Category Archives: Gender

Women’s Sport 2017 is On Fire!

By Helen Owton

The summer of 2017 has been an outstanding season for women’s team sports.

Team success!

In the Netball Quad series earlier this year, the England Roses missed out on the title by just one point to the Australia Diamonds at Wembley. England beat India by just nine runs in a dramatic world cup final at Lords thanks to Anya Shrubsole’s remarkable bowling.

The England football team reached the semi-finals losing to the home nation, Netherlands at EURO 2017 but becoming national heroes. The Red Roses steamed into the Rugby World Cup final with an intense game against the very strong side of New Zealand, the Black Ferns. It wasn’t the happy ending they were looking for but the nation got behind the event to watch two of the best women’s rugby teams in the world.

Record High Viewings!

Not only has the Nation been so successfully in so many different sports, but the public have demonstrated a huge hunger for more! The women’s EURO 2017 viewing statistics hit record highs of 4 million, beating Celebrity Big Brother and the British Bake Off marking the highest audience figures for Channel 4 this year (Kennel, 2017).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L09K1qg1i9c

Earlier in the year, the England v Australia Netball game drew in half a million viewers on BBC2. Women’s cricket is also in high demand selling out Lords with 26,500 people and 1.1 million tuning in to watch the World Cup on Sky (Whaling, 2017). Recently, the Women’s Rugby World Cup, held in Ireland reported a record total attendance of 45,412, a peak of 2.65 million tuning in to ITV in the UK to watch the final between England and New Zealand and a vast increase in social media engagement.

Looking ahead, this trend is likely to build rather than fizzle with 80,000 tickets having already been sold for the Women’s Hockey World Cup 2018. Household names are cashing in on women’s sport with Vitality, Investec, and SSE sponsoring various sports and television companies are battling to secure broadcasting rights for women’s sport. Now, Kia have continued their investment with the Ladies’ PGA deal. It seems that the opportunity to watch women’s sport has never been better and it is an ideal time for other brands to invest.

Indeed, as Sally Munday highlights: “Even more encouragingly, terrestrial TV broadcasters have played a big part in this incredible summer of women’s sport. The UEFA Women’s EURO’s were shown live on Channel 4, the Women’s Rugby World Cup Final was broadcast live in a primetime slot on ITV, and Channel 5 has just announced that it will show women’s cricket domestic highlights in 2018.

Now, when I read about sport or listen to the news, I’m wondering why there isn’t more of a distinction so I know whether they are talking about men’s sport or not. We can’t just say ‘Football’ and assume that it is men’s football.

*Gender and Sport is a topic covered in the E314 module on Contemporary Issues in Sport

UEFA Women’s EURO 2017: The power of ‘Home Advantage’

By Helen Owton

On Sunday 6th August 2017, the Netherlands stormed the final after a stunning 4-2 win against Denmark having knocked out the Lionesses in a surprising win. At the start of the tournament, however, they were ranked 9th with favourites Germany being knocked out by Denmark in the quarter finals. When the hosts win it adds weight to the argument that ‘home advantage’ is a powerful weapon, but surely, home advantage can’t be that powerful?

Home advantage
Firstly, the idea of home for an individual performer may be very different, however, and the concept of ‘home’ is thus one that differs for each sport and its performers. Nonetheless, home advantage is a phenomena which has been a hotly debated contentious issue but appears to be very real. Research on home advantage found that home teams are more likely to win 53-69% of the time (Courneya and Carron, 1992). Indeed, research shows that nations hosting international sporting events can improve their medal count by around 25% (UK Sport, 2011). For example, in London 2012, ‘Team GB’ achieved a 27.8% increase in medal count (47 in 2008; 65 in 2012).

Various reasons have been sought to explain this home advantage phenomena. The presence of a supportive audience appears to be the most critical factor (Cox, 2012) and the size, density and proximity are important aspects to consider when evaluating the influence a crowd has which can activate the autonomic nervous system producing physiological and psychological arousal. This of course could have positive or negative effects on both teams. For example, a home team might feel ‘overwhelmed’ by the pressure of such a momentous occasion but an away team may experience the pressure in a different way.

