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Trivializing the female body: a cross-cultural analysis of the representation of women in sports journalism.

1. Introduction

It is generally held that women are underrepresented in most types of media discourse. In his incisive 1996 study, van Dijk likened the representation given to women and women's issues in the press to that reserved for minorities and immigrants. Noting that "virtually all major news topics are as male-oriented as the social and political domains they define," he comments:

Feminist scholarship has extensively shown the prevalence of male chauvinism in the mass media, even today, despite the modest gains in the employment of female journalists and program makers in the media and the slow acceptance of some major demands of the women's movement. In spite of these socioeconomic advances and obvious ideological changes, most of what has been said for minorities also holds, although somewhat less extremely, for the position of women in the media and in the news (van Dijk 1996:16).

The fact that even today women are victims of social marginalization, systematically excluded, as other minority groups, from rights, opportunities and resources normally available to members of society, is evident cross-nationally. The persistence of a gender wage gap in the US is particularly indicative. (2) Despite the fact that US society self-represents as the world leader in gender equality, the very first bill signed by President Obama after taking office in January 2009 was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (3), a law promoting the right, especially for women, to challenge unequal pay.

As will be subsequently demonstrated in this paper for the British and Italian contexts, the media continues to reflect and promote this social exclusion of women. The gender gap in media representation is in fact an amply-documented worldwide phenomenon (cf. the report of the Global Forum on Media and Gender, under the auspices of UNESCO, held in Bangkok in December 2013). (4) In Europe, the discontinuity between the everyday experiences of women and men and the way this gender difference is portrayed in the media is the object of a specific advisory committee of the European Commission. (5) Detailed reports of gender discrimination in the media are also available for many other realities, such as South Africa (Morna, Mpofu and Glenwright 2010) or Eastern Africa (Tom 2008).

In the area of sports, the invisibility and marginalization of women in the media has received considerable attention. For example, the study by Messner and Cooky (2010) of televised sports reporting in the US over a ten-year span revealed that men's sports received 96.3% of the airtime compared to the 1.6% of women's sports and to the 2.1% of neutral topics. Moreover, what emerged more significantly was the fact that despite the contemporary success of women in all professions and the current drive towards female empowerment, this media marginalization of female athleticism has increased (rather than decreased) over time, a point which motivated the following comment by former American athlete and sports commentator Diana Nyad:

I confess to being shocked to learn that since 1989 very little has changed in the world of televised sports news. As a matter of fact, for women athletes, and fans of women's sports, things have devolved, rather than having evolved. It is frankly unfathomable, and unacceptable, that viewers are actually receiving less coverage of women's sports than they were twenty years ago ... and that the sports news is still being delivered almost exclusively by men. (Messner and Cooky (2010:3).

Messner and colleagues have continued to monitor this situation of escalating underrepresentation of women in sports and in a recent longitudinal study of American television media state:

We argue that the amount of coverage of women's sports and the quality of that coverage illustrates the ways in which the news media build audiences for men's sport while silencing and marginalizing women's sport. Moreover, the overall lack of coverage of women's sport, despite the tremendous increased participation of girls and women in sport at the high school, collegiate, and professional level, conveys a message to audiences that sport continues to be by, for, and about men. (Cooky, Messner and Hextrum 2013:203)

Significantly it is to be noted that female athletes often achieve media visibility when they are targeted as sexual objects. For example, in an analysis of coverage of sportswomen in the British tabloid press, Harris and Clayton (2002) found that in a sample of 44 newspapers, the athlete Anna Kournikova appeared in only 27 articles which, moreover, often had little to do with her tennis skills. They note that

In the context of her ranking and early exit from the tournament this clearly highlights how physicality and perceived attractiveness are more highly valued than sporting competence (Harris and Clayton 2002: 397).

The rationale behind the present study is that despite advances in the sexual emancipation movement, gender-linked stereotypes condition the assignment of professional value to women in athletic settings. This socially-constructed value is that women must be above all young, attractive and available, and in most cases, objects for the pleasure of men. Nowhere is this more evident than in the attention that is paid in the contemporary press to the physical appearance of female athletes. In a field like sports, where competence, expertise and competitive success should take center stage in the description of events and participants, we find that a good deal of press coverage of female athleticism is devoted to anything but that; on the contrary, female beauty and sexual allure are distinctly foregrounded. An example from the British tabloid The Daily Mail which, by means of a cartoon, eloquently expresses the choice by the Wimbledon committee to schedule only attractive female tennis players in the central playing courts is reproduced below (6):


The title of the newspaper article was "Babe, set and match (7): Why looks count for more than talent when Wimbledon decides which girls will play on Centre Court " and the caption accompanying the cartoon was " When it comes to choosing which women play on Centre Court, good looks count for more than big shots".

