Female athletes and leaders are undeniably more visible and increasingly successful in sport – putting in incredible performances both on and off the field. But these achievements still occur in a male defined sport sector – where female stars have to tackle marginalisation and sexualisation of their sporting performance and leadership skills.
Recent research also suggests that coverage of women’s sports has actually become more sexist over the past four years – making it clear that in the current age, everyday sexism characterises the culture of sport.
Elite sportswomen who gain public visibility and acceptance tend to embody a femininity that appeals to white, male heterosexual audiences (and TV producers). This means that women and girls can be subjects of unparalleled achievements in sport, but at the same time, they will be looked at as sex objects – and often applauded for their commitment to heterosexual domestic mothering roles.
Take Jessica Ennis-Hill, undoubtedly one of the world-leading heptathletes of all time, yet reports and pictures claiming her “golden girl” status are based more on her looks, model poses and domestic relationships than her athletic achievements.
In surfing, women have increased recognition by the World Surf League via media coverage of women’s events and increased prize money. Yet imagery of the female surfer is still highly sexualised and objectified. Professional female surfers highlight that the industry is sexist and sponsors ignore surf talent in favour of model looks. Many struggle to find sponsorship and report feeling pressured to “show their arse” rather than “kick arse”.
Alana Blanchard, for example, remains the highest-paid female surfer via sponsorship and endorsements. She is a darling of social media and tops polls for being the “most popular athlete”, or “best photo” among male and…