Category Archives: Helen Owton

Superqueeroes: Gender and superheroes

By Helen Owton & Meg-John Barker (With expertise input from Joseph de Lappe)

The new Batman v Superman film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, is coming out on 25th March 2016 so we thought this would be a good chance to reflect on superhero movies: particularly the place of gender in them. 

We’re particularly interested in the role of binaries and hierarchies in these kinds of films. Batman v Superman pitches two well-known superheroes against each other in a binary way, and – of course – the superhero genre as a whole is based on the linked binaries of hero v villain, good v bad, and right v wrong, with the former winning out in the end. More recent versions of superhero movies trouble these simple distinctions somewhat. For example, The Dark Knight version of Batman is less clear cut, and the two groups of X-men can be seen as more about assimilationism v radical approaches to activism. However, audiences may well not pick up on such nuances.

An additional binary and hierarchical consideration in Superhero movies is needed. Characters are male or female, with predominantly male characters, and masculinity is privileged over femininity in various ways.

Currently, we are living through a golden age of comics, with a vibrant independent comic and graphic novel scene which includes strong representations of womenExternal link  and LGBT+External link  characters, much of which has been taken up by mainstream superhero comicsExternal link  too. Nonetheless, there is a serious disparity between this shift in comics, and the continued limited representation in the movies which are based on these comics.

Wonder Woman and women/men in superhero movies

You might be surprised to learn that Wonder Woman is making an appearance in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice given that both title and trailer suggest that the film will revolve around two well-known male superheroes. In superhero comics Wonder Woman has been part of the recent positive trend towards strong representations of women, notably with Gail SimoneExternal link ’s seminal run writing for Wonder Woman. However, turning to the movie, Wonder Woman actor Gal Gadot (who served two years as a sports trainer in the Israeli Defense Forces) has been blasted on social media already for being too slim, not busty, and not fit enough to play the part, but this should not be surprising given that women tend to be more heavily criticised on appearances. Not only is there a complete lack of women in superhero films, but the women are either cast as damsels in distressExternal link (e.g. Lois Lane) which serves to infantilise women, or as sidekicks to a main male character(s). This is the case in many of the recent X-men and Avengers movies, for example, very few of which pass the Bechdel testExternal link  (a simple test with three criteria: 1) features two or more female characters, 2) who have a conversation with each other at some point, 3) about something other than males). It also seems a shame that the Bechdel test is still what we’re aiming at rather than, for example, equal numbers of male and female characters, and female characters playing a major role.

wonderwomen

(Illustration: ‘Wonder Women’ by Helen Owton, 2016, Pencil, 297x420mm, 130 gsm white cartridge paper)

Hopefully, the inclusion of Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman is a precursor for the specific Wonder WomanExternal link  movie due for release in 2017. However, we fear in the Batman v Superman movie that she will end up merely a sidekick behind the two white heterosexual hyper-masculinised superheroes, thus positioning her as second-class to the men.

It is worrying that Batman v Superman continues with the same hyper-masculine aesthetic that has defined superhero movies for so long. For example, superheroism enables individuals to express aggression, competitiveness, speed, strength, invincibility, and skill – traits commonly associated with hegemonic masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity is white, heterosexual, privileged/middle-class, and able-bodied masculinity which is generally represented as opposite and superior to femininity and homosexuality (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005). Thus hegemonic hyper-masculinity marginalises other masculinities (e.g. black, disabled, working class, gay) and devalues femininity (Connell, 1987). Also, the hyper-masculinity expressed in superhero movies is frequently tortured, addicted, lonely, and painful. We could reflect on the gendered violence inherent in the messages this gives to young male viewers about (hyper)masculinity requiring such suffering.

Unlike Wonder Woman there are many female superheroes that have not made it into films as sidekicks let alone solo or lead roles in a film (e.g. Ironwoman, Batwoman, Spiderwoman, Ms Marvel, She-Hulk). When women superheroes do appear, often they are dressed in over-sexualised costumesExternal link  in an attempt to appeal to a presumed male heterosexual audience. They are scantily clad (e.g. Elektra) or dressed in PVC (e.g. Catwoman). Attempts to gender-flip the outfits and posturesExternal link  of superheroes have usefully drawn attention to how sexualised and ridiculous female superhero costumes and postures often are. These attempts also draw attention to the clear male/female binary that is in play (when women are represented at all in superhero movies). It is possible to gender flip characters – and find the results ridiculous – because the depictions are so very binary: hypermasculine male characters and hypersexualised female characters.

Wonderwoman

Battling the super-binary

Just as superhero films rarely radically challenge binary ways of thinking about moral values (e.g. good v bad, wrong v right), also they rarely question gender binaries (men v women, masculine v feminine), or the related ways in which men have been privileged in terms of legal status, formal authority, political and economic power, access to resource, and sexuality. They do little to challenge a gender ideology that is based on a simple binary classification model which comes with quite fixed ideas about how to understand sex and gender. This binary model suggests that all people can be classified into one of two sex categories: male or female. These sex categories are identified as oppositional and defined in biological terms. According to the model, males are assumed to be completely different (in terms of feelings, thoughts and actions) from females which then form the expectations for the ways people define and identify gender (masculine and femininity). This gender ideology is so deeply rooted in our social worlds that we hardly think to question this organising principle (Coakley & Pike, 2009). This means that many people resist thinking about gender in new ways and often feel uncomfortable when others do not fit neatly into one sex category or the other; a problem experienced by many trans athletes competing in sport. This classification of all bodies into two separate categories appears to reflect social and cultural ideas rather than biological facts (Jordan-Young, 2010). Evidence suggests that sex/gender isn’t entirely binary on any level of physiology or psychology (chromosomes, hormones, brain structure, personality, gender roles, Fausto-Sterling, 2000). For example, Daphna JoelExternal link ’s research (2011, 2015) has found that it is extremely rare for anybody to have what used to be thoughts of as a ‘male’ or ‘female’ brain: most people’s brains display a mixture of featuresExternal link . And on the level of experience, over a third of peopleExternal link  said that they were to some extent the ‘other’ gender, ‘both genders’ and/or ‘neither gender’.