This study investigates the issue of gender discrimination in the contemporary press through a cross-linguistic lens, using as an example the sports coverage given to another tennis athlete, Maria Sharapova. Through a comparative analysis of the discourse of female athleticism in mainstream newspapers of Britain and Italy, it reveals the persistent tendency in media language to trivialize the female body by representing sportswomen through traditional stereotypes of femininity and sensuality. In accordance with the claims made by Harris and Clayton (2002), it argues that discriminatory stereotyped descriptions of female athletes are motivated by an ideological stance aiming to confine women to behavior consonant with, and assertive of, hegemonic masculinity.

2. Method

The study adopts a corpus-based approach with a feminist interpretive perspective and uses critical discourse analysis as a general investigative framework. A corpus-based approach to the analysis of discourse entails the investigation of a selected set of texts in the search for data which can support a given hypothesis (cf. Tognini-Bonelli 2001). Following qualitative research frameworks, the argumentation assumes an interpretive perspective implying that the meaning and impact of social patterns can be understood only from some standpoint (cf. Patton 1990:85). The standpoint in this paper is unequivocally feminist, holding that the representation of the female subject in social discourse is filtered through a patriarchal lens. In that sense, the methodology is more precisely that of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), a research framework in the humanities and the social sciences which focuses on the relation between discourse and social practices and aims at uncovering the ideological underpinnings behind text representations. Research in CDA targets the ways in which texts harbor ideologically-motivated discourse strategies as well as the ways in which those strategies are discursively resisted and negotiated (cf. Fairclough 2001, 2003, Van Dijk 2008, Wodak and Meyers 2001).

The genre analyzed was newspaper discourse. The corpus consisted of a set of newspaper texts in both English and Italian, compiled from the sports section of mainstream newspapers of Britain and Italy (The Times, England and La Repubblica, Italy). Thus, for this study, newspapers addressed to the educated public were selected, a choice motivated by the hypothesis that if sexist representations of the female athlete are present in the quality (rather than the tabloid) press, then we could support more forcefully our general assumption: the existence of prejudice towards female athleticism, the persistence of gender-role stereotyping and the ideological intention to sanction and reinforce hegemonic masculinity in professional sports reporting.

2.1. The corpus, organized as two sub-corpora (British English and Italian), contained articles about the female athlete Maria Sharapova over the time span of her presence in tennis competition from 1 January 2003 to 20 August 2009. The English corpus consisted of 15 articles totaling 8,999 words and the Italian corpus consisted of 15 articles totaling 10.665 words. From these two subcorpora, a dataset of descriptive expressions of the athlete were extracted and organized according to two categorical taxonomies as explained in the following section.

2.2. Categorical taxonomies identified in the literature as characteristic of gender bias were then utilized for the application to this specific corpus. They were:

* the taxonomy of thematic strategies, identified by Harris and Clayton (2002) for the mis-/under-representation of female athletes in the British tabloid press;

* the taxonomy of conceptual metaphors, identified by Luchjenbroers (1997) for gender-differentiated descriptions in the Hong Kong English language press.

By thematic strategy we intend a recurrent discursive pattern which tends to highlight a dominant theme, such as the erotic representation of the female body, which will be subsequently illustrated. By conceptual metaphor, we refer to a specific stance in contemporary Cognitive Linguistics, labeled Conceptual Metaphor Theory, which holds that metaphorical expressions are found in language because metaphorical concepts are present in the mind (Lakoff and Johnson 1980). In other words, as an example, the expression "She's foxy" could be said to be motivated by a conceptual analogy associating women with small animals.

2.2.1. The thematic taxonomy

The taxonomy suggested by Harris and Clayton (2002: 408-410) consisted of eight main discursive themes: the 'Invisibility' of Female Athletes, Emphasizing Traditional Male Traits, Communicating Pain, Anguish and Sacrifice in Sport, Creating Heroes and National Identities, Coverage of Women in 'Appropriate' Sporting Roles, Non-Task Relevant Commentary, Trivialization of Female Accomplishments in Sport, Eroticizing of the Female Body. For the purposes of this study, we shall briefly explain only the last category, Eroticizing of the female body, since it is the one which emerged most saliently in both our English and Italian corpora. The reader is referred to Harris and Clayton (2002) for a detailed explanation of the other categories. Eroticizing of the female body

The sports media often convey the idea that female attractiveness and sexual desirability are more important than athletic ability. Commentaries highlight the female athletes' sexual attributes, explicitly mentioning body shape and parts (legs, breasts, mouth), often with evocations of bedroom activities. They also devote much attention to the athletes' clothes, both on-court, where their sports outfits are often described in terms of sexy lingerie, and off-court, where their style is described in beauty pageant, pin-up and fashion designer language. Harris and Clayton (2002) note that sports media use both non-athletic and athletic women for this eroticizing effect. The tabloid press for example inserts in their sports articles pictures of female fans, the non-athletes, in scant clothing and pin-up poses (8). In the same vein, the female athletes are depicted in non-athletic moments, highlighting passivity and suggesting sexual desirability and seduction. Harris and Clayton (2002: 408) note that:
   Such emphasis of sexuality, through eroticism, implies a masculine
   ideal of the role of women in sport, and simultaneously trivializes
   the athletic capabilities of the female body.

