Tag Archives: women’s sport

Proof that roller derby is better than other sports

Right now, I am the strongest I’ve ever been. I admire my biceps. I marvel at my muscular thighs. We had to put the Elvis mirror up higher in the kitchen because I was constantly checking out my derby butt.

It wasn’t always like this – when I was skinny and when I was fat, I still hid my body. I’ve never cared what strangers thought of it, but I’ve always been so worried that people I know will look at my not-perfect body and think less of me. (No doubt this comes from growing up in a family who felt entitled to comment on my body all the time. Particularly during puberty. If you feel entitled to comment on someone’s body, stop fucking doing that.)

I figured this new body confidence was the result of playing sport. Of being physically active in a way I haven’t been for almost 25 years. But it’s not. This body confidence, this body satisfaction, it’s not a sport thing. It’s a roller derby thing. Peer-reviewed research says so.

For a lot of female athletes, there is conflict between their social world and their sporting world: to be successful in the former, they need to be feminine in appearance and demeanour, but to be successful in the latter they need to have strong muscular bodies and show characteristics associated with masculinity, such as assertiveness and competitiveness (Krane et al, 2004). So while they are proud of their muscular bodies in a sports setting, they tend to be self-conscious and have lower body image in a social setting. That’s no surprise. The ideal Western female athlete is slim, toned, white, and heterosexual-presenting – hell, that also describes the ideal Western woman and it is so damn hard to not internalise all that patriarchal bullshit. But this is where it gets interesting. Research by Andrea Eklund and Barbara Masberg (2014) indicates that playing roller derby leads to better body image, greater body satisfaction, and – in a surprise to no one who has been around derby players – a tendency to wear tight clothes in daily life. Wearing tight/revealing clothing at training and in bouts gives derby players the confidence to wear tight/revealing clothing in social settings. This finding contradicts research into other women’s sports that indicates that wearing revealing uniforms leads to lower body confidence (Krane et al, 2004).

Eklund and Masberg (2014) suggest that derby creates greater body acceptance, and acceptance of all body types, because unlike other sports, derby does not have an ideal-typical body type for that sport. Derby values all body types. However, in one of the greatest sentences to appear in an academic journal, “It should be noted that the respondents valued “booty”,” (Eklund and Masberg, 2014, p. 60).

This high level of body satisfaction and acceptance is also found in rugby (Fields and Comstock, 2008) and in belly dancing, which is one of the few styles in which dancers are not pressured to lose weight or to conform to any particular body shape (Downeya et al, 2010). Like derby, belly dancing promotes healthy body image in participants. Downeya et al (2010) suggest that belly dancing provides some sort of “immunity effect” in relation to social norms about ideal body types.

So there you have it. Proof that roller derby is better than other sports. I love the idea of getting immunised against harmful Western feminine ideals. An injection would be easier than learning to play derby, but it wouldn’t be as much fun. Not by a long shot. I fucking love my roller derby team.

Downeya, D., Reelb, J., SooHoob, S., and Zerbib, S. (2010). Body image in belly dance: Integrating alternative norms into collective identity. Journal of Gender Studies, vol. 19, pp. 377–393.

Eklund, A. and Masberg, B. (2014). Participation in Roller Derby, the Influence on Body Image. Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 49-64.

Fields, S. K., and Comstock, R. D. (2008). Why American women play rugby. Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, vol. 17, pp. 8–16.

Krane, V., Choi, P., Baird, S., Aimar, C., and Kauer, K. (2004). Living the paradox: Female athletes negotiate femininity and muscularity. Sex Roles, vol. 50, pp. 315–329.

Women play sport? Never heard about it

At the beginning of last week, twitter told me there were a couple of big things coming up in women’s sport: the Australian Open (golf) and the World Cup (cricket). I was curious to see what coverage they’d get in my paper of choice (Sydney Morning Herald – I don’t read News Ltd papers), so from Monday to Friday I counted the number of stories in the SMH sports section. I also counted the number of stories on the smh.com.au/sport homepage around midday (when online newsrooms are well-staffed and the page is ready for the lunchtime increase in traffic, so theoretically any gaps in coverage have been identified and filled).

For the purposes of this short study, I counted everything with a byline, including opinion pieces. I also made a note of the small news briefs from wire services.

What I found was worse than I was expecting.

Monday 11 February
There are 29 stories in the sports section. Only one involves women’s sport and it’s AAP copy – ie, they didn’t bother having one of their own journalists cover it. There are 10 news briefs, two involving women’s sport.

On the smh.com.au sport homepage at midday there are 57 stories. Two are about women’s sport – one from AAP, one from AFP.