Superqueering gender

If we are to shift the hierarchical positioning of men as superior to women in the superhero movie genre (and beyond), perhaps we need to go further than fighting for the inclusion of equal numbers of female characters at an equal level to male characters, and no more sexualised than male characters. Perhaps we need to also encourage the inclusion of characters who question the assumption of a fixed gender binary. One way of shifting the notion of fixed binary genders is to challenge the expectation that conventionally ‘male’ characters need to remain male in the movie versions, and to be played by male actors. Given the historical context of most of the superhero comics things are unlikely to change until some of the sidekick/damsel in distress female characters are elevated to heroes in their own right and writers and directors recognise that just because a character was originally depicted as a straight, white, male, doesn’t mean they have to remain that way. There are several examples of such shifts in superhero comicsExternal link , although these are often received with at least as much criticism as celebration from readers. Another, more radical option, is the inclusion of more characters who explicitly challenge the gender binary, either by focusing on already non-binary characters, or by making currently binary characters non-binary. There are a few possibilities already available in the superhero canon. For example, the character of LokiExternal link  in the Thor/Avengers comics and movies who can shapeshift different genders. Although Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series (not a conventional superhero series) has come up against glitchesExternal link  in attempts to be developed into a movie, it also includes an androgynous character, DesireExternal link , who appears in different genders (as do other characters at times). However it’s worth noting that both these characters are probably closer to being villains than heroes, reflecting the way in which non-binary characters – like bisexual characters – tend to be represented as evil, manipulative, and suspicious. Also already non-binary characters do not have to be the limit. Just as there seems to be no reason not to have a female actor playing Hulk or Professor X, is there any reason not to have a non-binary Spider or Bat person? There are already a number of far more explicitly queer/trans superhero comics which could be adapted for the screen, such as The Young AvengersExternal link ,the wicked + the divineExternal link Astro City #16External link , or Grant Morrison’s and Rachel Pollock’s runs on Doom PatrolExternal link , if film-makers could get past always returning to the same set of heroes and villains. Queering superhero movies in this way not only has the potential to empower queer and trans audiences through seeing themselves represented, but also it can liberate straight and cisgender audiences by offering something other than rigid binaries of hypermasculinity and sexualised femininity.

Conclusions

As with other intersecting identities such as disability, race, class, and sexuality, clearly there is still a very long way to go with gender in the superhero movie genre. Whilst the inclusion of Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman could be seen as a step forward, it still feels like a small step indeed, and it remains to be seen whether the movie even passes the low bar of the Bechdel Test. In future media representations it would be great to see female characters on an equal footing with male characters, women actors playing originally male characters, films with central female superheroes (like the Netflix series, Jessica JonesExternal link ), and all-female cast superhero movies (as with the new GhostbustersExternal link  film), explicit gay/lesbian characters (like Xena: Warrior PrincessExternal link ), men playing more feminine characters and women more masculine ones, and explicitly trans and non-binary characters and actors in both leading and supporting roles.

This entry was posted on OpenLearn. Read the original article.

Adam Johnson guilty: Why is there so much depravity in football?

By Helen Owton

adam-johnson

Adam Johnson leaves Bradford Crown Court after being found guilty of one count of sexual activity with child (Getty)

On 2 March 2016, 28-year-old former Sunderland footballer Adam Johnson was found guilty of grooming (a strategy used to convince or coerce a child or young person to engage in sexual behaviour) and sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl. At the time of his crime, his then girlfriend Stacey Flounders had just given birth to their daughter, and he has since also admitted to cheating on her several times.

Now he faces a ten-year sentence, serving a minimum of five years. Although in this case the offence concerned a child, this is certainly not the first instance of sexual or violent offences, or disrespectful behaviour towards women we have seen from footballers.

In 2012, Ched Evans was convicted of raping a 19-year-old woman and he has since served half of his five-year sentence. Since his release in 2014, he has pushed to return to his club Sheffield United, but they withdrew an early offer after the intense public response.

Even when not committing a crime, some footballers’ lack of respect toward women has been exposed to the public. In 2015, three Leicester City footballers – Tom Hopper, Adam Smith and James Pearson – were sacked from the club after being seen on film engaging in what has been described as a “racist orgy” with a group of Thai women.

These recent cases have sparked debates about whether sportspeople who have crossed the line should continue to occupy the exalted status of “sports star“. However, why do they think they will be able to get away with it in the first place?

Jock culture

One of the problems with the culture of sport is that it places athletes on a pedestal that gives them celebrity status. Many argue that competitive sporting environments provide a unique socio-cultural context that offer possibilities for sexual abuse and exploitation to take place.

Research has found that male college student athletes were responsible for a significantly higher percentage of reports of sexual assault on the campuses of Division I institutions (the highest level of intercollegiate athletes).

Other research showed that while male college athletes in the US made up only 3.3% of the collegiate population, they represented 19% of sexual assault perpetrators and 35% of domestic violence perpetrators. While sport does not cause domestic and sexual violence, “it can provide the conditions that enable forms of domestic violence“.