Furthermore, a calculation of the amount of press coverage given to sportswomen reveals that those who are not targeted as objects of sexual desire are significantly underrepresented and very often misrepresented. Female athletes who do not respect the male canon of femininity and sexuality are covertly ridiculed as mannish, labeled as gay, represented as social misfits, or in the words of Harris and Clayton (2002: 409) considered "heterosexual failures".

2.2.2. The metaphoric taxonomy

Luchjenbroers (1997) studied the language used to describe men and women in the Hong Kong English language press. She found essentially that men were conceptualized as "thinkers" and "pro-active doers", whereas women were consistently represented as under-developed and immature, emotional and sensitive, silly and incompetent, child-like and in need of protection. The conceptual metaphors which emerged from her study were WOMEN ARE ANIMALS (e.g. She whines), WOMEN ARE EMBRYOS (e g. She is still evolving), WOMEN ARE CHILDREN (not strong: [e.g. She feels disarmed], or not bright [e.g.: She is counting out loud on her fingers, or not rational [e.g. She lives very much with her senses]). (9) Luchjenbroers (1997:35) summarizes her findings as follows:
   In general these examples illustrate a cultural image of men as
   proactive, intelligent, goal-directed and sometimes aggressive,
   whereas the few references to women appear far less deterministic
   over the roles they fulfill.

Moreover, in expressions related to career success, Luchjenbroers (1997) found that references to men establish the male as already having a successful career, while references to women emphasize the struggle to achieve a career, foregrounding the female status as an incomplete adult. By unveiling the conceptual metaphors motivating descriptions of men and women in the Hong Kong English language press, Luchjenbroers (1997) confirms the persistence of the traditional male/female binary in contemporary cognitive representation, where, as summarized by Goddard and Patterson (2000:32), men are defined as "logical, rational, aggressive, exploitative, strategic, independent and competitive" and women are described as "intuitive, emotional, submissive, empathetic, spontaneous, nurturing and cooperative".

2.3. The discourse data was then extracted from the corpus both manually and with the aid of electronic content queries suggested by previous research. The data was searched for utterances referencing the categories in the taxonomies cited above. The utterances were then organized in the form of a mapping of discourse functional goals (both thematic and metaphorical) with linguistic expressions. This enabled us to look for common descriptive patterns and eventual cross-linguistic differences.

3. Results

3.1. The English dataset

3.1.1. Table 1 gives examples of some expressions from The Times which exemplify the thematic categories identified in Harris and Clayton (2002).

3.1.2. In the last example of Table 1, the press comment highlights style and fashion, emphasizing how the athlete is dressed in order to evoke images of her undressed (stripped this off, bare, translucent) and then to make an explicit association with the famous photo of eternal sex-symbol Marilyn Monroe (swirly enough to give every photographer a chance for the Marilyn-over-the-grating shot). (10)

3.1.3. It is to be noted, moreover, that the discourse operations are often multicategorical as is evident in the following comment which combines the strategies, labeled by Harris and Clayton (2002): eroticizing the female body, non-task relevant commentary, emphasizing male traits, trivializing female accomplishments, emphasizing female appropriate roles, creating national identity.
   Maria Sharapova puts the kettle on. OK, it is an everyday
   occurrence in most households across the land, but we are days from
   Wimbledon, she is in the sitting room of the home she rents a couple
   of streets from the All England Club and, unwinding, utterly
   relaxed. And, catching you off guard, she asks whether you take
   sugar (11).

Obviously, this press comment is an evocation of seduction (sitting room, unwinding, utterly relaxed, catching you off guard, take sugar), introduced by the polysemy of the idiomatic expression "to put the kettle on", which has both a literal interpretation and a figurative one: sexual excitation.

3.1.4. We would now like to give examples from the English dataset of the taxonomy of conceptual metaphors adapted from Luchjenbroers (1997: 38-40).

3.1.5. Again, a single expression can encode multiple metaphorical conceptualizations and thematic strategies as in the following example:
   Sharapova is a joy to watch when she is cooking up a storm and she
   was forced to do exactly that yesterday. It's one of the great
   sporting experiences: Sharapova in full cry (12).

