By Helen Owton
As a woman boxer who spends most of my training time in male dominated boxing gyms, gender equality is on the forefront of my mind and particularly so when I sit down to watch a TV program, despite David Bunker’s (BBC’s head of audience research) assertion that it is not. So when the all-female line up on The Clare Balding Show was aired on 8th May 2015 it was liberating and a joy to watch; a reprieve from the typically male dominated distribution of sports guests. Previously to this all-female episode, gender was not distributed equally on the show with just 28% of guests being female and an overriding 72% of guests being male. This was a disheartening statistic given Clare Balding’s historical efforts to raise the profile of women’s sports and a trailblazer as her time as a jockey.
Nonetheless, we have seen a shift to a more gender equal focus on sportswomen in some of the episodes including Charlotte Edwards (CBE, England Cricket Captain and the only woman cricketer to score 2000 runs in T20 Internationals), Anna Watkins (MBE, Olympic rowing gold and bronze medallist, 2 x World Champion), Victoria Pendleton (CBE, Track cyclist, GB’s most successful female Olympian with 2 x Olympic Gold and 1 x silver medals, 9 x World Champion, 2 x European Champion, Commonwealth Games Gold medallist), Charlotte Dujardin (OBE, Dressage Olympic 2 x gold medallist, 2 x World Champion, 3 x European Champion, 2 x World Cup Champion), Martina Navratilova (greatest singles, doubles and mixed doubles player who’s ever lived and human rights campaigner), Judy Murray (Scottish tennis coach, captain of British Fed Cup Team), Toni Duggan (England women’s footballer, Manchester City player), Eniola Aluko (England women’s footballer, Chelsea player) and Susie Wolff (British racing driver, first woman to compete in a Formula One race in 2014 and ambassador for women in sport). Phew, quite an impressive list and not all their sporting achievements are listed here!
Whilst there appears to be a growing acceptance by men (and women) of female presenters (e.g. Sue Barker (MBE), Gabby Logan, Jacqui Oatley and Clare Balding (OBE)) who are respected in sports, there still needs to be more visibility given to women’s sports. Not only does there need to be a greater representation of sportswomen across the sector, but also greater acknowledgement of the prestige and high esteem associated with the achievements of sportswomen. It’s not just that women are appearing more on TV and receiving the much deserved limelight after all their worldly achievements and dedication in their sports, the discussions on TV are starting to open up dialogue about women’s under-valued position in leadership in sport as well. For example, in the last Clare Balding Show, Martina Navratilova commented on Andy Murray’s decision to collaborate with female tennis coach, Amelie Mauresmo, saying, “The ball doesn’t care whether it is a man or a woman coaching the player” (08/05/15). Andy Murray’s recent article shows how this decision has ‘opened his mind’. Let’s just hope this all-female line up was a sign of progression and not a ‘one off’ given next week’s all-male line up again. Women are clearly interested in viewing sportswomen’s achievements together with being represented equally and valued on TV – this show proves that. Although, we have still got a long way to go… next time this all-female line up deserves a whole hour!