Queen's University — Since 1873
29th January 2009

Sexism on the sidelines

Hypermasculine sports culture makes broadcast journalism ‘a danger zone of sexual harassment’

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As I approach the final three months of my undergraduate education, I, unlike most of my frantic peers, know what I want to do with my life. Yep, I’ve found the golden ticket. After years of taste-testing the plethora of activities at Queen’s, I have decided to combine my degree in physical and health education, my love for professional sports and my experience at Queen’s TV and CFRC to become a sports broadcaster. Finally, I can relax, right?

Last December I woke up one morning to an article in the Globe and Mail entitled, “Looks first, knowledge later” by William Houston. The article discussed the prevalence of overly-sexualized females in sports broadcasting and how physical appearance is taking precedence over talent. After much debate, I came to the depressing conclusion that, although I have a vast knowledge of sports and experience in television, radio and print media, my credibility as a sports broadcaster is negated by the fact that I am a woman.

As a strong supporter of feminism, I was determined to keep my spirits high. But I realized that, no matter how much confidence and tenacity I possess, some things have a long way to go before changing. Let me clear my throat.

In October of 2002, Andy Rooney, commentator on 60 Minutes, made headlines with his statement, “The only thing that really bugs me about television’s coverage is those damn women they have down on the sidelines who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.” Although extremely sexist, the sentiment is not uncommon. In fact, this idea is shared by many male sports casters and sports networks. That hypermasculine hotbed of sports culture has enforced an idea that women don’t and can’t ever really understand sports. Ultimately, they’re just pretty faces who should get off the field.

This past year I started an independent study entitled Experiences of Women Sports Broadcasters in a Male-Dominated Work Environment. Reading through the literature, I came to the objective conclusion that the problem in sports broadcasting is not that women do not know enough about sports—a common misconception—but that beliefs and ideologies about sport perpetuate from the social construction of masculinity. As a sports reporter for QTV for the last three years, I have had my share of sports interviews. I’ve had some great experiences and met some wonderful athletes, but as always, there is another side of the coin.

Last September, I faced one of my most unpleasant experiences at Queen’s when I interviewed our football team. In line with protocol, I scheduled the interview in advance and waited patiently for practice to finish before approaching any players. During an interview with the team’s quarterback, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that many of the players on the team were making sexual gestures and voicing objectifying slurs, all while not wearing shirts. I completed the interview (in retrospect, I wish I hadn’t) but I felt violated. As a professional, I had conducted myself in the most appropriate manner possible and was still harassed. Why? Ah, the woman thing. Being a woman in sports broadcasting, I guess I should have expected it right? I mean, it’s just what guys do when they’re around women. A couple jokes here and there; it’s all harmless fun. I probably shouldn’t really expect a whole lot more—that’s life.

This sounds a little ridiculous. But the most disturbing thing is that this was the response elicited from the football coach when I asked for a formal apology. Thanks to the AMS and Athletics Director Leslie Dal Cin, I received an appropriate apology from the team, but the issue still stands. This type of harassment is not only present in the world of sport, it also happened at Queen’s.

Clearly, the masculine ideologies present in the dominant culture of sports penetrate the organizational culture of broadcasting, making sports broadcast—more than any other field of broadcast—a danger zone of sexual harassment for women. The objectifying experiences I’ve had have been extremely hurtful, but they have helped create the woman I am today. I’m not ready to let an organization overlook me as a potential sports reporter or anchor based on stereotypes surrounding my gender. The amount of sexism in this industry is unacceptable and I want sports networks to show respect to women in the ice rink, football stadium and on the courts.

My journey in broadcasting is not solely about me. It’s about the entire female population taking control of the press box. Just you watch; I’m going to have a big, boisterous dance party for all women. You’ll know where to find us: cutting a rug on top of the glass ceiling.

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