Obviously in this expression, the senses include the various stereotypical roles: object of desire, non-agency, homemaker, etc. Furthermore, the expression "in full cry" seems to evoke both child and sexual behaviour.

3.2. The Italian dataset

The Italian dataset revealed similar patterns. The expressions which emerged seem to be motivated by the categories of both taxonomies.

3.2.1. The Italian dataset revealed a heavy loading of the characteristics ascribed to the category, Eroticizing of the female body (Harris and Clayton 2002). In Table 3, a selection of some expressions from the dataset with their English glosses is presented.

Moreover, it is particularly interesting to note that in the Italian corpus, the sex-related physical description of the athlete is coded directly in the headline, either explicitly or by innuendo. This is particularly important when we consider the role of the newspaper headline in framing and focusing the text message (cf. Van Dijk 1995). Two examples are: Colpi e gemiti d'amore per la bella Sharapova (15) [Strokes and love moans for the beautiful Sharapova] and Melbourne, il tennis a 40 gradi, la Sharapova rischia di sciogliersi (16) [Tennis in 40 degrees, Sharapova risks melting].

3.2.2. A strong similarity emerged in the Italian data also for the Luchjenbroers taxonomy, described in the Table 4 below.

3.2.3. There is also a resemblance in the Italian dataset related to the tendency of multiple coding of these conceptualizations as can be seen in the following example:
   Poi ci ha comunicato di non rendersi conto di grantuolare. Lo ha
   sempre fatto, sin fin da piccina (18).

   [Then, she informed us of the fact that she never realized that she
   grunt-wails. She has always done it, from when she was a
   teeny-weeny child.]

Thus, the athlete is metaphorized as an animal (grantuolare--grugnito piu rantolo [grunt-wail-grunt plus wail]) and as a child: not strong (da piccina [a teeny-weeny child]), not bright (innocente [innocent]), not rational (non rendersi conto [didn't realize]).

4. Conclusion

This study both confirms and extends the insightful study by Harris and Clayton (2002) on the representation of female athletes in the tabloid press. By searching for the same textual patterns in the quality press of two very different cultures (British and Italian), it confirms the suggestion that the eroticism of the female athlete is a constant rather than an occasional or tabloid-specific feature in print media sports reporting. This analysis added to the thematic taxonomy, identified by Harris and Clayton (2002), the metaphorical taxonomy present in Luchjenbroers (1997). The results indicated that along with the sexually-toned stereotype, women are also often represented in sports reporting as "cute little girls", implying their immaturity and therefore lack of adult competence, including athletic skill. The cross-linguistic perspective of the study revealed similar patterns in sports reporting in both the British and Italian press. The presence of common thematic and metaphorical strategies across languages, genres and cultures, which would lend support to the conviction that ideologically-motivated, gender-related stereotypes condition the sports world and permeate the linguistic description and general textual representation of female athleticism.

5. Discussion

Many scholars have emphasized the powerful role of the media in orienting ideological processes (cf. especially Fairclough 2001, van Dijk 1998a, 2002, 2004, 2006a, 2006b, 2009) and among these, several have emphasized its impact on the modelling of gender-specific positions (cf. Duncan 1993, Harris and Clayton 2002, Connell 1995, 2002, Messner, Cooky and Hextrun 2013, Morna, Mpofu and Glenwright 2010, van Dijk 1995). As noted by Clayton and Humberstone (2006: 298):
   While numerous social agents may communicate ideological messages
   (e.g. the family, education, peers), the media benefits from being
   more concrete and absolute in the structuring of gender.

