Sunday, 13 January 2013

"if women were meant to play football they'd have their tits somewhere else"..

This week, Maria Miller MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Women and Equalities called for a summit with representatives from Government, broadcasting and the media to discuss ways to encourage a more equitable representation of women’s sport in broadcast and print. This follows the BBC’s Director of Sport Barbara Slater’s announcement that women’s sport is to be given a stronger portfolio across the BBC networks.

Channels like BBC ALBA in Scotland has shown a commitment to women’s football since its inception so it’s refreshing to see the more established channels following suit, even if the cynic could argue the door is only opening because the escalating cost of broadcasting rights has resulted in the more popular mainstream sports becoming somewhat untouchable to anyone other than the cash rich sports channels operating in a harsh and competitive non-terrestrial commercial market.

That said, it’s a door and if it is creaking open slowly then we should give it an almighty push to help it along. It's long overdue. Less than 5% of sports media coverage in the UK is dedicated to women’s sport. This is astonishing, particularly given participation levels among women, and the primary place sport in general commands on television and in print. Dedicated sports channels and newspaper sections are as much an integral element of society as going to school, although one marked difference is that academic education caters for girls and boys.

So, is this an exciting new dawn for women’s sport, particularly women’s football which is witnessing a surge in popularity thanks to a hugely successful Olympics and the BBC's securing of live rights of the 2013 UEFA European Championships?

Let's go back to the 1980s and look at how representation of women's football in the media has changed. Or more specifically, why it still needs to dramatically change.

Sport isn't immune to politics, neither is it divorced from reality. Football and how it has been represented as a social entity has undoubtedly played a role in driving popular consciousnesses and accepted definitions of ideologies in the way in which it frequently influences the reproduction of masculine standards and notions of stereotypical definitions of femininity.

Film writers have utilised the narrative texts of sports language to explore the wide arena of political issues indicating the dynamism and influence that sport has had, and continues to hold in shaping the very fabric of society.

Take Bill Forsyth's ‘Gregory's Girl’ for example.

The deconstruction of ‘Gregory's Girl’ demonstrates that the narrative of film can be deduced as a rich resource of intelligible material that reflects reality. The film teases, challenges and yet still succeeds in defining a concept of modernity in society by promoting a comprehensive insight into the extent to which masculinities were both established and destabilised in society. With the threat to the main protagonist's masculinity at the core of the film we can draw on a period of fluctuating change and uncertainty in society and challenge the relations of difference from a position of playful yet poignant reflective irony. The ongoing irony, ironically being, that despite the film being a big hit of the 1980s perceptions haven't changed, hence the need for a political summit to address the reasons why women are not equally represented in sport in the media.

‘Gregory's Girl’ provides an example of the possibility of disruption and resistance within and to dominant sports' structures. The subordinate definition of the female role is challenged when a woman enters an arena traditionally categorised as one that reflects men's collective domination over women.

Dorothy, the female lead in the film, shock horror, plays football.

The underlying connotation for Gregory is that he has forfeited his football, his bastion of male preserve, in favour of love in this ambiguous world of modernity, where the inclusion of women with the ultimate bonding of male teammates is possible. The film's writer, Bill Forsyth, teases us with the notion that women in football is only acceptable when there is personal gain to be had. For Gregory it's the hope of a girlfriend; for Andy it's to get one over on Gregory who stole his place in the team and for the coach; prestige from his colleagues who think he is the laughing stock of the school.

When confronted with Dorothy in the team, Andy's reaction changes from a form of numbness to anger, then finally to an acceptance of Dorothy on the basis that she can play football.

However, on first watching Dorothy play Andy comments 'if women were meant to play football they'd have their tits somewhere else. How else can you stop a ball and trap it on your chest with big tits banging around? They weren't designed for football.'

It’s worth noting that women in 21st century football aren’t fighting to be men, they don’t have aspirations to play in male teams. The modern day Dorothy just wants an equal playing field for her sport. She wants, and deserves, recognition for her talent, and an equitable place in the dissemination of sports related news and coverage in the media. Not everyone likes every sport but that doesn’t stop a plethora being covered in the media already.

Whilst Andy in ‘Gregory's Girl’ alters his perceptions and comes to call for more girls in the team, there are still far too many 'Andy's' of the "tits" comments in today's society.

At the time of the ‘Gregory's Girl’ film in 1980, 70% of sports programming broadcast in the UK featured no women's sport, and astonishingly, by 1989/90, 81% of programming was without reference to women. With that figure escalating to a somewhat incredible 95% in 2013, (95%!!) that summit really can’t come quickly enough.

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