Women in the Sport Media

Women in media continue to be under-represented but it is women in sports media and broadcasting that rate the lowest.

History shows us how the sporting arena was built by men for men to enjoy their innate desire of competition.

Over time, women have been precluded from certain sports because of the perceived social norms around competition ‘combat’.   But as recent times have shown, women are not only great at sport, they have the capacity to manage administrative roles with skills they naturally possess whilst at home or at work.  They have an interest in coaching like they do as parents or guardians.  The traditional roles of ‘canteen duties’ whilst men are on the ‘BBQ’ are gone and if women are to become more engaged and organisations want to see an increased involvement whether that’s participating, spectating or administration, they will need to get the message right.

‘Now She’s Talking’ is a platform for media, communications, journalists, reporters and athletes to develop their skills, knowledge and presentation of sports broadcasting.   The Now She’s Talking training and development squad looks at the language of sport, messaging in play, words used in competition and the conversations that women want to have when it comes to The Game.

Men and Women speak and listen differently, they enjoy different kinds of conversations and here is some of the research.

  • Men have traditionally more aggressive language styles in sport, derived from violence and war like situations  that thrive on physical strengths and idealised, likeable and traditional ‘masculine’ attributes.
  • Women have a more emotional language, engaging a greater range of tone and description in the words they use.  In fact, they use more words in total, than men.
  • Men love facts, statistics. Short clear and concise sentencing.
  • Women love details and tangents. We love the stories that contain opinions, a bit of information that puts it into context, facts that paint the picture and words which attach meaning. It helps them connect to the emotion.
  • Men want a problem they can solve.  They like to validate each others opinions.
  • Women want to share the problem and discuss the solutions.
  • Men have an innate desire to chase and win.  They will try even if when they know they only have half the skills required.
  • Women participate cautiously in sport, evolving with acceptance when the skills are proven and acquired.
  • Men like to compete.
  • Women don’t like to be compared.
  • The language of men focuses on ability, capacity, potential and performance.
  • The language of women focuses on appearance.
  • Women can listen and watch at the same time as doing other tasks and still know what’s going on.
  • Men have a single focus and are easily frustrated with interruptions.

So you’re probably wondering why we need a sports language for women?

As evidenced, many of the words, comments and phrasing around sport is violent in its’ energy.  For thousands of years combat sports of our ancestors often resulted in serious injury or death – ‘a blood bath out there’.  The origin is important and thankfully we have grown into a society in which sport is now civilised and entertaining but the language references remain the same.  Words describe the excitement, anticipation and in combination are designed to arouse emotions of competition, pride and purpose.  That purpose is winning, like ‘beating’ the other side. You get the drift. Winning or loosing affects the core beliefs of every individual.

It teaches us life lessons in humility, acceptance and resilience and the commentary in sport refers to challenges and confrontations between opponents feel violent.  It is this feeling of aggression that instills fear in women and unfortunately men need to understand that by virtue of your gender you possess intimidating qualities.  It’s not your fault, our media has demonised the aggression of men in respects of power and control, a dynamic that we like until we don’t because it hurts.

Right now we are experiencing a huge levitation of success in womens sport.  It is being broadcast on traditional platforms and in formats that are reflective of the male arena and it’s not what women want.  This is impacting on the participation rates across all sectors and SPORT is missing out.  Women are perceived as not having the same standard of knowledge or understanding of sport as men, especially if they haven’t played, which simply isn’t true.  The real barrier for women in sport is comparison because much of the language in womens sport is centred around their appearance……a vulnerability that affects self worth.  Conversations about sport need to engage females in a language that creates interest and generates involvement and it starts with our messaging through the media.

A recent conversation……..

Women in my research have shared how they turn down the commentary because it’s boring and repetitive like the sound of a drone about to land.  Whilst the short descriptive comments evoke images if you are just listening, it is actually distracting when you watch. It simply repeats what you’re watching and that frustrates women – stating the obvious drives us nuts.   Women want to hear stories that inspire them.  Stories that emotionally connect the desire to push a physical body to a level of high performance with confidence levels to match.  For women to become involved and feel comfortable enough to participate, requires building a place where they feel they belong.

Same Same But Different…….

Sport is currently watched by men in pubs and clubs clambered around bar tables and bench seats. So for women who love their sport they generally find it easier to socialise in this arena, with men as they are side by side, watching the play, listening to the call and debating the contraversy, as men do. Pubs and Clubs do not provide a facility that appeals to the needs of women that prioritise comfort and conversation and ‘compromising’ is all that we are offered.  But isn’t that what were have been doing for the last 200 years. If we stand where they do The Boy’s Club door is only opened when you are trusted. You may possibly even be treated like one of the guys and you are definitely expected to drink like them in the shout.  This has some similarities for our female broadcasting talent.  Women in sports media have been trying to source a pathway into the commentary box of a game but remain heavily reliant on the invitation and acceptance of the current broadcasting teams.  They are expected to do what is currently being done – to fit in and assimilate with the process that works for men.  They way they like it. With gender equality we are not trying to be the same, we just want the same space you have been occupying without taking yours away from you but at the moment we are being asked to fit in with what already exists, because it works……………..for them.

There is a real resistance in sports media broadcasting in developing another arena that caters for women even though it has shown there is the capacity to double the audience, significantly increase participation, develop pathways to coaching, officiating and administration. Creating the space, without taking away from what there currently is.  It’s not a case of move over, give me your seat, I’ll need the spot where you’re sitting.   It’s like building an extension to the current model.

Is our Broadcasting Talent Acquisition people still looking to tick all the box of what the male commentary team are currently offering instead of that ‘something different’?

Possibly yes, because it meets the current expectations and that my friends is the fear of rejection.   Women too fear rejection and currently female sports presenters receive more than their fair share because

it’s still not ‘normal’, it doesn’t sound the same’

and women have this dreadful need to be liked.  So we play the role, conform to fit expectations and loose ourselves along the way.   But we have a responsibility. We need to speak how we want and showcase the talent that draws appreciation from a female audience. Female media personalities literally instil confidence in other women ‘that anything is possible’ just by being themselves because they are there, in front of us, doing their thing.

This is an opportunity for women in media to speak in a language that we know using terms that are appealing, inspiring, empowering, engaging, informative and detailed. Just the way we like it.

Leave a comment if you would like to help create the language of female sport.



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