The trivialization of the female body

This study has demonstrated that stereotyped descriptions of gender roles and activities heavily influence media coverage of female athleticism even in the quality press. The study used a corpus created from the sports pages of two national mainstream papers (the Times in Great Britain, and la Repubblica in Italy) over a five-year period concerning the tennis player Maria Sharapova. Adopting thematic and metaphoric taxonomies identified in previous studies as a methodological and heuristic framework, it extracted a dataset of expressions which were not related to sports and which could therefore be said to characterize the non-athletic description of the sportswoman. A well-defined discursive frame emerged from the data. It would seem that in both the British and Italian sports culture, female athletes are consistently portrayed in traditional feminine roles (passive and docile, sexually desirable and available, fragile and child-like), rather than in pro-active athletic positions, and are especially represented as top models, pin-ups, and sexual partners. This was specifically evident in this corpus for the thematic category Eroticizing of the female body, which resulted as particularly salient. In the datasets of both the British and the Italian newspapers, numerous articles featuring the tennis player Maria Sharapova focused on non-task relevant commentary which de-emphasized her athletic ability and highlighted her physical attractiveness and sexual desirability. In some cases, the descriptions could be said to approach sexually-gratifying male voyeurism (in the British dataset: a little skirt ... swirly enough to give every photographer a chance for the Marilyn-over-the-grating shot; in the Italian dataset: maglietta trasparentissima tipo panciotto ha offerto al pubblico desiderio Maria [a very transparent clinging-type t-shirt offered Maria to public desire]). Moreover, in both the English and Italian datasets, Maria Sharapova was consistently represented as child-like, a textual representation that is most likely motivated by the conceptual metaphor WOMEN ARE CHILDREN. The effect of foregrounding the "non-adult status" of the female athlete is again the downplay of her physical strength, of her athletic competence, of her competitive life-style. Moreover, the "child-like" lexical patterns often simultaneously evoked additional erotic connotations, like "boccuccia rosa" [little pink mouth] in the Italian data, or "Sharapova in full cry" in the English data. In accordance with common articulated positions on this subject, it has also been suggested that the only plausible explanation for the representation of women as desirable sexual commodities and/or incomplete adults rather than pro-active athletes is the affirmation of hegemonic masculinity, which is here intended as the Gramscian-based definition given by Connell (1995:77): "the configuration of gender practice which embodies the currently accepted answer to the problem of the legitimacy of patriarchy, which guarantees (or is taken to guarantee) the dominant position of men and the subordination of women".

These discriminatory discourse strategies trivialize the body of the female athlete. In addition to responding to male subjectivities, codifying masculine ideals and confirming men's sense of their identity as men, they also encode an ideology of femininity, which in turn becomes hegemonic. As argued by Harris and Clayton (2002:398), "the construction of hegemonic femininity is integral to the gendered sports formula, which serves the interests of male dominance". They explain that the construction of masculinity is achieved, in part, through the construction of femininity, and many of the aforementioned media mechanisms originate from this very basic principle. Quite simply, by highlighting the sensuality of the female body, the tabloid media creates an awareness of femininity, which in turn is over-utilized in these newspapers to construct non-task-relevant commentary and trivialize female athletes (2002:410).

When female athletes are targeted for this type of sexist operation, athletic performances become "gendered performances", in the sense suggested by Butler (1990, 1993, 2004), where social scripts imposing a prescriptive heterosexuality and fixed ideals of masculinity/femininity are reiterated. These ideals, thereby "homogenized" and "normalized" to use the terms adopted by Bordo (1993), become dominant and reinforce the power of certain groups (especially heterosexual men), relegating the others (those whose bodies and behavior do not reflect the normative ideals), to a status of exclusion, which also often includes disapproval and even ridicule (cf. the cartoon in the introduction).

Moreover, although traditional gender roles have been forcefully questioned in contemporary society, and despite the fact that women have emerged successfully in public (including athletic) settings, it seems that many discursive spaces of the sports world are highly and obstinately conservative. In their study on the relation between myths of the female body, female athleticism and feminist liberation in the US context, for example, Roth and Basow (2004: 235) remark:
   U.S. society continues to accept myths regarding the supposed
   weakness of women's bodies. Women's displays of physical power are
   often prevented or undermined, typically in ways centering on the
   concept of femininity. Increasing numbers of female athletes have
   not led to a true physical feminist liberation, one which would
   'increase women's confidence, power, respect, wealth, enjoyment of
   physicality, and escape from rape and the fear of rape.

Understanding and producing discourse requires the activation of mental frameworks which are socially-structured. Van Dijk (2004) emphasizes that journalists activate knowledge of the world which is filtered through ideology, defined as "shared social representations of social groups."(Van Dijk 1998b). The mental model motivating discourse on the female body is historically of a "deficiency" nature. Traditionally, general social discourse concerning the female body encodes the lack of physical power and this discourse carries over to specialized and professional domains. Rather than foreground a powerful female body, the sports pages of the mainstream press display a mental model of female athletes that is child-like, sexually desirable and powerless. The significance of the female athlete's body as locus for ideological struggle has been aptly formulated by Messner (1998:197):
   The socially constructed meanings surrounding physiological
   differences between the sexes, the present "male" structure of
   organized sports, and the media framing of the female athlete all
   threaten to subvert any counter-hegemonic potential posed by female
   athletes. In short, the female athlete-and her body-has become a
   contested ideological terrain.

Although female athleticism could be seen to reflect women's successful struggle for equality and self-determination, sports institutions (organizations and media) still seem to support an ideology of male superiority and privilege. On the one hand, the presence of women in sports represents a counter-hegemonic tendency which opposes the well-guarded male control of the athletic world; on the other hand, that presence, especially when it is filtered through biased media messages, risks becoming another place for the affirmation of male hegemony. The power of the press, as forcefully argued by Van Dijk (1995: 9) is "not restricted to the influence of the media on their audiences, but also involves the role of the media within the broader framework of the social, cultural, political, or economic power structures of society."