When sportspeople believe that they are above the law, invincible, or incapable of being hurt they can undermine respect for authority or social norms and can result in criminal activity or deviant behaviour

Men’s football, in particular, provides a platform to global celebrity, bloated salaries, corporate sponsorship and fan adulation that can catapult male footballers into famous millionaires. This status comes with power that has the potential to be abused.

As Scott Goll wrote, professional athletes seem to be “used to getting what they want. They get the attention. They get the money. To some extent, I believe there’s a sense of entitlement.”

Therefore, when sportspeople believe that they are above the law, invincible, or incapable of being hurt they can undermine respect for authority or social norms and can result in criminal activity or deviant behaviour. They believe that the “jock culture” of which they are a part takes precedence over any other authoritative structures outside their sporting world.

Reinforced entitlement and invincibility

Furthermore, this sense of entitlement and invincibility seems to be preserved; when they do commit serious offences (e.g. violent or sexual), evidence suggests that “professional athletes are not punished by the leagues, teams, or criminal justice system as harshly or consistently as their general public counterparts”.

The overwhelmingly high value placed on men’s sport, specifically men’s football, means that they think they can get away with it and maybe many of them do given that abuse is likely to be underreported.

“We need to enable and support victims, bystanders and other sportspeople to become ‘whistleblowers’ in order to continue to challenge the ‘lad culture’ that seems to exist in football”

During the trial at Bradford Crown Court, Johnson claimed he told Sunderland’s chief executive Margaret Byrne “everything from the start” and that he had kissed a 15-year-old fan. Following his arrest, he was suspended. However, this suspension was lifted 16 days later with him then playing nine months of football, during which he earned £2m.

Sunderland FC have now issued a lengthy statement denying they were aware of Johnson’s intentions to plead guilty and would have sacked him earlier if they did. The statement added that Johnson’s claim he informed the club of his intentions “is utterly without foundation and is refuted in the strongest possible terms.”

‘Lad culture’

In response to Johnson’s guilty verdict, football fans have also taken to social media and some of the responses following Johnson’s conviction highlight the way ‘lad culture’ can trivialise and normalise the issue.

Breaking the Silence

When victims are subjected to abuse by a famous footballer, it can be extremely difficult to report it; they feel they won’t be believed and there is a risk of victim-blaming and trivialisation from football fans. Not only did Ched Evans’ victim experience the worst victim-blaming ever seen in this country after moving house five times because she was repeatedly named on social media, but she will have to relive this ordeal again when his conviction is reviewed later this month.

Similarly, Adam Johnson’s victim was subjected to bullying and abuse when her name and picture were unlawfully posted online. She was called a “slag” who was “making it up”, or a “slut” who must have lured the footballer by claiming she was over 18.

We need to enable and support victims, bystanders and other sportspeople to become ‘whistleblowers’ in order to continue to challenge the ‘lad culture’ that seems to exist in football. In the US, the Major League Baseball Players Association have done this by suspending Ardolis Chapman for 30 games after domestic violence allegations from his girlfriend. This action demonstrates a strong statement that the MLBPA does not condone this sort of behaviour and are adhering to the sport’s new policy on domestic violence.

Since 2014, debates have emerged that question whether sportspeople should be able to return to compete after a conviction involving a sexual offence, and be positioned on a pedestal where they continue to hold wealth, power and be glorified in the public eye. But should footballers be granted this much power in the first place.

This article was originally published on IBTimes. Read the original article.

Why sportspeople convicted of violence against women forfeit their right to be ‘stars’

By Helen Owton and Lisa Lazard

When Floyd Mayweather took on Manny Pacquiao last year in what was billed as the “fight of the century”, the pair of us made the conscious decision not to watch the bout, despite an interest in boxing both as spectators and participants.

Unlike some reporters, who claimed to be banned from watching it – ours was a defiant choice because we were more concerned with what it must have been like for the victims of Mayweather’s domestic violence. We were – and are – disappointed that a sportsperson so lacking in moral character is afforded celebrity and status. Whatever you may or may not think about the sport of boxing, violence outside the ring is never ok and yet too often the men (because it is overwhelmingly men who engage in domestic violence) are looked up to as role models.

Mayweather was sentenced to jail for three months after being found guilty for attacking his partner, Josie Harris. The boxer, who committed the offence in front of his two children – who heard him threaten to make her “disappear” – was allowed to return to the ring where his legions of fans lionise him for doing in the ring what he was imprisoned for doing in his home. This sends altogether the wrong message on domestic violence.

Back in the limelight: Floyd Mayweather.
Reuters/USA Today Sports

Or take the example of premier league footballer Danny Simpson, who served just 300 hours of community service for attempting to strangle his ex-girlfriend (the mother of his child). This hasn’t prevented him from turning out for his club, Leicester City, who are in poll position to win the league title and their players to make the leap to sporting superstardom.

This is a longstanding debate – and an important one. When Ched Evans wasn’t allowed to return to his club Sheffield United in 2014 – after serving two years of a five year sentence for rape, it allowed society to question whether people who have been convicted of crimes of violence against women should be allowed to continue to occupy the exalted status of “sports star”.

As Charlie Webster stated in her interview, after she resigned from Sheffield United as patron when the club allowed Evans to return to training after his release: “rape is not a trivial subject”. She argued that sexual asssault and violence against women should be taken more seriously than it is, particularly given the psychological and physical consequences of these crimes. Her argument was that whilst she believes in rehabilitation, she does not believe that it is right to put Evans back into exactly the same very privileged position where young boys and girls look up to him.

