Using Sexualisation to Undermine Performance
Bayley Plummer, a competitive and aggressive force for the Appalachian Women’s Basketball team discusses the pressure some female athletes feel to conform to socially constructed beauty standards.
While playing sports, the freshman center/forward has observed that women who possess more “masculine” traits, are typically scrutinized for their appearance. “I am often told that I look to masculine or too big to play women’s basketball,” said Plummer.
Upon visiting various sports news outlets such as ESPN and Sports Center, one can see that the material they provide is heavily concentrated on male content. Plummer explains that this allows female-athletes to be underrepresented and exposes the incongruencies in how diversity among women in sports is lacking.
When women in sports are featured in the media, they are often sexualised and portrayed in a manner that highlights their physical features while imposing on them qualities that have been adopted in society as “feminine” traits. “Any time a female athlete is very athletic or too fit for the average women they are often mocked. The media is only focused on portraying female athletes in a way that will be attractive to the public eye,” said Plummer.
Professional athletes and Olympians such as Simone Biles have also felt the pressure of being a strong, muscular woman in the public eye. In an interview with CNN in 2017, the four time gold medalist was asked to identify her biggest personal challenge. “I think in the gymnastics world, it is your body figure because you get a little bit shy about your body because you are very muscular,” said Biles.
Plummer confessed that feeling scrutiny from the public and seeing the media coverage of female athletes has made her question whether or not she should continue to pursue her athletic career. “I still love playing basketball, but often times I feel self-isolated due to my appearance,” said Plummer, “My hope would be that women would be appreciated for their athletic performances. A person’s physical appearance and athletic performance are in no way related and the media should not feminize women to the point where we feel obligated to fit the girly mold of women.”
Professor of Sociology and Director of first year seminar at Appalachian, Martha McCaughey, speaks on living in a gendered society and how this affects the public’s media consumption. McCaughey argues that “we are a visual culture,” although there are a diverse array of female athletes who choose to represent themselves in various ways “gender norms totally inform our biases.”
McCaughey also observes that male sports commentators advertise women who embrace their femininity rather than showcase athletes based on their athleticism no matter what traits they possess. McCaughey instead hopes that we look at female athletes as symbols to “think about their dedication, and the power of their bodies.”
“I believe individuals, including the media, should understand that women can be just as athletic as men and should be portrayed in the same demeanor as our male counterparts. I believe it would be very hard to change the way the media views female athletes but I think the change is necessary,” said Plummer.