Resisting the trivialization of the female body

Having identified areas of sports journalism in two cultures as the locus of biased gendered discourse, the question now arises regarding possible inroads for resisting this type of discursive discrimination.

The first step necessary to overcome the tendency to portray women as sexually-available objects rather than competent athletic professionals would be the general recognition of the patriarchal design behind this biased representation of the female athlete. Unfortunately, this awareness remains a struggle. Since the media displays "an empire of images" for which "there are no protective borders" (Bordo 2003: B5-B9), it is obviously difficult for the uncritical human subject to withstand the all-embracing, mind-invading, behavior-conditioning power of this world of biased verbal and visual images.

Now, as a response to the objectification of the female body, feminist theory has embraced the concept of empowerment, viewed as the necessity and the will for women, and for the female subject, to move from mere awareness of female objectification to social agency, from passive cognizance to active engagement. And, in fact, a second step is necessary, that of resistance to the "empire of images" which trivialize women and female corporeity.

Undoubtedly, social institutions have a role to play in this effort. Home, school and athletic organizations should become arenas for the promotion of awareness of gender bias in the sports media by emphasizing the relative invisibility of the female athlete and the tendency to minimize her athletic achievements and to trivialize her public image. Parents and teachers especially should emphasize the irony behind the representation of a strong, skilled female athlete in terms of naive childishness and sexual desirability.

However, awareness is insufficient and only an active, incessant resistance to gender bias in language can contribute to gender justice. Messner and Cooky (2010) have noted the contribution to change that can be made by sports organizations if they provide more substantial information to the media about female athletes. They also suggest that media should encourage the presence of female sports reporters and commentators. In fact, studies have found that although there has been an increase in the number of women working in the media, managerial positions (producers, executives, chief editors and publishers) are still held primarily by men, a finding which is statistically higher in many third world countries. (19) (cf. White 2009 and Byerly 2013).

The responsibility of the media has been signalled out in the 2004 UNESCO document on women and sport (MINEPS IV), (20) which states, "the diffusion of this positive information will only be efficient if the media invest themselves and accept the idea of quality women's sport." Obviously, offensive images like the cartoon reproduced in the introduction of this paper and language uses such as those reported in the data should not be tolerated. And thus more courageous acts are perhaps called for. Of course these will depend on the contextual specificities of the given culture. We can merely suggest for example the creation of intense professional, governmental and non-governmental networking to support policy formation relative to the use of neutral and unbiased language in journalism, as argued by White (2009). We could also deem useful the promotion by feminist activist groups of negative consumer reactions to newspapers which permit discriminatory language. Persistent and/or extreme cases of stereotyped journalistic reporting could be likened to pornography and the feasibility of legal action could be suggested. Given moreover the new communication modalities of internet social networks, far-reaching responses targeting specific sexist operations in the press can be rapidly implemented.

Some interesting initiatives in this direction can be mentioned. For example, the on-line, open-access international student journal Student Pulse dedicated a feature article to the question of the sexualization of female athletes, (22) thereby sensitizing students worldwide (who moreover can respond and interact through twitter blogs) to the dangers inherent in the media's representation of female athletes:

Through the sexualization of female athletes, the media entrench society's patriarchal structure, which undermines the feminist movement's attempt to achieve gender equality and greater opportunities for women (Liang 2011).

In conclusion, we suggest that due attention should be paid by feminist scholarship and activism to the textual representation of female athleticism, precisely because the sports world harbours and propagates ideologically-motivated, sexist stereotypes. It could be suggested that an athletic subculture assumes the task of the survival and reconstitution of hegemonic masculinity, and it does so through a specific, reiterated media script which trivializes the female body. Thus, the sports section of mainstream print media is often complicit with male dominance and becomes one of the primary sites of the legitimization of patriarchal ideology.


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By Diane Ponterotto (1)

(1) Diane Ponterotto is professor of English language and linguistics, Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici University of Rome "Tor Vergata" Via Columbia 1Rome00133 Italy.

(2) "Did You Know That Women Are Still Paid Less Than Men?" White House. Retrieved April 19, 2014,

(3) The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, named after a woman who discovered her employer was paying her less than men doing the same job, and filed a discrimination complaint which arrived at the Supreme Court, makes it easier to effectively challenge unequal pay in the workplace.


(5) European Commission, 2010, 'Opinion on "Breaking Gender Stereotypes in the Media", Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, Social Europe, European Commission, Brussels. Retrieved April 19, 2014.

(6) Retrieved from, June 29, 2009.

