Women in sport (or lack thereof) has been floating on the periphery of news at the moment. I certainly wouldn't be the first to remark about the lack of women on the BBC Sports personality of the year award shortlist, nor the first to be concerned with how little media coverage women's sport is given (like the forgotten England team's netball victory).
Some like David Thomas point out that the female media focus on celebrity gossip and beauty and not on sportswomen. He concludes, however, that women don't care about sport and only care about beauty (therefore why should the BBC or any other media make any effort to change). Worryingly a perpetuating cycle is being ignored here. If female media always pump for beauty and celebrity over sports coverage then of course more women will read about this. Not to mention that it is quite hard to read sports coverage in the male media if you don't fancy naked breasts every other page. Let us dig a little deeper though and wonder why are women more interested in beauty than sport? I know plenty of women who like sport (myself included if you hadn't already guessed) but it is not promoted in mainstream female culture. I wonder, who influences girls at a young age to follow celebrities and beauty and boys to follow sport and macho culture? The media of course. They cannot pretend to be passive receivers who merely report what is demanded, when it is evident that they can dictate the demand. Are sport and beauty therefore in direct conflict with one another?
As one of two girls my sister and I were encouraged to play a lot of sport when we were young by both parents but particularly my dad. He admits that as we became teenagers he really felt the competition of the media and society telling us we should be wearing make-up and doing our hair not getting muddy outdoors. It isn't difficult to realise that peer pressure amongst young girls says it's cool to focus on beauty and appearance, whereas for boys it's cool to play sports. This peer pressure is cultivated by society and the media, they are part of the root cause and cannot pretend to be purely symptomatic. Gender divisions begin at a young age. The less interest women have in playing or watching sport at a young age the more they will spend their lives catching up. Moreover we should endeavour to ensure that young girls' interest in sport doesn't taper off when they reach puberty.
Now this isn't to say that the beauty industry is all bad and should be rid of, just it's a shame it monopolises girls' interests and carves out a pigeon hole in which they are supposed to fit. We all know the benefits (such as health, team skills, discipline) sport can bring to the young and old, not to mention that its terrific fun and very sociable (and gives both genders some common interests - see my previous blog post) It seems a great shame that many women miss out. And all this can be rectified by competing with media coverage aimed at women (particularly young girls) so that they have positive role models who can influence what is cool amongst peer groups. What is most frustrating is that there are many talented sportswomen out there who just get shafted in favour of talentless nobodies who piggy back on their partner's careers. Why should more girls follow Coleen Rooney over Rebecca Adlington? Not to mention when progressive moves for women (such as Lancashire men's youth cricket Academy admitting two women for the first time) are also ignored.
We should take advantage of the Olympics in London this year to really challenge the sporting demographic in the UK. But in order to do this the UK media has to give more press coverage to sportswomen - giving them the credit they rightly deserve and in turn more women will take an interest in sport.