Other factors include the issue of travelling to distant venues for visiting athletes; the unfamiliarity of stadiums and changing rooms for away teams, for example (Pollard, 2006). Nonetheless, the home advantage is dependent on a number of factors, including the familiarity of surroundings, the effect of travel on the opposition, an evolved response to defend home territory and the impact of the belief that we are more likely to be successful at home. Additionally, some of these factors are interrelated because the home crowd’s support might indirectly influence the thoughts and actions of the referee as well as the opposing team.

Indeed, Lucy Bronze mentions that the game against Netherlands was ‘a different game’ and needed to ‘silence the crowd’ and that referee decisions didn’t go their way.

Referee bias
In the Lionesses versus Netherlands game there were some hotly debated referee decisions. Indeed, referee bias is one of the many factors that contribute to home advantage. The idea that there is an unconscious impact that the home crowd have on refereeing decisions is a contentious one and is obviously hotly disputed by most sporting officials. Nonetheless, it could be that the power and strength of the home crowd subconsciously encourages a referee to go along with a crowd particularly if the decision is open to interpretation.

I think what makes home advantage so impressive is that unexpected teams win and it’s always surprising to watch a low ranked team work their way to victory! There were indeed some other unexpected stories in this year’s women’s EURO 2017.

Unexpected stories
Out of the teams making their debuts in the final this year Austria (ranked 13) quickly became the team to watch as they built on their successes and got strong and stronger after each game until they lost against Denmark (ranked 12th) on penalties (3-0). A great experience for Austria! France were strong contenders but were knocked out by England. Whilst Germany (ranked 1st) dominated the tournament since winning in 1989 making it an impressive total of champions 8 times, they got knocked out by Denmark in the quarter finals opening up the way for a new champion team! The hope was on the England to win the tournament, possibly adding pressure to their game as they played Netherlands. With the large supportive home crowd, it wasn’t to be for England.

Media success of Women’s Football
The fact that there has been a possibility of ‘home advantage’ during this WEURO2017 indicates the large crowd sizes which have been approx. 30,000. Additionally, Channel 4 have shown all the matches and peaked 4 million audience sizes, beating Celebrity Big Brother and Panorama (Sweeney, 2017). A huge leap for women’s football and the misogynistic comments on twitter are becoming an old fashioned dying breed.

I’m sure the nation will be excited about the Women’s World Cup in 2019 which is to take place in France! It will be interesting to watch whether the ‘home advantage’ will have the same results for France.

*Home advantage is a topic covered in E313 Exploring Psychological aspects of athletic development. If you are interested in studying sport and fitness at the OU please visit the ‘study with us’ tab at the top of the page.

References
Corneya, K.S. and Carron, A.V. (1992) ‘The home advantage in sport competitions: a literature review’, Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, vol. 14, pp. 28–39.

Cox, R. (2012) Sport Psychology: Concepts and Applications, New York, McGraw-Hill.

Pollard, R. (2006) ‘Home advantage in soccer: variations in its magnitude and a literature review of the interrelated factors associated with its existence’, Journal of Sport Behavior, vol. 29, pp. 169–189.

Sweeney, M. (2017). England’s Lionesses smash TV audience record in Euro 2017 semi-final, The Guardian, [online, 4 August]. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/aug/04/englands-lionesses-smash-tv-audience-record-euro-2017-semi-final-women-football

UK Sport (2011) ‘Home Advantage – The performance Benefits of Hosting Major Sporting Events’ [online]. Available at www.uksport.gov.uk/docLib/what-we-do/…/Home-Advantage.pdf

Women’s Euro 2017 football preview – all you need to know

Helen Owton, The Open University

As the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup draws towards its conclusion, the summer of women’s sport takes to the football pitch with the UEFA Women’s Euro 2017 competition getting underway on July 16.

It will be the 12th women’s Euro tournament and is hosted by the Netherlands for the first time, who will launch proceedings with a match against Norway in Utrecht. A total of 47 UEFA nations took part in the qualifications for the tournament and this will be the first time the finals will involve 16 teams rather than 12.

In 2015, the FIFA Women’s World Cup also upped its number of teams from 16 to 24, highlighting how women’s football is growing in size and popularity. According to a recent report by UEFA, there are 1.27m registered female players in Europe in 2016-17.

Media coverage of the sport in the UK is improving with Channel 4 announcing that it will be showing all of the games featuring England and Scotland. Other games will be shown on British Eurosport 2.