(7) This is obviously a pun on the routinized formula in tennis competitions: "Game, set and match".

(8) For an analysis of the patriarchally-motivated use of gender-stereotyped photographs and captions in sports media, see Duncan (1993).

(9) Following conventions in Conceptual Metaphor Theory, the mental analogy (or conceptual metaphor) is indicated in capital letters. The figurative expression is indicated in italics with the word motivating the analogy in bold.

(10) It is interesting to note that the image of the famous photo (Marilyn Monroe in a white halter dress with her skirt revealingly blown upward by the wind from the underground grating) is expressed through a creative compound used as a modifier, which produces the noun phrase: "a Marilyn-over-the-grating shot". The multiple iconic and verbal connotations of the modifier are thereby transformed into a single lexical item, giving the expression a sense of fixity, conventionality and therefore social acceptance.

(11) N. Harman, "Maria Sharapova, tennis still my driving force", The Times, June 22, 2009.

(12) S. Barnes, "Sharapova in with a shout after turning up the volume", The Times, June 27, 2007.

(13) In this Italian dataset, there is an attention to the sounds emitted by Sharapova during competition which are onomatopaeic words similar to the English "moan", "wail", "grunt" etc. In Italian especially the word gemiti[moans] often carries a sexual overtone, a word sense that the journalist exploits to eroticize these vocalizations explicitly referring to them as "orgasmic".

(14) The word "grantoli" does not exist in the Italian lexicon. It was coined by the journalist as a combination of grugniti [grunts] and rantoli [wails], in order to emphasize the sexual nuance which he attributes to Sharapova's vocal emissions. during the tennis matches. A translation of this word is perhaps impossible and even the gloss given [grunt-wails] as a pseudo-compound is at best approximate.

(15) G. Clerici, "Colpi e gemiti d'amore per la bella Sharapova", La Repubblica, June 25, 2003, p. 46.

(16) G. Clerici, "Melbourne, il tennis a 40 gradi la Sharapova rischia di sciogliersi", La Repubblica, January 17, 2007, p. 65.

(17) In Italian the diminutive suffixes, -ino, -ina, -ini, -ine, are often used to refer to the body parts of infants and children, as inpiedino [little foot], manina [little hand], ditini [little fingers], braccine [little arms].

(18) G. Clerici "Colpi e gemiti d'amore per la bella Sharapova", La Repubblica, June 25, 2003, p. 46.

(19) The Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) reports that throughout the world, so-called "soft" subjects" regarding the private sphere (family, arts, fashion etc.) are assigned to female journalists while serious topics regarding politics, business and the economy are covered by male reporters. (cf. Byerly 2013) o/topic-guides/gender/gender-and-media

(20) The Fourth International Conference of Ministers and Senior Officials Responsible for Sport and Physical Education (MINEPS IV) available at physical-educationand-sport/women-and-sport/

(21) One could even suggest the promotion of a computer app similar to the "Equal Pay App challenge" promoted in the US by the Obama administration. (cf. The "Equal Pay App challenge" invited software developers to use publicly available labor data and other online resources to create applications to educate users about the pay gap and to build tools to promote equal pay. Similarly an "equal gender sports coverage app" could be foreseen with the aim of making data regarding female athletes from all over the world readily available to an international public.

(22) the-medias-sexualization-of-female-athletes-a-bad-call-for-themodern-game
Table 1

Examples of Thematic Strategies in the English
dataset of The Times corpus

The Invisibility         --the sexiest woman
of the female athlete    in the world
(the woman as visible;
the athlete as

Emphasizing              "But I should be OK--I sound
Traditional Male         like a wimp saying this to you
Traits                   guys" ... There has always
                         been a degree of vulnerability
                         to her.

Communicating            "After having a tough last six
Pain, Anguish            months with my shoulder
and Sacrifice            injury, I'm not expecting a
in Sport                 lot from myself".

Creating Heroes          --... she rents a couple of
and National             streets from the All England
Identities               Club ...

Coverage of Women in     --blew kisses to the court
Appropriate'             --blows victorious kisses
Sporting Roles           to the four sides of
                         the stadium

Non-Task Relevant        --photogenic beauty
Commentary               --sexy Maria
                         --four leggy Maria
                         --copulatory shrieks
                         --blue movie grunting

Trivialization           Sharapova said she rushed
of Female                through her warm-up and cut it
Accomplishments          a little short because she
in Sport                 "couldn't wait" to get into
                         the dress.

Eroticizing              She arrived on Centre Court
of the                   yesterday in a curious coat
Female Body              and stripped this off to show
                         a dress artfully contrived to
                         make the most of her: bare at
                         the shoulders, translucent
                         panels, a little skirt
                         complete with VPL, swirly
                         enough to give every
                         photographer a chance for the
                         Marilyn-over-the-grating shot.

