According to the White Ribbon Campaign, a charity which seeks to ‘speak out about male violence against women’, a loss from the English football team during the world cup leads to a rise of almost 40% in rates of domestic abuse. Whether this is an increase in which it is specifically women that are the victims is not addressed, however even if this isn’t the case, and male victims are also counted within the statistic, it will proportionately be women who are the most affected, with summaries of Home Office and NSPCC statistics discovering that overall, 85% of those who suffer from domestic abuse are women. Worryingly, this information may seem unsurprising to many, especially considering the environment which it arises from; football, (and sport in general), has traditionally been – and currently continues to be – a male dominated industry. It is in these patriarchal and androcentric environments that attitudes which reflect little or no respect for women are allowed to thrive, and there are countless examples of this within the world of sport. January 2011 saw the dismissal of Sky Sports presenters Richard Keys and Alan Gray following sexist comments made about assistant referee Sian Massey, John Inversdale caused controversy last year through remarks he made on BBC radio regarding Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli, and the restricted-to-males membership of the Muirfield Golf Club, (the site of the 2013 gold open championships), generated widespread criticism for what is seen by many to be a sexist policy.
Given these both unchanging and alarming attitudes towards sportswomen within our society, it’s easy to see the motivation behind contemptible and misogynistic opinions such as those which would see such a rise in abuse rates. In an industry which focuses unfairly and consistently on only the male gender, there is little regard for females and any value they have within society.
And it’s the prevalence of these attitudes that explain why the Olympics, described by journalist Sarah Laskow earlier this year as ‘one of the few times, ever, that the media pays attention to female athletes ‘, are vital regarding the position of women within sports. In the London 2012 Olympics, British women alone acquired a total of 50 medals, (17 gold, 12 silver, and 21 bronze), the majority of the US’ medals were won by females, and women’s football brought in record-breaking crowds. Essentially, the sportswomen of the world worked together to demonstrate that – given the chance to prove it- males and females could be equally successful within sport.
Unfortunately, the prevalence of these attitudes also explains why these excellent female Olympians were disallowed from enjoying even a small portion of celebration for their successes before casual misogynists descended upon them.
When medal winning gymnast Beth Tweddle took part in an online Q&A session this January, what had originally been an attempt to bring essential attention to inspirational women in sport became what Claire Cohen describes as ‘a torrent of vile insults and misogyny’, with Tweddle being hatefully branded with abuse like ‘slut’, ‘bitch’, and ‘pig ugly’.
Rebecca Addlington has also publicly commented on the sexism she suffers from through gender expectations regarding appearance. Whilst appearing on reality TV show I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, the Olympic swimmer stated, “For me, I was an athlete, I wasn’t trying to be a model, but pretty much every single week on Twitter I get somebody commenting on the way I look”.
Furthermore, this trend of placing a higher value on women’s appearances – as opposed to their contributions to sport- is continued massively throughout the internet, with a Facebook page recently coming to my attention through several male friends ‘liking’ it; a fanpage for… wait for it… Jessica Ennis’ bum. The page has around 125 thousand likes, and with a mass of predictable, and ever-so-eloquent comments from users regarding this particular aspect of her physique, there is little suggestion that perhaps Mrs Ennis-Hill should be respected for her position as the current heptathlon champion, as opposed to being belittled into nothing but a representation of male sexual arousal.
Conclusively, we as a society must begin to recognise the severe extent to which sexism exists within sport. But we cannot afford to simply accept that this is the case, and resign, however bitterly, to remain faceless bystanders, cheering on the boys. We must, armed with the information that sportswomen are under-represented, (with 95% of sports media coverage being devoted to males), begin to make a stand for our female athletes. We must do this not only to gain recognition for these incredible and admirable sporting women, but also for those who exist outside of sport. We must do this for those women who will potentially be spending the next few weeks with black eyes and broken ribs simply because of an over hyped game of malestream, patriarchal, kickabout.
- Cohen, C. (2014). Beth Tweddle’s vile Twitter abuse: Women, it’s time to shout back at trolls. Available: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10589168/Vile-Twitter-abuse-Beth-Tweddle-Women-its-time-to-shout-back-at-trolls.html. Last accessed 17th June 2014.
- Laskow, S. (2014). The Olympics are the closest to coverage parity female athletes get . Available: http://www.cjr.org/full_court_press/women_olympics_coverage.php?utm_medium=App.net&utm_source=PourOver. Last accessed 17th June 2014.
- Renn, P. (2009). Summary of Home Office and NSPCC Statistics Relating to Violence and Abuse. Available: http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/counselloradvice9949.html. Last accessed 10th Jun 2014.
- Walker, D. (2013). I’m a Celebrity: Rebecca Adlington in tears after ‘beauty’ debate with Amy Willerton . Available: http://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/im-celebrity-rebecca-adlington-cries-2835962. Last accessed 17th June 2014.
- Wikipedia. (2012). Great Britain at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Britain_at_the_2012_Summer_Olympics. Last accessed 17th June 2014.
- Young Scot. (2014). Sexism in Sport. Available: http://www.youngscot.org/info/2466-sexism-in-sport. Last accessed 17th June 2014.