As it happens, Evans has not played professional football since being released on licence in October 2014 and is appealing his conviction. The case was referred to the Court of Appeal in October 2015.

But the question remains: after a sports star is convicted of crimes of violence against women, is it appropriate that they should be allowed to return to the privileged position they occupied before they offended, where they are undoubtedly role models for young fans? While these sportspeople are undoubtedly skilled and talented, is it fair that this ability overshadows the trauma they caused to their victims whose welfare is all-too-often forgotten.

Role models

If sportspeople are often seen as role models a sportsperson cannot be judged only on their sporting success because young people who choose their role models judge them on their moral character as well. Sportspeople seem to be celebrities who hold power and are given, as David Marshall wrote in his book: Celebrity and Power: “a voice above others, a voice that is channelled into the media system as being legitimately significant”.

What sort of messages do we give the younger generation if we allow people who have been convicted of abuse to continue to be sporting heroes and celebrated on a world stage where they continue to hold power and be glorified? Does this merely serve to trivialise the seriousness of domestic abuse and violence against women. When we see the Twitter jokes about Mayweather and DV during such events it’s clear that we still have a long way to go for the public to recognise the seriousness of domestic violence.

Journalist Lucy Hunter Johnston believes “a convicted rapist couldn’t be a teacher, doctor or police officer”. Shouldn’t “sports star” be among this list as well, given that “boys look up to footballers, not their Dads” and the link between major football tournaments and an increase in domestic abuse.

And if some sport stars are uniting to support the Violence Against Women campaign then doesn’t this seem to be a valuable argument to include “sports star” among this list to recognise that any violence against women is not tolerated in sport?

More than 26,000 people have signed a petition launched recently by Women’s Aid that calls for better protection of children in families with a history of domestic violence – showing that there is a widespread acceptance of the serious implications of domestic violence. But at the same time, while everyone seems to believe the general principle that violence against women is wrong, public perceptions suggest that they all too often let celebrities off the hook.

Should we give celebrities extenuating circumstances or is it too difficult to comprehend that after years of personal investment of following a celebrity or a sportsperson, we could be wrong about them? Let’s face it, regardless of how much public information we receive about celebrities or how well we think we know sportspeople we won’t know what goes on “behind closed doors”.

The Conversation

Helen Owton, Lecturer in Sport & Fitness, The Open University and Lisa Lazard, Lecturer in Psychology, The Open University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Blindside of Rugby Six Nations: Where are the women?

By Helen Owton

Women’s sport tends to receive less coverage in the media than men’s sport making female sports role models less available to young people, particularly in sports that are more traditionally male dominated such as football and rugby. During the sensational Six Nations 2016, we have seen another example of unequal exposure of sport. Whilst women’s football seems to be increasing their exposure, women’s rugby still have even further to go.

On Saturday 27 February 2016, the TV coverage and social media was trending with #EngvIre #RBS6Nations tweets about the Six Nations game; this was the men’s rugby.  Afterwards, England Rugby sent out the following tweet:

Englandrugby tweet

And requested changing the hashtag to #SendHerVictorious.

England women maintained their unbeaten record by defeating Ireland (13-9). Despite their win, the next two rounds might prove tough for England; will they have the skill, speed, strength and tactics to beat Wales on 12 March 2016 at Twickenham and then France (away) on 18 March 2016? On Sunday 28 February, Wales beat France 10-8 and Italy took their first victory by beating Scotland 22-7 [full fixture list here].

Yet all these sensational women’s Six Nations games had no TV coverage and the fans were left hunting the internet for a link on England Rugby which streamed the England match live. The audience at home were not happy; people all over the world were complaining about the lack of live TV coverage, online streaming problems and the clear disparity of the women’s exposure compared to the men’s.

RL tweet

Mozambique tweet

Whilst the Six Nations website shows the current up-to-date standings for the men’s Six Nations, there is not one for the women’s Six Nations event. The newspaper coverage before and after the Six Nations women’s rugby games was equally poor. In 2016, this disparity simply does not make sense.

Risk and rugby

When Sarah Chester suffered a fatal injury in 2015 after being tackled in a rugby game evoked arguments of whether women should even be playing rugby despite men’s fatal injuries from rugby as well. We’ve seen similar fears in women’s boxing which is a moral (women who box risk fatal injury) in the well-known film Million Dollar Baby. Some might argue that these are fear tactics aimed at putting women off traditionally male-only sports.  However, the inclusion of women’s boxing at the 2012 London Olympics and the 2015 European Games at Baku has been a sign of progress.

Women’s sports media exposure

Since 2012, the talk appears to have been about what legacy was left for women’s sports but there is a very long way to go before there is gender equality in all sports. Despite the growing awareness of gender inequality in sport, it is well documented that women’s sport remains second to men’s sport in many ways (e.g. media coverage, wages, prize money, sponsorship and status), which has wider implications for equality in sport, and in society. Cooky, Messner and Hextrum (2013) reported that televised coverage of women’s sports was at its lowest yet at 1.6%. Whilst coverage increases slightly for major events (e.g. Wimbledon, Olympics), the type of coverage has been subjected to critical analysis. The reportWomen In Sport’ (2015, p. 3) produced the following figures on women’s media coverage:

  • Women’s Sport makes up 7% of all sports media coverage in the UK
  • Just over 10% of televised sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sport
  • 2% of national newspaper sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sport
  • 5% of radio sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sport
  • 4% of online sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sport

Additionally, they found that women’s sport received 0.4% of reported UK sponsorship deals in sport between 2011-2013. This sponsorship gives further greater exposure to men’s sport. Fink (2014) argues that “female athletes and women’s sport still receive starkly disparate treatment by the sport media commercial complex compared to male athletes and men’s sport” (p. 331). It’s 2016 and the way women’s rugby was reported demonstrated how rugby is still rated as second-class to the men’s. This then feeds messages that rugby (and other sports) participation is more appropriate for boys and men than for girls and women; that women are naturally inferior to men, and that women’s sport is less important than men’s sport. A lack of exposure to skilful sportswomen from a broad range of sports in the media could be a reason why the use of derogatory ‘like a girl’ comments perpetuates.

