Who watches the WNBA anyway…? Surveillance, women and sports

This heading is a bit misleading, because if you were to ask many males if they would consider watching a televised broadcast of women’s basketball when men’s basketball is on, the answer would probably most often be “… uh, no!?” This response may then be followed by maybe a chuckle or some laughter.

Fear not, male counterparts, this isn’t abnormal…

I will touch on some issues being faced by many women throughout this Olympic season (and with sports in general).

As it’s the season for the Summer Olympic Games (a sporting cavalcade of various sports where athletes of both male/female fight for national pride), it is common place for people to pretend to love both men’s AND women’s summer sports, with some answering ‘Of course, I love watching women’s gymnastics’ or ‘women’s volleyball is great’.

In the Summer Olympics, there should theoretical be an ‘even playing field’ of equal representation of men and women in sports. But its not just your subconscious that undermines women and women’s sports, especially in comparison to their male counterparts.

Do you know who else doesn’t like women and sports? The media.

Women are overtly objectified and not put in the same positive athletic scope that their male counterparts are, and in turn are surveyed for their femininity or sexual prowess, and this can diminish their athletic accomplishments as a whole. Delrome (2014) conducted a longitudinal study which concluded that female athletes would be systematically underrepresented in sports media coverage, especially pronounced for the traditional ‘male’ sports. Further, journalistic coverage of international sporting events is somewhat biased, with the media following their sexist national culture (all of them are sexist, not one particular country) by airing and glorifying more popular male athletes over female athletes. As a fall out, many female sports become under promoted and in turn their successes diminished, which brings rise to decreased security measures and safety protocols for female athletic events through the games.

Also in the Olympics, there are very different testing for man and women. Jakubowska (2014) discusses how gender verification and testing is a female phenomenon, and how rarely males are tested for increased levels in oestrogen, whereas women are tested to check for inter-sexual athletes in elite sports, which first began in the 1966 Olympics, with the International Olympic Committee not agreeing that sex testing violates an athlete’s human rights. This violation is a breach in human rights, personal security and shows a bias from the International Olympic Committee officials toward women.

Tennis Superstar Anna Kournikova

However, the key issue which women face through the Olympics, as well as sport in general, is the hyper-sexualisation of elite female athletes in advertising. For example, Anna Kounrnakova was the most searched for woman in 2008 on the internet, and that wasn’t just due to her amazing tennis prowess. As athletes are common in advertising as they are seen as role models, athletes have been used as spokespeople for many years. There are copious amounts of research about the sexualisation of female athletes, however limited research into the sexualisation of male athletes. This can lead to greater objectification of women, and in turn diminishing their capabilities when that individual is perceived primarily as a sexual object rather than a person (Nezlek et. al, 2015).

So I ask, how do we change this perception?

What can we do to allow for a greater playing field in this Olympic season, and moving forward in a sporting environment?

The key issue is, there is a societal shift which needs to occur. Some may argue ‘where is the money?’ – and to that, I present this article. (which I am happy to go into more depth upon, if people are interested in the topic…)

Women’s sport has the capacity to be equally as watchable and exciting as male dominated sports. There are a series of changes which need to occur from the ground up, and the first and most important is an entire societal overhaul.

It’s not much, but it’s a start.

It starts with you…


‘Anna Kournikova’ by Kalumba2009 available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/kalumba_joel_ego/3576896132/in/photolist-56ocL5-7oDDPa-6gRLMm-6s5wAY-7nP2w9-4BXPXg-5mzCdD-7oHuY7-9pbnFd-8ewMMo-6ANcgF-6ASn8d-6ASn5f-6ARpZ7-7nPwRQ-7nKzag-7nKzAt-7nPwVf-7nK8Pe-7nKzsv-6ANcpt-7oHxLm-7nQ6zy-7nLdCt-7nLcTa-7nP2yC-7nP2u9-7nK8Hx-7nP2DL-7nQ5ss-7nQ6ow-7nQ7jS-7nLcHk-7nQ75L-7nK8L2-7nPxah-7nPwYL-7nKD3M-7nKCKD-7nPtib-7nPwGd under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Full terms at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0.

