As with breaking into any male-dominated career field, female sportscasters have endured a great amount of criticism regarding their abilities and knowledge in the sports industry. Women like Lesley Visser, Hannah Storm, and Erin Andrews have paved the way for women by proving that it is possible for women to make it big in sports along side of men. The numbers of successful women professionals in the sports industry continues to raise year after year, however, so do stereotypical gender criticisms. As public viewers, we are not exposed to the daily struggles and harassment that these women go through on a daily basis by being a woman in a male dominant profession. The following blog will focus on these gender-biased viewpoints and how gender affects credibility, creates double standards, and alters the public’s perception of female sportscasters.
The first gender-biased stereotype surrounds the idea that female sportscasters are inferior and less credible to their male counterparts simply because they are not a male (hence they can’t possibly know anything about sports). Okay, am I missing something, or is this stereotype basically implying that females are unable to enjoy or research sports to the capacity that men can? Regardless of your sex, sports journalists are required to do a large amount of outside research and work just as hard as male sports journalists do. Sure, the majority of women on the sidelines have a pretty face, but that pretty face is almost always accompanied by a knowledgeable discussion that comes out of that pretty mouth.
Oregon Ducks Sportscaster Jill Savage stresses the importance of doing ones research in order to compensate for this credibility issue in a short creative film thesis by Jillian Kay. “…read everything, know absolutely everything so you can answer any questions so if they do ask you something, you know the answer. You have to work a lot harder to gain their respect right off the bat because they think that you’re just a pretty face and that’s why you got the job (Savage, 2011)”. In the interview, Savage stresses how important it is for female sportscasters to be correct constantly in order to be valued as credible and that just one mishap can destroy ones credibility.
The second gender-biased stereotype deals directly with the appearance aspect of female sportscasters. This stereotype focuses on the belief that female sportscasters only make it in the sports industry by being beautiful. Yes, I will not argue that good looks can help an individual secure an interview for a job. However, those that believe in this gender-biased stereotypical belief cannot apprehend how difficult it is for female sportscasters to balance a line of femininity once they land a career in sports casting on television. Women in any profession, especially those on television, are expected to meet the social definition of femininity, yet also meet the criteria for professionalism. The television audiences make it known whom they want to watch and who they find attractive on television by criticize outfits, hairstyles, make-up, etc. Women are expected to avoid conservative clothing without being too suggestive, which often times creates a double standard for women sportscasters. This double standard creates a damned if you do, damned if you don’t type of situation for sportscasters. For example, if a man tries to dress attractive, he won’t get penalized, however, if a woman tries to dress attractive she will be walking a fine line and will often end up getting scrutinized by the public eye.
This issue of femininity goes beyond dress and ones physical appearance. Personality qualities such as assertiveness and confidence are often scrutinized and are commonly considered as being “unfeminine” due to its frequent association with being a male dominant personality characteristic. Because of this, females are often regarded as being too “pushy” or sometimes even going so far as being considered a bitch for simply trying to compete along side their male counterparts. University of California, Berkeley Linguist Professor Robin Lakoff suggests that women in male dominant professions often are caught between two forms of male prejudice based on the type of language they use. According to Lakoff (1973, 1975), when women use tentative language (i.e. hedges, disclaimers, and tag questions), men seem to enjoy conversation but often perceive the woman using the tentative language to be unintelligent and incompetent. However, when women avoid using tentative language, men tend to view them as intelligent and competent while also ostracizing them for being unfeminine and referring them to names such as iron maiden and bitch. This connection that Lakoff makes between language use and gendered stereotypes directly relates back to the double standard that female sportscasters encounter on a daily basis. If ones appearance on television wasn’t enough for a woman professional to worry about, now she must worry about sounding too masculine? Give me a break.
The media and public’s perception make up the final gender-biased criticism that can make or break a female sportscaster’s career on the sidelines. Often times, the media primarily focuses its attention on the non-sport related issues such as: what the female sportscasters are wearing, who they are dating, or how their hair looked during their interview, which ultimately causes the viewer to lose focus on the interview itself. Because of this, female sportscasters lose credibility simply because their interview alone does not receive public attention. Heather Dinich, sports reporter for The Baltimore Sun, suggests that the public’s perception of female sportscasters is shaped falsely in regards to their work ethic in the sports industry. “… that is what has translated into the public perception - not standing on a practice field at 7:45 a.m., or leaving a press box alone after midnight. It's Playboy.com's poll to find "America's Sexiest Sportscaster," not an Emmy for the work they've done” (Dinich, 2005).
In a short creative film thesis called Female Sportscasters: Challenging a Male-Dominated Industry, Rebecca Force, a Broadcast Journalism instructor at the University of Oregon shares her experiences of being a news director. Force explains how she frequently received more calls from the public commenting on her female anchors hair than she received about the quality of any of their reporting or journalism that they shared with the public (Force, 2011). Force’s comments ultimately validate the public’s obsession over physical appearances on television.
Unfortunately, this stereotype is not likely to change in the near future. The pressures that media place on women by evaluating their physical appearances create an unsteady future regarding equality in this male dominant industry of sports. According to a study conducted by university researchers Marie Hardin & Stacie Shain (2005), the majority of the respondents to their survey believed that opportunities for women are better than ever but that female sports journalists have a tougher job than men, due to the fact that they are not taken as seriously by fans in comparison to their male counterparts. This study by Hardin and Shain proves that gender-biased stereotypes create double standards which make these thick-skinned female sportscasters work twice as hard as their male counterparts.
In conclusion, it is evident that it is highly unlikely that the public’s excitement over which outfit Erin Andrews will be wearing for the next Super Bowl appearance will be ending anytime soon. However, women are taking a stand and growing thick skin to survive in this industry and it is being noticed. Erin Andrews or Suzy Kolber ring any bells? These two have proved that women can broadcast sports just as well, if not better than their male counterparts. An inspiring comment made by Rebecca Force during her short interview can act as an inspiring statement for upcoming female professionals in the field. She stated, “You have to be a very good journalist, until there simply aren’t any criticisms left” (Force, 2011). According to all past, present, and aspiring female sports journalists and sportscasters, it is important to recognize and accept the fact that we cannot change the way our audience create evaluations based on ones gender, physical appearances, dress, or public profile. On the other hand, what is important is to demand respect by working hard, providing extensive research, and earning credibility by providing consistently correct answers to questions. By providing these qualities, those who appreciate quality sportscasters will give credibility, which is vital for all women in this industry. To receive credibility when credibility is due, regardless of gender.
Dinich, H. (2005, August 17). The stereotype that won't die hurts women sports reporters' credibility. The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved March 30, 2014
Hardin, M. & Shain, S. (2005, September 1). Female Sports Journalists: Are We There Yet? ‘No’. Newspaper Research Journal, 26(4), 22-32. Retrieved March 30, 2014
Kay, J. Female Sportscasters: Challenging a Male-Dominated Industry [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRoKU1btu2E&list=UULPVz3ptHBeY-1f8NZXlAZw
Lakoff, R. (1973). Language and woman’s place. Language in Society, 2, 45–80.
Lakoff, R. (1975). Language and woman’s place. New York: Harper & Row.