During the tournament, there will be a focus on increasing the number of women who play football through a campaign called Together #WePlayStrong. It focuses on three key aspects that embody the game: skill, togetherness and positive attitude.

The favourites

Germany, the holders and ranked first in 2017, have dominated the tournament since winning in 1989, lifting the trophy an impressive eight times. They also put an end to Brazil’s winning streak on July 4 2017 in the lead-up to the Euros. They will meet one of their biggest rivals, Sweden, on their opening game on July 17 – a team who are yet to beat them.

Dzsenifer Marozsán, who had a long football career as a junior, has appeared more than 60 times for Germany’s senior team. She is a highly skilled technician with the football who, after being instrumental in winning the Olympic Gold medal in Rio 2016, is one to watch.

France are also strong contenders and have had a successful year so far. They face Iceland first who beat Scotland 4-0 in the qualifying round in June 2016.

The Lionesses

England – known as The Lionesses – made history by finishing third for the first time in 2015, by beating Germany for an extremely well-deserved bronze medal at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015. They are a resilient team and have become female role models to a younger generation.

Since 2015, the team have been building on their success and on July 1 beat Denmark 2-0, with both goals scored by the captain for the game, Ellen White. She is known for scoring one of the best goals in the history of the FIFA World Cup in 2011, and is definitely another player to keep an eye on in this tournament.

The England squad has been announced – and there has been a bit of a shake up. There are some familiar stars from the 2015 world cup, including Fara Williams, Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze, Laura Bassett and Fran Kirby – but also some new names. Demi Stokes (defender), Isobel Christiansen (midfielder), Nikita Parris (striker), and Millie Bright (midfielder) all make their debut for England.

The Lionnesses’s first game, versus Scotland, takes place on July 19 in Utrecht at 19.45 UK time. England are favourite to win their group.

Debutantes to watch

Scotland make their debut in the Women’s Euros this year. The team is ranked 11th but has made strong progress on financial, commercial and equality issues for women’s football in Scotland in the lead up to the Euros. Despite a few injuries, the team demonstrated their form on July 7 beating Ireland 1-0. After they play England they’re lined up to play Portugal, ranked 23rd, and then Spain who are ranked 6th.

Other teams making their debuts in the final this year include Belgium, Austria, Portugal, and Switzerland. Switzerland, in particular, shouldn’t be underestimated.

Key things you need to know

• First game starts: July 16. A full fixture list is available on the UEFA website.

• The top two teams in each of the four groups will progress to the knockout phase.

• The final is on August 6 in Enschede.

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

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

Why are Olympic athletes copping so much abuse? It all comes down to gender

By Helen Owton

Every four years, the Olympic and Paralympic Games burst on to our screens, showcasing a rich variety of sports, athletes and cultures. For those not lucky enough to be in Rio this year, social media has made it possible to share jokes, news, triumphs and disappointments with other viewers from around the world. But with as many as 3.6bn people watching across the globe, it’s almost inevitable that some people won’t like what they see. Already, several athletes have been subject to abuse via mainstream and social media. In one disgraceful case, as the Team GB Rugby Sevens battled it out against Canada for bronze, tweets targeted Olympic athlete Heather Fisher, criticising her appearance. Fisher experiences alopecia – or hair loss – and works as an advocate for others with the same condition. Comments on twitter questioned her womanhood, saying they were “not convinced” that she is “female” and that she’s “the manliest woman I have ever seen”.


 
Sadly, these insults are nothing new to women athletes. All Olympic sports are competitions of skill, speed and strength. Yet when women run too fast, kick too hard, or look too muscular, they are subjected to abuse. At the same time as being world-class athletes, sportswomen are expected to be physically appealing – and even wear make up – while photographs of sportswomen in the media are generally more likely to be sexually suggestive. Those who defend this state of affairs often say it’s a way to attract fans and endorsements to women’s sports – yet women athletes are still paid less than men and their games are given less air time. Men are not immune from discrimination and abuse in sport either. In some ways, men face more limitations on what physical traits are deemed acceptable, thanks to society’s particularly narrow ideas about masculinity. For example, Team GB gymnast Louis Smith was subjected to Twitter trolling when he slipped off the pummel horse, with some claiming that his long hair was to blame, and Ethiopian swimmer Nobel Kiros Habte was publicly shamed over his body weight, and nicknamed “the whale”.

