The first episode of “Clear The Air” welcomes Lauren Smith, associate professor and researcher of sports media at Indiana University’s Media School. Smith joins Mina Denny to discuss and examine the reality of the mass media’s representations, or rather, misrepresentations, of female athletes.
Aside from her professional work, Smith has had her own personal connection with being a woman in sports, as she was an all-American gymnast growing up and continued her athletic career as a Division I springboard diver in college. In this episode, Denny and Smith investigate the impact that media portrayals have on not only a female athlete’s self-objectification, but how women in sport tend to socially compare themselves to other athletes while struggling to comply with unrealistic expectations of maintaining this “woman first, athlete second” standard.
As the common debate that sports are primarily a masculine domain persists, Smith proclaims that while “women right now make up about 44 to 45 percent of all the athletes in the country, they get only about 3 to 4 percent of the total media coverage, (and) the rest of the coverage is dominated by men.”
With an increased frequency regarding gender discrimination in the media, Smith explains that “these sexualized images come forward, images of them being mothers, girlfriends, or wives still persist,” holding women to the belief that their status in athletics is subordinate to that of male athletes.
Social media allows women to break down sexist barriers concerning gender stereotypes, as they can challenge suppositions about a female athlete’s athletic potential and physical appearance. This allows athletes in the 21st century such as Simone Biles, Kendall Coyne Schofield, and Sha’Carri Richardson to make strides in establishing themselves in the sports world, while inspiring younger female athletes.
Media exposure of women who differ from the norm provide a more positive effect, Smith says.
“If we’re seeing pictures of female athletes who are strong, who are muscular, who have six-packs, who have different body sizes, it lets the collective us know that you don’t have to fit into this one mold.” Smith said. “There’s a lot of different ways to be.”
Concluding on the notion of awareness, women are beginning to revolutionize what it means to be a female in sport, as athletes today are creating and pushing towards more equal representation and opportunities.