Whilst an argument could be made that there isn’t enough money generated in the women’s game to pay women higher salaries, improving the media coverage to the 9.63 million viewers who watch men’s rugby might generate the interest in women’s rugby thus improving their wages and the value of women’s sport. However, arguing for media coverage to be increased is difficult in light of the seemingly lack of value placed on women’s sport. If a report in 2015 on business leadership roles estimates that without any more efforts to promote women’s equality in management, it will take 100 to 200 years to achieve gender parity, then how long will it take to achieve gender parity in all sports? Given the statistics and the missed opportunity for the British press to report a double win in the women’s and men’s rugby Six Nations this week, the future looks long and winding.

The rugby world does seem to be making an effort to challenge stereotypes (e.g. Link to advert) and raise exposure (#SendHerVictorious) and respect to the women’s game but it’s about time the public and the media gave the women’s rugby the conversion they deserve!

  • Gender in sport is explored in our new module E314.

Why Tyson Fury’s sexist and homophobic comments make him unfit for BBC Sports Personality of the Year

By Helen Owton

One could be forgiven for being under the misapprehension that the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year accolade should be about more than a sportsman or woman’s exploits on track, field, court or ring. The clue’s in the name: “personality”. Most of us, I would think, would expect that the honour should be bestowed on someone whose achievements and bearing have struck a particular chord with the public, and have elevated their sport beyond the physical achievement. Apparently not.

I have to declare an interest here. I am among the 77,000 and more who have signed a petition (available here) pressurising the BBC to remove boxer Tyson Fury from its shortlist for Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) on the grounds that his shockingly sexist and homophobic remarks show him to be a man whose personality gives absolutely no grounds for celebration, still less for an award.

Fury’s comments include remarks about fellow SPOTY nominee Jessica Ennis-Hill’s appearance, saying that she “slaps up good” and “looks quite fit when she’s got a dress on”.

In response to the widespread public condemnation of his remarks, Fury has denied being sexist and his wife Paris has defended the boxer as his “show side” but he has continued his vile stream of unconsciousness telling critics in an interview with IFLTV’s Kugan Cassius that they can “suck my balls” and called those who have signed the SPOTY petition as “50,000 wankers”.

I’m a little bit backward I didn’t really go to school so which part of “a woman looks good in a dress” was sexist?… I stand up for my beliefs. My wife’s job is cooking and cleaning and looking after these kids, that’s it. She does get to make some decisions – what she’s gonna cook me for tea when I get home… She’s a very privileged woman to have a husband like me.

It’s also fairly disturbing that Cassius appears to agree with these sentiments.

Jessica Ennis: role model and high achiever.
Reuters/Damir Sagolj

Fury has been unrepentant since, as his Twitter comments amply illustrate:

 

Not only have his comments been sexist, but he continues this verbal diarrhoea by attempting to frame his homophobic beliefs as embedded in Christianity saying “the bible doesn’t lie”. Fury told Oliver Holt:

There are only three things that need to be accomplished before the devil comes home: one of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other one’s paedophilia. Who would have thought in the 50s and 60s that those first two would be legalised?

This link between paedophilia and homosexuality is not only extremely harmful but against the law. However, these laws brought in by the Equality Act in 2010 do not seem to be protecting women and LGBT people from this sort of discrimination.

Once again, I’m disappointed that a sportsperson lacking in such moral character has been able to receive exposure that celebrates his aggressive sporting prowess but ignores the greater problem that can be spread by these harmful beliefs. Many sports can be misused as an arena for promoting a skewed brand of heterosexual masculinity which feeds sexism and homophobia into all sports – whether played by men or women.

Fury’s brand of sexism and homophobia only serves to reinforce these findings. When these sorts of attitudes are evident and accepted in sport, it is hardly surprising that athletes have fears of “coming out” and sportswomen feel less valued.

The harm of invincibility

Of course, there’s no suggestion that this applies to Fury, but when athletes believe that they are invincible, above the law, or incapable of being hurt they can undermine respect for authority or social norms and can result in criminal activity or deviant behaviour because they believe that the “jock culture” of which they are a part takes precedence over any other authoritative structures outside their sporting world.

Indeed, a large body of research suggests that competitive sporting environments provide a unique socio-cultural context that offers possibilities for sexual abuse and exploitation to take place. For example, findings in one study indicated that male college student-athletes were responsible for a significantly higher percentage of reports of sexual assault on the campuses of Division I institutions (the highest level of intercollegiate athletes). Another study showed that while male college athletes made up only 3.3% of the collegiate population, they represented 19% of sexual assault perpetrators and 35% of domestic violence perpetrators.

Meanwhile challenging homophobia in sport can be an intimidating task, particularly when the person handing out the abusive comments appears to be so intimidating and invincible. But nevertheless, some sports are raising their game – rugby, for example, rising to the challenge of promoting awareness of gay issues. It seems to be making a big effort to challenge homophobia, which also could enable a much less narrow definition of masculinity to be accepted in rugby.