Generally speaking, men are also vulnerable to discrimination in sports which are traditionally “feminine”, such as synchronised swimming, rhythmic gymnastics, figure skating and netball. Indeed, at the Olympics, men are excluded from competing in synchronised swimming and rhythmic gymnastics altogether.

A challenging notion

This widespread sexism at the Olympics shows us that women and men who do not conform to expectations about their respective genders are often targets for abuse.

Caster Semenya leads the way. ABDELHAK SENNA/EPA

This is because they threaten traditional attitudes about the appropriate roles, rights and responsibilities of women and men in society. These traditional attitudes are based on a simple “binary” classification model – where people are classified as either male or female. This model is limited and fixed: it tells us that male and female are “opposite sexes”, that sex is determined biologically (according to chromosomes, reproductive organs, hormones) and that all men are naturally different to all women in terms of their feelings, thoughts and actions. As a result, women are expected to look and behave in a “feminine” way, while men are expected look and behave in a “masculine” way. So many people understand sex and gender in this way that it can be very difficult for us to think about and discuss different ways of understanding gender. Human beings can feel very uncomfortable when other people do not fit neatly into categories, because it challenges preconceived ideas about what it is to be “normal”. And this can lead them to lash out. This model has shaped society – and sporting organisations – for a very long time. It is often drawn on in sports competitions, which are typically organised into “men’s” and “women’s” events. As a result, transgender and intersex athletes such as Caster Semenya and Dutee Chand have to contend with large sporting organisations such as the International Association of Athletics Federations to even be allowed to compete.

All too simple

In reality, the simple binary model actually appears to reflect social and cultural ideas about gender, rather than biological facts. Evidence suggests that gender isn’t entirely binary on any level of physiology or psychology: men and women can both display huge variations in terms of chromosomes, hormones, brain structure, personality and roles in society. There are several good examples of this. Daphna Joel’s research challenges the idea of a “male” or “female” brain: in fact, most people’s brains display a mixture of features. And studies have shown that in marathon races, for example, not all of the men beat all of the women – in reality, some women will beat some men. As radical as this might sound now, it is possible that some point in the future, the fastest marathon runner will be a woman. In light of modern scientific evidence, it’s clear that traditional expectations about what men and women should look like – and how they should behave – are outdated. There is never a good justification for abuse. But the hate directed toward athletes who don’t fit neatly into our ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman is based on ignorant misconceptions about gender. And in some ways, that makes it even worse. Athletes who challenge the mainstream understanding of gender don’t deserve to be bullied – especially after all they have sacrificed to compete for their countries. Rather, they should be praised for showing the world that individual differences can lead to outstanding achievements. The Conversation Helen Owton, Lecturer in Sport & Fitness, The Open University This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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.

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.

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.

‘The Silent Voice’ in dance and ballet

By Helen Owton & Helen Clegg

Dance is generally considered to be more accepting of gay men and research (e.g. Risner, 2009) shows that gay and bisexual men comprise 50% of the male population who dance in the US compared to 4-10% in the general population. However, whilst the dance world may acknowledge the presence of a larger proportion of gay men there remains an implicit homophobia in terms of a demand for heternormative performance (Risner, 2007). Ever mindful of the audience male dancers are expected to conform to a narrow concept of the masculine ideal that perpetuates the heterosexual “norm”. For example, in Risner’s (2009) study one participant, when being encouraged to dance with more strength, was told not to dance “like a fag” by his dance teacher.

As Strictly Come Dancing start their rehearsals, we consider ‘the silent voice’ in dance and ballet. Whilst dance is considered more accepting of homosexuality, the majority of this association is regarded towards the acceptance of gay men in dance, not women. Even discussions about inclusions of a same-sex couple in Strictly Come Dancing only involve gay men. Whilst homophobia in dance exists in different ways in dance (compared to sport) with masculinist comparisons and heterosexist approaches means that there seems to be a kind of quiet internal “acceptance” that obscures larger social issues that makes encounter. However, what strikes us is the lack of visible lesbians in professional dance.