Table 2

Examples of Conceptual Metaphors in the English
dataset of The Times corpus

Conceptual Metaphor       Linguistic realizations

Women as animals          --the bloodcurdling howls

Women as embryos          Women, we are regularly told,
(undeveloped              are unpredictable.
or immature)

Women as children         Cuddling the 2006 US Open
(at play)                 trophy with the excitement of
                          a child reunited with her
                          favourite doll, Maria
                          Sharapova embodied delight,
                          triumph and pride.

Women as children         For all her worldliness, the
(not strong)              Russian still sounded like a
                          gawky teenager when she
                          gushed: "It's really weird--
                          I've never gotten blisters
                          before on my feet, so I was
                          kind of a little shocked and
                          forgot what I was doing out

Women as children         --refreshing candour
(not bright)

Women as children (not    Sharapova has gone on from the
rational, emotional,      "little girl" to become a very
sensitive)                big girl.

Table 3

Eroticizing of the Female Body: Examples from the Italian
dataset of the La Repubblica corpus

Italian expressions                English glosses

--certi gemiti, certi              --particular moans, whines
rantoli, ... orgasmi               (13) .... orgasms

--con i sessantacinque chili       --with her sixty-five kilos
benissimo distribuiti sul          perfectly distributed on her
metro e ottantotto da top          6ft tall top model body

--con le lunghissime,              --with her very long splendid
splendide gambe                    legs

--dal petto delizioso              --with her delicious chest

--dalla boccuccia rosa, ...        from her little pink mouth--
riprendevano ad uscire gemiti      moans and wails, or if you
e rantoli, o se preferite          prefer "grunt--wails"
"grantoli" (14)

--i gemiti della Sharapova         --Sharapova's moans

--le gambe alte sin quasi alle     --her long legs which almost
ascelle, aggressiva come una       reach her armpits, as
tigre.                             aggressive as a tiger

--lo stile Sharapova & C. in       Sharapova & company style, on
passerella a Wimbledon             the catwalk of Wimbledon

--ma quelle loro emissioni         --but whose vocal emissions
vocali potrebbero ...              could suggest similar sounds
suggerire analoghe sonorita        reserved usually for moments
riservate di solito, ad            of sexual intimacy
intimita sessuali

--maglia a maniche lunghe (con     --long--sleeved sweater (with
scollo comunque provocante)        a provoking plunging

--maglietta trasparentissima       --a very transparent clinging-
tipo panciotto, per di piu         -type t--shirt, pleated even,
plissettato, dorato,               golden, silver, made of a rich
argentato, di prezioso tessuto     made--in--Italy fabric,
made in Italy, ha offerto          offered Maria to public desire
alpubblico desiderio Maria

--petto delizioso                  --delicious chest

--sexy Sharapova                   --sexy Sharapova

--sulla superba flessuosissima     --on her superb sinuously
schiena                            flexible back

--sulle lunghissime gambe, che     --on her long legs which seem
sembran piu da ballerina che       to belong to a ballet dancer
da tennista.                       rather than to a tennis player

Table 4

Examples of Conceptual Metaphors in the Italian
dataset of the La Repubblica corpus

Metaphor             Italian expressions   English glosses

Women as             --la campionessa      --the female
animals              mondiale del          champion of
                     grantolo (grugnito    grunt-wail
                     piu (grugnito         (grunt plus wail)

                     --aggressiva          --as aggressive
                     come una              as a tiger
                     come una tigre

Women as             --boccuccia rosa      --little pink mouth
(undeveloped         --La bionda prende    --The blond takes
or immature)         il microfono          The blond takes
                     tra le ditine         the microphone
                     (17) ...              between her
                                           little fingers ...

                     --suo visuccio        --her cute
                     carino ma brufoloso   little pimpled face

Women as             --i suoi urletti      --her little sporty
children             sportivi sul prato    howls on the green
(at play)            verde di Wimbledon    lawn of Wimbledon

Women as children    In campo, la sua      On the court, his
(not strong)         bambina mostrava      baby showed
                     testardaggine ancor   stubborness rather
                     superiore al          than courage

Women as children    "Non mi faccio mai    "I never do without
(not bright)         mancare un dessert    a chocolate dessert"
                     al cioccolato".

                     --nel faccino         --in her little,
                     apparentemente        apparently innocent
                     innocente             face

Women as children    Maria Sharapova       Maria Sharapova will
(not rational,       pronuncera al         pronounce into the
emotional,           microfono le sue      microphone her first
sensitive)           prime parole con la   words with a voice
                     voce rotta dalla      broken with emotion
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Publication:Journal of International Women's Studies
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 1, 2014
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