Perhaps boxing should follow the example of men’s rugby? The BBC could help this shift by removing Fury from their list. It would certainly help the sport of kings climb off the canvas when it comes to promoting acceptable behaviour among its stars.

The Conversation

Helen Owton, Lecturer in Sport & Fitness, The Open University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Paralympians makes waves on the world stage but disability reform is badly needed

By Helen Owton

When I was at the Paralympic Games in 2012, I saw a person walk up to a woman in a wheelchair wheeling herself up a slope, grab the handles of her chair and start pushing her up the hill, much to the annoyance and surprise of the woman in the wheelchair. My friend brushed it off as someone only wanting to help, but I saw it as ignorance and a lack of respect, displayed in a venue where we were supposed to be widening our horizons about what disabled athletes can achieve.

Despite progress, negative public attitudes, ignorance and awkwardness about
disability prevail. According to a report by Scope, 67% of the British public feel uncomfortable talking to disabled people and 36% of people tend to think of disabled people as not as productive as everyone else. These attitudes affect every aspect of disabled people’s lives – in the playground, at work, in shops, on the street.

After the London 2012 Games, former Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thomson said it was important to remember how everyone felt in the euphoria of Britain’s success in the Paralympics, but that they are not everyday reality.

While there appeared to be progression on people’s attitudes towards disability at the time, she argued that “more still needs to be done to shift perceptions towards disabled people”. Grey-Thomson points out that disabled people are portrayed as Paralympian superheroes, “benefit scroungers” or victims – but not all three together.

The IPC World Championships in Qatar is an opportunity for these attitudes to be challenged again.

Athletes such as Stef “the blade stunner” Reid from Leicestershire are stretching the boundaries of what is expected of disabled people. She is not only a Paralympian, but also a model who became the first Paralympian amputee to be part of London Fashion week.

Earlier this year, Great Britain’s David Weir won silver in the London Marathon wheelchair race and will compete in the 1,500m and 5,000m against his rival Marcel Hug, “the Swiss Silver Bullet”, in Doha.

The first day of the IPC Athletic World Championships saw six world records smashed; one of these was Great Britain’s Sophie Hahn who won the women’s 100m long jump. Aled Davies also won gold in the shot put where he threw a championship record of 14.95m.

These stories stand in stark contrast to the lives of many disabled people living in the country she is representing on the world stage.

The UK welfare state that was developed as a way of supporting those who were sick, unemployed or who suffered injury is being eroded. We’ve seen a great deal of change to all of these benefits in recent years which has had a detrimental impact; 2,380 people have died after undergoing a work capability assessment (WCA) between 2011-2014 after being told they were “fit for work”.

As Grey-Thomson argues, we should be linking up politics, education, sport, and health and developing more NHS programmes, such as My Voice, My Wheelchair, My Life, which can transform wheelchair services for users and their families.

While athletes might be role models and provide inspiration to others, they can’t be the sole driver behind the need to change attitudes; they can only be part of the change towards a more equitable society. David Weir argues that the momentum has been lost since 2012 and 2013 but let’s hope there is sufficient media coverage so that we are well informed leading into Rio 2016.

The Conversation

Helen Owton, Lecturer in Sport & Fitness, The Open University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The IPC Athletic World Championships: World Class Athletes to watch

By Helen Owton & Karen Howells

Doha, Qatar’s largest growing city and economic centre of Qatar modern will host the IPC Athletics World Championships between 21st and 31st October. Against a backdrop of pollution and in a city that was built on the pearl trade, British athletes will compete amongst 1,300 athletes from 90 countries in a variety of track and field events across a number of different classifications. The IPC has revealed a list of 33 athletes, including a number of British athletes to look out for. Here we look at a selection of those to watch as this is the last major event before Rio Paralympics 2016.

2015 IPC Athletics World Championships, Doha, Qatar

Aled Davies – F42 Discus and Shot Put

Like many successful athletes Aled Davies came from a sports-loving family; as a child he was a good rugby player, a strong swimmer and was selected to swim for Wales. However, at the age of 14, he was invited to try-out for athletics with a group of elite Paralympians which introduced Davies to the throwing events. Born with hemimelia of the right leg, Davies announced to his parents whilst watching the 2004 Athens Paralympic games that he wanted to win a Paralympic gold medal. In 2012, his dream became a reality when he won Gold in the F42 discus and a bronze medal in the shot put. Not only has he won Paralympic medals, but he is the current World and European Champion in the discus and the shot put and World record holder in F42 shot put. Last year, however, appeared to be a difficult year for him. At the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in the F42/44 discus he felt he was thwarted in the final to lose to England’s Dan Greaves and returned to Wales with a silver medal. The year also saw him make the decision to leave his coach of nine years to work with Cardiff’s Ryan Spencer-Jones. Under the guidance of his new coach, these World championships see him lighter, stronger, more technical and more motivated towards medal success; this will be the opportunity to put the disappointment of the last year behind him and to further lay the foundations for success in Rio next year.

Sophie Hahn – T38 100m and 200m

Eighteen year old Sophie Hahn is like any other fun-loving teenager from Leicestershire, she enjoys music, loves animals and enjoys watching rugby. Her friends from her last school affectionately called her Chicken; a derivative of the German meaning of her surname. Like many other girls her age she was enthused by London 2012 and was inspired to join her local Athletics club. But unlike other girls her age Sophie is a World Champion and a World Record Holder in her sport. Only a year after she started running in 2012, Hahn, who has cerebral palsy, competed as a novice at the 2013 IPC Word Championships at the age of 16. At this competition, she faced another novice to international sport in the T38 200m starting a rivalry that is likely to be continued against the backdrop of Doha. Hahn, won her qualifying heat of the 200m with a time of 27.56, a championship record, however, the accolade was short-lived as Veronica Hipolito from Brazil beat her in the final taking both the gold medal and the championship record. Two days later, Hahn turned the tables in the 100m, shattering Hipolito’s world record which had been set in the semi-finals to win gold. Even going beyond this rivalry the T38 class promises to be highly competitive with Russia’s 100m Paralympic and European champion Margarita Gonchorova and China’s 200m Paralympic gold medallist Junfei Chen both vying for medal success.

