May 12, 2022

“Does specifying ‘female’ sport mean that male sport is the norm?”

January 24, 2022 is International Women’s Sports Day. This was created in 2014 by the Superior Audiovisual Council and the French National Olympic and Sports Committee and aimed “to allow women’s sport to gain visibility and contribute to its better representation in the media”. Béatrice Knoepfler, co-president of Bordeaux Mérignac Volley, signs a platform to testify to the persistence of sexist prejudices accompanying the practice of sport by women, and denounces the inequalities of treatment with men, including the invisibilization of sportswomen in the media.

Here is one of the official photos of the 2021-2022 season representing the Bordeaux Mérignac Volley (BMV) team, which plays in the Elite championship, the second national division.

The Bordeaux Mérignac Volleyball team (© Robert Nowak)

When it was broadcast, observers were moved by the absence of a smile from the players. It was, according to them, “a pity”, even “they make the mouth! “.

Translate: they do not correspond to the representation that we have of women and, by extension, of sportswomen. Because, in this representation housed in the collective imagination, itself housed in the tradition of perception of the feminine, women must smile in the photos.

Do you like to experiment? Ask any woman or young girl how many times she’s been called out to by a stranger on the street saying, “Well, aren’t we giving a little smile?!” As if it were perfectly obvious that a woman has to smile all the time, anytime – and on demand if she doesn’t inadvertently wander around with her teeth out – to satisfy the need for female embodiment that arises. builds an unknown. Who considers, by the way, that this smile is due to him.

It’s exactly the same with this photo.

The Pink Peril

In another style of representation, each sports club has a logo. When Valérie Pull and I were elected co-presidents of BMV, one of the very first actions was to change the club’s logo. The latter was available in pink, like the vast majority of women’s team sports club logos.

Again, a small emotion took hold of some observers. The more daring lamented this change, deeming burgundy and navy blue too dark, while pink was so “bright” and “suitable”. And, there again, for a lot of people, women’s sport = pink. By touch or solid: roses, outfits, roses, logos.

If we take a look at the symbolism of colors, we learn that pink is associated with romanticism and femininity. For a big bundle of dated spirits, it’s the color for girls (versus blue for boys). And if we look a little closer, we understand that sportswomen must retain this part of visible femininity, so as not to destabilize the representation that we have of them as women. However, it is quite rare for a player to declaim Ronsard under an umbrella when planting an attack in the opposing field.

Behave ?

I pass on the institutionalized sexualization of the body of sportswomen who must still and always fight for the right to wear the outfits of their choice (cf. the fine of 1500€ imposed on the Norwegian beach hand ball team by the discipline of the European Handball Federation for having played in shorts and not in a regulatory bikini during the Tokyo Olympics in 2021). I still remember the reflection of a lady during an event linked to the club: she thought it indecent that the logo of a partner was affixed to the back of the players’ shorts and asked me about the compatibility with our positions described as “feminist”. This same logo is on the buttocks of Union Bordeaux Bègles rugby players without raising the slightest question about the hypersexualization of their bodies.

The problem does not come from the outfit, it comes from the way it is perceived and, in short, it is ok on the buttocks of rugby players, but it is indecent on those of volleyball players.

Women’s sport is thus subject to very entrenched representations and suffers, paradoxically, from a lack of…representation in the media, what is also called media representativeness.

Do we say male sport?

Pile what aims to democratize the International Day of Women’s Sport on January 24. There are in this day – beyond the laudable intention – two problems:

The first is the ephemeral side of the Single Day, which encloses “women’s sport” in the big family of what is considered a minority. Athletes are not a minority. Women are not a minority: they make up 51.6% of the French population (INSEE as of 1is January 2019).

The second is this permanent denomination: women’s sport. Have you ever heard of “men’s sport”?

I offer you a new experience: read, listen, watch sports news. You will never hear “men’s football, league 1”, nor “European men’s handball championship” (currently in progress). Nor ever “masculine” behind any sport info practiced by men. Because it is culturally anchored, and especially in the journalistic treatment very mainly carried out by men, that sport is masculine.

It is implicitly considered the norm, hence the systematic “feminine” specification when it is practiced by women. From this tradition stems the unequal treatment of sport and the low place given to sportswomen.

Persistent inequalities

And when this inequality of treatment is pointed out, the authors object to the archaic excuse of the number of licensees and omit the well-known mercantile argument: “It’s the men who like sport and we serve them what they like , so they buy. »

For the record, the role of the journalist is to inform about the reality on the ground. Lands. These grounds are also occupied by women, professional sportswomen and high-level sportswomen. And not just on January 24. Behind this unequal treatment, there is nothing less than the evidence of persistent inequalities between women and men.

Because it’s not “only” sport, it’s a translation – among all the others in force in society – of the desire to make women invisible and to work, by cultural tradition with old pompoms, to mark a territory which nevertheless belongs as much to some as to some.

Beatrice Knoepfler
Director of editorial communication, co-president of Bordeaux Mérignac Volley

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