Delorme, N 2014, ‘Were Women Really Underrepresented in Media Coverage of Summer Olympic Games (1984–2008)? An Invitation to Open a Methodological Discussion Regarding Sex Equity in Sports Media’, Mass Communication & Society, 17, 1, pp. 121-147

Jakubowska, H 2014, ‘Gender verification in sport as a surveillance practice: An inside and outside perception’, Surveillance & Society, 11, 4, pp. 454-465

Nezlek, J, Krohn, W, Wilson, D, & Maruskin, L 2015, ‘Gender Differences in Reactions to the Sexualization of Athletes’, Journal Of Social Psychology, 155, 1, pp. 1-11.

For more fun video’s, ESPN have released a ‘Nine for IX’ series about women in sports, as well as releasing some short movies. You can find some of those here!




7 thoughts on “Who watches the WNBA anyway…? Surveillance, women and sports

  1. Such a good read! The area of surveillance and sports (especially women’s sport) wasn’t even something I gave much thought to and it’s been really interesting learning the impact it has!
    Your post is really powerful at defining your opinion on the matter however, to ensure it’s as strong as it can be I think you continue to incorporate further images and tweets to add a visual aesthetic as well as providing further examples of the exploitation of women in sport.
    I’ve found, through my own post, that re-reading your blog 24 hours after you’ve written it helps to further reduce any likelihood of typos and therefore adds that extra level of professionalism.
    Overall, awesome work!


  2. Hey Dust!

    Congrats on a super engaging, well researched blog. I thoroughly enjoyed that you ask rhetorical questions and left the answers and the feelings with the viewer, allowing that sense of empowerment after reading something that is of inequality. I completely agree with you and feel this is something that needs to change and possibly a bit more research or lobbying for advertising agencies to push for adverts that show off the powerful side of women, rather than the sexualised. I would highly recommend including more media such as images to break up a lot of the text. There is the odd one or two spelling and grammatical errors, other than that, you’ve done a great job!

    – Marna 🙂


  3. What a great topic to tackle. Good on you for delving into this, it is definitely something I would never have associated with surveillance. I really like the flow of your post, it reads really well and has a sophisticated conversational tone. I really dislike posts that try to sound “too smart”. I found yours an excellent blend of ‘academic’ and ‘conversational’, great job on that!
    You have a great selection of references and great use of embedding tweets and linking other articles. I’d love to hear your thoughts on specific instances or accounts of women sporting stars perhaps being under negative surveillance. This would tie in really well with your whole argument, and I am just generally interested now!
    Thanks for this post, I really enjoyed it.


  4. Great blog post. Really interesting topic and you approached it in such an engaging and thoughtful manner, it’s obviously the high level of research that has gone into this post. The choice of image works perfectly in relation to the argument, an easily and well recognised example. The inclusion of embedded tweets was great too, they fit the structure perfectly and the included article was great. The figures provided in the Women’s World Cup soccer match from the article were so interesting, further discussion around similar events would be enticing! Your writing style is great, the use of rhetorical questions was smart, it made me stop and really think about what was being discussed and the research fit perfectly without any lose of interest. Awesome blog post and I look forward to reading more in the future.


  5. Hey Dustin

    This blog post was a really good read. The flow of your writing as well as the rhetorical questions really helped me engage with the reading. You also made a strong point in regards to the topic which I found interesting and agreed with.

    You have obviously done a lot of research in regards to the topic which also provided to the enjoyment of reading this.

    The topic itself is a challenging one but I feel like you did a really good job in terms of talking about the media’s influence on the audience.

    Well done!


  6. I think you picked a great topic to write about and in my opinion it is a controversial one. I think that a lot of it is based around the thought that “women aren’t as good as men”. Obviously this is not always the case as you have pointed out. Maybe to back up your point about this you could have compared Olympic results between certain males and females (a lot of the time they are very similar or women are better).Some other advice maybe you could have included some more images just to break up the text a bit so it doesn’t feel like a lot of reading. Other than that it was great!.


  7. This is a great example of how surveillance in the sports industry can be seen not only as a way of influencing public image, but can also be seen as an opportunity to create equality between men and women across all sports. I would’ve liked to see a bit of reference to Australian sports compared to other countries and how they compare and differentiate. Some added images would also help enhance the overall messages within the content, but otherwise, you had me hooked from the title and I enjoyed reading this blog all the way through. Awesome job keep blogging!


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