Hannah Cockcroft, MBE

As a role model to Sophie Hahn, the unbeaten four-time world champion ‘Team Hannah’ is aiming to win three world titles in 2015. At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, she won 100m and 200m T34 titles and she is set on retaining her world titles at the next World Championships. Having proved her dominance in the sprint events, ‘Hurricane Hannah’ has now set herself a new goal of winning gold in the 800m which appears to be the event she is most determined to win. Last year she won gold at the IPC European Championships in T34 100m and T34 800m. Also, at the IPC Grand Prix she three gold medal; T34 100m, 200m, and 800m, beating Australian rival Rosemary Little. She hold the world record in 4 events: T34 100m (17.31), 200m (30.51), 400m (59.42), 800m (2:04.49) While she keeps a very impressive catalogue of world records and medals, Cockcroft appears to be sufficiently motivated to balance her training with her academic studies by completing a Journalism and Media degree at Coventry University. As she says, “You have to keep working to keep winning”.

Stef ‘the blade stunner’ Reid

Stef Reid is also from Leicestershire; she started competing for Great Britain in 2010. In 2011, she won bronze medals in the 200m and long jump at the IPC Athletics World Championships. In the last Paralympics in London 2012, she won Silver in the T42-44 long jump. In 2013, she had a difficult year, but in 2014 she was back to her best (if not better) by setting a new long jump T44 world record in Glasgow. Also, she appears to be stretching the boundaries for disabled people. She is not only a Paralympian (2014 T44 European long jump Champion; London 2012 T42-44 long jump silver), but also a role model who became the first Paralympian amputee to be part of London Fashion week as a catwalk model which also helps raise the profile of women, Paralympians and disability. The forthcoming the IPC Athletics World Championships will be an opportunity to show off her form in preparation for her aims of winning gold in the Rio Paralympic Games next year.

Stef Reid: A life-changing ambition to win Gold

There are too many world class GB athletes to single out in this article, but we also recommend watching out for Richard Whitehead (T44 200m gold medallist in 2012), Jonnie Peacock (T44 100m gold medallist in 2012), David Weir (800m, 1500m, 5,000m and marathon gold medallist in 2012), Paul Blake (silver in T36 400m and bronze in T36 800m in 2012), the SportAid one to watch – Hollie Arnold (ranked No 1 in the world), and newcomer Sophie Kamlish (T44 100m and 200m). David Weir argues that the momentum has been lost since 2012 and 2013 but this is an exciting event not to be missed as this is probably the last big event before the Rio Paralympic Games 2016.

1 Year To Go until the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games

Raising the profile of The OU Sport & Fitness Team – Please RT!

By Caroline Heaney & Helen Owton


At the FELS Learning and Teaching conference in October 2015, Caroline Heaney and Helen Owton gave a presentation on “Using social media to raise your profile”. The aim of the presentation was to share the Open University (OU) Sport and Fitness Team’s experience of using social media and consider whether this had worked in raising the profile of the qualification area. This article provides a summary of the key metrics discussed in the presentation.

IDidntKnowSport and fitness qualifications have been available at the OU since 2008, yet anecdotally knowledge of the availability of these did not appear widespread. Using social media was identified as a low-budget strategy for raising the profile of the qualification. The social media strategy adopted by the Sport and Fitness team primarily involves the use of three media – Twitter, team blog and The Conversation.

Twitter

TwitterThe OU Sport and Fitness Twitter account was launched in October 2012 and has created 1,316 tweets collecting 640 followers to date which consists of students, Associate Lecturers, Open University accounts and others. This is mainly used to share relevant articles, engage with students and direct traffic to the blog. The @OU_Sport Twitter account currently has a ‘Klout score’ (measure of online impact) of 45, which is slightly above the average of 40.

Blog

BlogThe OU Sport and Fitness team blog was started in February 2014. It was initially only active during major sporting events (e.g. Winter Olympics/Paralympics, Commonwealth Games), but has been active all year round since May 2015. To date, there have been 85 posts (mean: 5 posts/month) written by all 8 members of the academic team team. Engagement from the entire team is key to the success of the blog. The articles posted on the blog are also sometimes posted in other locations (e.g. OpenLearn, The Conversation), and are publicised through Twitter and the Faculty Facebook page.  Data collected since May 2015 shows that the blog receives an average of 1,173 page views per month (range 707-1,819), with a high percentage of new visitors (mean = 85%). The blog is predominantly viewed by UK audiences, but does have a worldwide audience.

The Conversation

ConversationThe Conversation is “a collaboration between editors and academics to provide informed news analysis and commentary that’s free to read and republish”. It therefore provides a platform for academics to disseminate academic knowledge in an accessible format. The Sport and Fitness team have published 21 articles in The Conversation to date. The Conversation has a wide reach and at 17th September 2015 articles written by the team had received 63,354 views, which equates to a mean of 3,017 views per article (20 articles) and a range of 640-17,239 views per article.

Is it worth it?

