be part of that feeling.” In contrast, younger and older females, as well as older males, were offended by the hypersexualized images. One older male said: “If she [Serena Williams in a sexually provocative pose] were my sister I’d come in, slap the photographer, grab her and leave.” Even when younger males, a prime target audience, indicated that sexually provocative images were “hot,” they also stated that such images did not fundamentally increase their interest in women’s sports, particularly when it came to attending a sporting event. The key takeaway? Sex sells sex, not women’s sports.

In my article, I had given the national German women’s soccer team the benefit of the doubt in making the decision to pose for Playboy. I went on the assumption that I shouldn’t make judgements about the PR decisions of the women– their league is only a semi-professional league and would certainly benefit from greater exposure. Kane’s study, however, makes me feel that my assumption was a tad naïve. Would the study have changed the minds of the women on the national team? Probably not, since they claimed their official goal was trying to prove that women in sports weren’t she-males and not explicitly to increase the size of the crowds in their stadiums (although, I can’t imagine that wasn’t on their minds too). At the same time, the study points to a glaring reality– that we need to find another, more creative way to do PR for women’s sports than by sexualizing them. Kane suggests a radically simple idea– treat women’s sports just like men’s. The coverage they need shouldn’t constantly reference their gender, but rather, focus on their skill as athletes.

I also found a bunch of other examples of female athletes being sexualized:

2006: Gearing up for the World Cup, the blog “Krynsky.com” publishes “Babes of the World Cup and other Photos of Beautiful Soccer Themed Girls.” The post is a list of NSFW links to 22 websites featuring everything from “girlfriends and wives” to “uglies” to “babes by country.” What I find particularly interesting about this post is how the women aren’t athletes, they are “soccer themed.” Like a party or a porno could be “Harry Potter” or “beach” themed.

2007 World Cup: Heather Mitts on the blog “Media overtime,” which wrote about how she wasn’t able to join the US team at the 2007 World Cup in China due to an injury. Why did they cover that story, quote “because we can.” I.e. the story is a tangent that doesn’t have the validity of other sports stories and they are covering it out of interest in her for non-athletic (probably sexual) reasons.

2007 World Cup: The Spanish Women’s national team posed naked, playing soccer on the field. The blog “The Offside” is the only reference I can find to this at the moment– they report that the women only earn 150Euro per month and that many participated just to alleviate their desperate financial situation– even if only a little bit.

 2010: List of “MOST beautiful and SEXIEST Female Soccer Players in 2010” at the blog “Global Whelming” directed me to a Maxim spread of Heather Mitts, who I already mentioned, as well as a soft core porn spread of Brazilian player Laisa Andrioli. Not to mention pictures of women on the field–somehow they want to sexualize even big baggy Tshirts and sweat.

Laisa Androili– I had to edit these so they were a little more PG-13… The unedited ones and the complete list–pictures included–are at Global Whelming.

2010: In preparation for the World Cup, “guyism” published a… well. I’ll let the photo-title speak for itself:

This spread included players from Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Cameroon, Chile, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Honduras, Italy, Ivory Coast, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Paraguay, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Uruguay, and, of course, the United States. (Wow it was completely exhausting to write that list.) Some of the pictures were deliberately sexual, while other were just pictures of women behaving normally on the field or in the stands–proving that while much of the sexualization is done with the consent of the women, even without consent the women will inevitably be sexualized by a portion of the sport watching population.

2011 World Cup: French Women’s team poses naked in a World Cup 2011 ad campaign. The spin on this one, is that the women were protesting the sexualization of women in sports. The caption was, according to TZ-online, “Müssen wir uns erst so zeigen, damit ihr uns spielen sehen wollt?” , which means roughly “Is this what we need to do to get you to watch us play?” Do you think it worked? The blog I’m citing. “TZ-online” said, Nackte Frauenfußballerinnen? Die würden den Männern wohl durchaus schmecken,” which is roughly “naked female-soccer players? That is something that would satisfy male viewers tastes.” #fail.

2011: the Spanish team posed again– they made a whole calendar to raise the money they needed to buy their equipment. This is what happens when you don’t have Title IX protecting women’s sports. I got this from “M24Digital.com“. A lot of the photos at the blog definitely cross from sexy into soft porn.

Most unfortunately, I could go on. And on. But I feel nauseous now. Gotta go get some ginger tea and happier thoughts. If you’re not nauseated yet, you should check out these posts at “Soccer Politics / The Politics of Football”.

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