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For the Love of the Game: Examining Womens Representation in

Sports
Audiences

Caitlyn Maloney
Co-Cultural Communication
Fall 2015
Dr. Eric Aoki

When I was in fifth grade we were given an assignment to


perform a biography to the class of a famous individual who had
been influential to us in our lifetime. My fifth grade self chose to do a
presentation on John Elway, two-time Super Bowl champion, Pro
Football Hall of Fame quarterback, and lucky number 7, for my beloved
team, the Denver Broncos. It is to no surprise that sports culture is
practically a lifeline in America, the 2014 NFL regular season averaged
17.6 million viewers per game, having 80% of American households
with television tune in for games throughout the week (The Statistics
Portal). Not to mention all the viewers for the MLB, NHL, NBA, and
college sports. In this paper, I argue that although women make up a
large percentage of sports consumers, they are viewed as unauthentic
because of their gender and therefore must negotiate their identities
as both women and sports fans by playing into one role over the other.
First I will look at the history of women audiences of sports, second I
will examine hyper-femininity in sports culture, third I will discuss the
wannabe bro, and lastly I will talk about the implications this has on
our culture.
There have been numerous studies done on the motivations
behind people who watch sports. Many scholars suggest that
traditional gender roles contribute to who watches what sports,
meaning men watch highly competitive sports, whereas women

appreciate sport for the athletes themselves (Ganz et al. 1991).


Considering the values often associated with traditional masculinity,
and sports, it is no surprise that men make up part of the audience of
sports broadcasting, but where do women fit in?
Sports organizations like the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL are all
hugely influential in our culture and provide a prominent discourse on
gender and identity through the messages they send. It is widely
studied and believed that women appreciate watching stylistic sports
such as diving, skiing, and figure skating over combative sports that
feature high competition, physical aggression, and victory of one team
over their opponent (Sargent 2003). This widely popular belief supports
the idea that people watch sports depending on their gender, however,
to me it also seems that sport organizations do not provide women
with feasible options to communicate their love for the game without
them buying into constricting stereotypes.
In recent years, sports organizations have recognized that
women watch and enjoy sports, in order to reach out to this audience,
organizations like the NFL have created products and services to
appeal to women. In recent years we have observed womens clothing
lines appear, like the NBA 4 Her, which create jerseys to fit the
female figure, and other apparel including thong underwear (Clark et
al. 2009). In addition we have watched all-female sport clinics appear
for 18 of the 32 NFL teams, where women can attend a behind the

scenes look at the league and get all of their pressing questions about
the game answered (Clark et al. 2009). This is the first time in history
we have been able to see women fans represented in sports, but the
issue with these products and services is that they draw off of two
things, womens physical appearance and their lack of knowledge on
the game. By only illuminating two stereotypical facets of womens
identities, they are perpetuating gender stereotypes and therefore
directly working against women.
This discourse leaves female audiences of sport with very limited
options to communicate their support of the game, a hyper-feminine
and uninformed fan, or a wannabe bro, leaving any sort of
authenticity for a sports team out of reach for women. Either one of
these options is restricting for a woman to express her true identity of
sports culture and can be extremely problematic. She must both
emphasize her gender and play into stereotypes, or her gender is
removed in order to prove she can be just one of the guys.
In addition to studies on gender roles for sports fans, many
studies claim that another large reason that women watch sports is
because they like to look at the athletes. There is mention of how
women are locker room lookers, jersey chasers, puck bunnies
and other titles, which emphasize that women are only watching the
game to enjoy the aesthetics of the players (Clark et al. 2009). This

type of discourse, yet again promotes gendered ideas that are


restricting to women all over the world.
Not only are womens genders emphasized, but sometimes
completely taken away from them. This leads to female sports
audiences becoming the wannabe bro, claiming that the reason
women watch sports is to prove they can be one of the guys. Of course
this is not true of female sports fans, many of who watch the game
because of the love they have for it. Motivations behind why each
individual watches range from person to person, however, this widely
popular stereotype of a wannabe bro on female fans is misleading and
inaccurate.
Gender representation in sports is unequal. Female sport fans are
exploited for their gender due to the emphasis placed on it. Spectators
are hyper-feminized for watching and enjoying a generally hypermasculine pastime. By drawing on these negative stereotypes
gendered ideas are further perpetuated causing issues in
representation. The gendered politics widely represent men over
women, even though there is evidence of women being a large
population of spectators. Some scholars claim that the reason women
are hyper-feminized in sport is due to fear of the sport itself becoming
feminine, so by othering women it protects the sport and keeps it
traditional (Oates 2012). Fear of sport becoming too feminine is a

direct result of the restricting options presented to women for


representing themselves as fans.
The perpetuation of gender roles is limiting to women sport
audiences everywhere. They are either a woman, or a sports fan, but
there is no room for both identities to be represented. In order to
improve this, a wider variety of representation for women must be
demanded. No longer can we accept a gender binary in a culture that
places such value in sport. Voices must be heard, faces seen, and
surely representation of women will improve, eliminating womens
need to negotiate their identities when it comes to expressing their
love of watching sports.

Works Cited
Clark, John S. Artemisia Apostolopoulou, and James M. Gladden. Real
Women Watch

Football: Gender Differences in the Consumption of

the NFL Super Bowl

Broadcast. Journal of Promotion Management

15 (2009): 165-183. Academic Search Premier. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.


Ganz W., LA Wenner and Walter Gantz. Men, Women and Sports:
Audience

Experiences and Effects. Journal of Broadcasting &

Electronic Media 35.2

(1991):233-243. Communication & Mass Media

Complete. Web. 14 Nov. 2015


Oates, Thomas P. Representing the Audience: The Gendered Politics of
Sport

Media. Feminist Media Studies 12.4 (2012): 603-607

Academic Search

Premier. Web. 16 Nov 2015.

Sargent, Stephanie Lee. Enjoyment of Televised Sporting Events:


Evidence of a

Gender Gap. Communication Research Reports 20.2

(2003). 182-188.

Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web.

15 Nov. 2015.
Sveinson Kathertine and Larena Hoeber. Overlooking the Obvious: An
Exploration

of What it Means to be a Sport Fan from a Female

Perspective. Leisure

Studies 34.4 (2015): 409-419. Academic

Search Premier. Web. 14 Nov. 2015


TV Viewership of the Super Bowl in the United States from 1990 to
2014 (in

millions. The Statistics Portal. Web. 14 Nov 2015.