Whilst the sexualising of dance and lesbianism for the purpose of the ‘male gaze’ exists in a pornographic sense, there seems to be a silent voice in professional dance about lesbians. Black Swan received the most complaints about the lesbianism portrayed in the film being pornographic and distasteful; an “overtly sexualised ‘hot-but-non-threatening’ feminine lesbian.” (Dixon, 2015, p.45) In Black Swan, a heterosexual woman was represented as experimenting with other women and seemingly “functioned instead as a kind of ‘sexy’ addendum to female heterosexuality.” (Dixon, 2015, p.45) However, when feminine lesbians are portrayed in this way, “Girl-on-girl action is presented as exciting, fun, but, crucially, as entirely unthreatening to heterosexuality.” (Gill, 2009, p.153)

“It may well be tempting to think that lesbians have equality, recognition achieved, on the basis of the supposed tolerance of the kinds of images made visible and perpetuated through the medium and marketing of films like Black Swan, which are then replicated to convey a similar sentiment in the promotion of places like Sitges as ‘cosmopolitan’. What I am arguing, however, is that whenever and wherever this does occur, we have to be completely and utterly certain that inequalities are not simply being reiterated at the exact moment the opposite is being said to have been achieved; to be certain that is, that in perpetuating and celebrating such representations we are not all simply hiding behind the faces of white masks.” (Dixon, 2015, p. 52)

Lesbians have been more connected to sports (Griffin, 1998) and there is a long standing connection between homophobia/heterosexism and women’s participation in sport (Iannotta & Kane, 2002). Women’s team sports are sometimes seen as an environment that promotes the expression of homosexuality. Does being a female dancer/ballerina render sexuality inauthentic because they are more feminine?

Boulila (2011) describes her experience at an LGB salsa class where one of the women believed that the very fact that she was a lesbian meant that she embodied the very “antithesis of elegance in dance”. This may be linked to the intertwining of the stereotype of “butch lesbians” which has been associated with sports and the idea that female dancers are there to embody heterosexual fantasies of the audience. Such binary categorisations of heterosexual and homosexual women in dance, particularly in ballet, encourages the belief that lesbians just don’t dance. Indeed, when asked to estimate the number of lesbians in their dance company across 36 companies only 1 dancer (a participant of the study) was identified as gay (Oberschneider & Bailey, 1997). Whilst this paper is nearly 20 years old more recent work (see Boulila, 2011) and blogs suggest that the idea of lesbian dancers continues to be believed to be a misnomer. We argue that lesbians do dance they just aren’t “coming out”.

So where does this leave us moving forward for women and lesbians in dance? Whilst it is not their sole responsibility to ‘come out’ it does question why there is such a silent voice of lesbians in dance and also an association between femininity, lesbianism and authenticity. Ballet and other forms of disciplined dance appear to be a closet for lesbians which is why it is so important to have ‘queer’ spaces in dance (e.g. Matthew Bourne) that disrupt gender binary frameworks; Firebird (by Katy Pyle), Ineffable (by Lohse) and the Queer Tango Dance Festival 8-12 July 2015 held in (anti-gay) Russia continue to challenge binary frameworks (e.g. male-female, feminine-masculine) for gay women as well.

References

Boulila, S. C. (2011). You Don’t Move Like a ‘Lesbian’: Negotiating Salsa and Dance Narratives. In 18th Lesbian Lives Conference, University of Leeds.

Dixon, L.J. (2015). Black swans, white masks: Contesting cosmopolitan and double misrecognition in a gay tourist town. Sexualities, 18(1/2), 37-56. Available: http://sex.sagepub.com/content/18/1-2/37.full.pdf+html

Gill, R. (2009). Beyond the ‘sexualization of culture’ thesis: An intersectional analysis of ‘sixpacks’,‘midriffs’ and ‘hot lesbians’ in advertising. Sexualities, 12(2), 137–160

Oberschneider, M. & Bailey, J.M. (1997). Sexual orientation and professional dance. Archives of Sexual behavior, 26(4), 433-444.

Risner, D. (2007) Rehearsing masculinity: challenging the ‘boy code’ in dance education, Research in Dance Education, 8(2), 139-153

Risner, D. (2009) Stigma and Perseverance in the Lives of Boys who Dance. Lampeter, TheEdwin Mellen Press.