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The media can change women’s sport

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women's sport, media failuresA gaping inequality remains between men’s and women’s sport.

Every week, the Guardian publishes a column called “Ask a grown-up”. Children under 10 ask a question that’s been bothering them, and the paper finds an expert to answer it.

It often provides a comical insight into the way a child’s mind works. The questions are usually on those which are baffling for children, but which an adult’s experience makes clear. “Why do I get just £1 pocket money a week?” for example.

Alternatively, their curiosity leads the children to ask questions most adults wouldn’t even think of: “Why do we have two breasts when we only need one?” and “How did the first person catch chicken pox?”

Last week, 10 year-old Lia asked “Why is women’s sport not considered as important or exciting as men’s?”

No amount of experience makes the answer to this question more clear; adults don’t tend to ask it only because they are so used to women’s sport getting short shrift.

The Guardian put Lia’s question to Casey Stoney, captain of the England women’s football team.

Her answer was straight down the line.

“It goes back to the idea that women aren’t worthy of having the vote and that a woman’s place is in the kitchen,” she wrote.

“Things have carried on like that for too long, but at last attitudes are changing. Women’s football is bigger than it’s ever been. When we go into schools, people know who we are.

“The Olympics did great things for women’s sport. You could see it on TV, and the women did exceptionally well. The Olympics showed there was a real appetite for it.”

Interviewed in fitness magazine Runner’s World recently, Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton described how the situation in women’s cycling has changed since she was a child.

“When I was younger and out cycling with my dad on a Sunday morning, if we saw a lady cycling it was like ‘oh my god, there’s a lady on a bicycle’,” she said.

“But now I see several. I see groups of women out, which I love, and have never seen it before. It’s a really positive thing.”

It’s anecdotal evidence, but it illustrates a point: it’s not so unusual to see women cycling any more because Pendleton and her successors have made headlines and proved that women can do it.

And yet, decades after Pendleton first got on her bike, children like Lia can still see that a gaping inequality remains between men’s and women’s sport.

It’s a good thing that girls are questioning this, rather than subconsciously absorbing the notion that sport isn’t for them. And Stoney is right that things are changing.

However, it’s not enough to simply attribute the inequality to the old idea that “women belong in the kitchen”. To do so is to frame the problem as one which is impossible to solve.

Faced with years of ingrained attitudes on women’s roles, what can possibly be done? When the issue is one of hearts and minds, what can be done to persuade? Who can really turn the tide on centuries of habit and culture?

And so we give up before we have begun.

The problem of inequality between men and women in sport is a huge one, but the solution is not complicated.

Sport is a media machine. Much of its cultural importance comes from the coverage and exposure it receives in the press and on television.

Yet only 5 per cent of screen time and column inches goes to women’s sport.

As I write, the main sports page of the Guardian website links to 23 stories about men’s sport; for women, zero. On the BBC website there are more than 30 stories about men doing and talking about sport, but only five about women.

The Independent pledged in July to increase its coverage of women’s sport, yet its website can still only manage to put three women’s sport stories on its main sports page.

Ratios like these give the impression that men are all-conquering kings of competition and athleticism, and that only one or two women can match up.

So, Lia, there’s an answer to your question: women’s sport is considered less important than men’s because the media simply don’t bother covering it.

Whether this will change any time soon is another question altogether.

  1. Vickiwharton says:

    Women werent given the vote, they fought for it, and have had to fight, not ask for every concession towards equality since – the right to work, the right not to be raped in marriage or as children by males around us and it be called prostitution. We need to recognise that everything we get depends on our willingness to fight for it, to make a noise and both of those attract male intimidation and violence at times. Sportswomen know that to win, you have to be prepared to fight. Women need to be taught their history in order to know the victories come through fighting

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