The team believe that engaging with social media has been highly effective in raising the external profile of Sport and Fitness at The Open University. Additionally, the team have derived further benefits through engaging with social medial such as being able to communicate with students, developing a sport and fitness community, and disseminating research findings more widely.

Thank you to everyone who has followed, supported and re-tweeted us.

 

Twitter https://twitter.com/OU_Sport

Blog http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/OU-Sport

The Conversation https://theconversation.com/uk

 

 

What learning style are you?

All students vary in their style of learning and whilst some are quite critical of ‘learning styles’ perhaps they might be a helpful concept in which to guide you towards learning experiences that suit your style. Learning styles may be described as characteristic preferences for alternative ways of absorbing and processing information (Litzinger, Wise, & Felder, 2007). This concept was originally proposed by Kolb (1984) who devised a learning cycle, which incorporates four main approaches to learning:

  1. Concrete Experience                             (Feeling)
  2. Reflective Observation                         (Watching)
  3. Abstract Conceptualisation                 (Thinking)
  4. Active Experimentation                       (Doing)

Whilst, to some extent, every student should respond to each of the learning styles, everyone will inevitably have a preferred learning style and respond to this more and it appears that the majority of sport science students tend to lean more towards being ‘active learners’.

Felder and Solomon (2007) have found that a ‘guided discovery’ form of teaching helpful in the long term. Furthermore this style of teaching can promote more mastery and less performance-focused teaching behaviours andmore adaptive cognitive and affective responses than the command/practice style (Morgan, Kingston, & Sproule, 2005). That’s why the activities that we include can be beneficial for promoting more task orientated learning.

A more detailed model has been adapted and developed and these combined styles may help you understand your learning styles even further.

Accommodating           –          Feeling and doing

Diverging                     –            Feeling and watching

Converging                   –           Thinking and doing

Assimilating                 –           Thinking and watching

Kolb's LS

As you can see from the model, Felder and Soloman (2007) further extend previous ideas of learning types. Not only are there ‘active’ and ‘reflective’ learners, there are also ‘sensing’ and ‘intuitive’ learners; ‘visual’ and ‘verbal’ learners; ‘sequential’ and ‘global’ learners; understanding which learning style you might be beneficial for you.

If you need a bit of assistance, then take an ‘informal test’ to see what learning style might suit you best (remember to take these results with a ‘pinch of salt’).

Allow 10-15 minutes

http://www.clinteach.com.au/assets/LEARNING-STYLES-Kolb-QUESTIONNAIRE.pdf

Guinness and Gareth Thomas rugby tackle homophobia

By Helen Owton

With the Men’s Rugby World Cup about to start, the sport of rugby appears to be making strides to tackle homophobia in sport. The most recent TV advert from Guinness stars Gareth Thomas telling his story about coming out in rugby.

The Out on the Field (2015) survey found that 60% of gay men and 50% of lesbians have been subjected to homophobia in sport which means that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people in sport must regulate conversations, behaviour and identities on a daily basis because of the implications of ‘coming out’. The assumption in rugby that as well as being aggressive and competitive, all ‘real men’ must be heterosexual means that ‘gay’ becomes a derogatory identity label and an abnormal lifestyle. The Guinness advert challenges this stance and perhaps shows that attitudes are starting to shift.

Researchers who have studied issues of gays in sports largely agree that organised sports are highly homophobic (Anderson, 2002) although there is some more recent debate about whether men’s heterosexual ‘gay’ behaviours (e.g. kissing each other on the mouth) indicates more openness and acceptance (Anderson, 2005). This TV advert is a step towards even more openness and acceptance.

Gareth talks about how he hid his sexual identity and his feelings, however when an individual feels unaccepted and alienated from society problems can occur. Whilst in this advert he refers to his sexuality as being ‘so minor’, in his autobiography, Gareth discloses how he felt during an all-time low:

“The more I thought, the more self-loathing I generated, the more attractive suicide seemed […] The sea was grey and merged with the horizon. Standing there, on the edge of the cliff, it all seemed so easy. A single step and I’d walk off, into the sky. No more pain. No more loneliness. No more lies. No more causing chaos for people that I loved” (Thomas, 2014, p.155-156)

Evidently, it’s not easy for sportspeople to ‘come out’ because of the homophobia they feel they might experience from fans and from their team mates that they share changing rooms with. Homophobia is deeply embedded in the hidden codes of narrow forms of heterosexual masculinity which rests on the belief that to be a ‘real man’ you’re not gay.

Like Gareth Thomas, gay men come out because many report feelings of ‘living a lie’ and feel isolated and alienated from society when they are hiding a part of themselves. He was fortunate enough to receive a positive and assuring response from his friends, family, rugby coaches and teammates which will hopefully mean that more sportspeople will feel more comfortable about coming out to their teammates.

For Gareth Thomas to ‘come out’ not only challenges heteronormative assumptions about sexuality in sport and promotes diverse sexualities, it enables athletes to feel open and proud of themselves for who they are. It helped to affirm his sense of self that his sexuality was respected and accepted by others as well.

However, you don’t have to be gay to challenge these assumptions; James Haskell and Ben Foden have both posed for Attitude (gay magazine) and Ben Cohen works to eliminate homophobia through his StandUp Foundation.

The sub culture of rugby seems to be raising awareness of gay issues and seems to be making a big effort to challenge homophobia which also could enable a much less narrow definition of masculinity to be accepted in rugby. Furthermore, Guinness appear to be using their brand to tell stories of adversity and ‘double lives’ in rugby, for example, Ashwin Willemse’s story of becoming a Springbok:

This topic will be covered in a new OU Sport and Fitness module coming soon.