That AAP story that was in print and online – Stars crush Lankans to book spot in final – is about our women’s cricket team being in the World Cup final. Here’s how it’s promoted on smh.com.au/sport:

The value given by smh.com.au/sport to the women's cricket team being in the world cup final.

The value given by smh.com.au/sport to the women’s cricket team being in the world cup final.

That’s right, it’s BELOW two stories that don’t involve an actual game.

Tuesday 12 February
There are 19 stories in the paper copy. Only one involves women’s sport (cricket). Of the five news briefs from AAP and AFP, one is about a female athlete.

There are 40 stories online, and only one is about women’s sport: Star injury unearths teenage tearaway.

Wednesday 13 February
There are 13 stories in the paper version, and none about women’s sport. Of the five news briefs, two are about women’s sport: Laetisha Scanlan – Australia’s best female trap shooter, also a Commonwealth champion – won the Qatar Open (there were four Australian women in the top 10 but that wasn’t reported); and Torah Bright wants to be the first snowboarder in the history of the Winter Olympics to compete in three disciplines. Two good stories that are only mentioned in passing at the very end of the sports section, after coverage of domestic injury news for male athletes and speculation about which men might be in a team for an event later in the year.

There are 43 stories online, and only one is about women’s sport.

Thursday 14 February
There are 25 stories in the paper version, and two of them are about women’s sport. Of the five news briefs, only one is about women’s sport – Rachel Jarry joining the US WNBA.

Online at midday, there were 43 stories, and only 3 on women’s sport, tucked right down the end in “More sports”. No coverage of the cricket World Cup.

Friday 15 February
There are 24 stories published in the paper version. Two are about women’s sport. Five briefs from wires services, two about women’s sport – one begins “Accused of sexism last year, Basketball Australia is making the national women’s team coach a full-time job to boost the world No.2-ranked Opals’ quest for an elusive first Olympic gold medal”.

Online there are 51 stories, and 4 are about women’s sport. Two are even – gasp! – in the top section:

Woah! Two stories about women made it to the top of smh.com.au/sport.

Woah! Two stories about women made it to the top of smh.com.au/sport.

However, one story is so wrong that it should cancel out the others: Love is all around me, says Sharapova. In a story about the Qatar Open, Richard Eaton reports THE MOST IMPORTANT TENNIS NEWS: whether Maria Sharapova, Caroline Wozniacki, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka are celebrating Valentine’s Day. Yep. You read that correctly.

I’m not including the weekend in this little study because I was out doing stuff and didn’t get a chance to count the online stories, but I think it’s worth mentioning the paper coverage. The Weekend Sport section on Saturday had 26 stories and only one about women’s sport (golf). There were four news briefs – all male sport. The Sun Herald sport section on Sunday had 34 stories, with three about women’s sport (two cricket, one golf). There were two news briefs on male sport.

Now, you might want to argue that I picked a bad week to do this, because each day had two pages of the Australian Crime Commission’s Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport report. But you’d be arguing a dud point. The majority of stories published were about injury news in male sport, and who was maybe going to be in a team and who was maybe going to be left out of the team, and what the people in teams thought about upcoming games in male sport. Yet Australian women were competing in world events that barely rated a mention. Where were the stories about the Aussie Gliders at the Osaka Cup (wheelchair basketball, and they won, by the way), and the final round of the WNBL season? Netball’s pre-season games are about to start, so where’s the pre-season coverage that we get for AFL and League and Union? There was a Football NSW Women’s Sport Festival yesterday that wasn’t previewed on Saturday (a classic weekend story) or reported on today. Women’s football has 100,000 registered players, which is something editors might want to think about the next time they wonder how they’re going to get more readers. These are just the events that I know about, and I’m not a sports fan at all, so I’d expect that a sports reporter would know a lot more about what’s going on at any given time. You know, because it’s their job to report on sport.

You might also want to argue that women aren’t as interested in sport as men are, so therefore it’s a waste of resources to cover women’s sport at all. I’m calling bullshit on that one as well. You only have to look at twitter when a game of some sort is on to see all the women tweeting passionately about it. It’s also bullshit to suggest that men aren’t interested in women’s sport. And perhaps women aren’t reading your sports coverage because it’s always male sport that gets coverage. You’d think that with the newspaper industry in so much trouble, they might be looking at ways to get new readers, because business as usual clearly isn’t working.

And you might also want to argue that it’s not a sports reporter’s job to promote sport, their job is to report sport. Right. So report sport, then. Or change your job title to Men’s Sport Reporter.

So, from Monday to Friday, the Sydney Morning Herald published 110 sport stories, and only 6 were about women’s sport (5.45 per cent). On the same five days, smh.com.au/sport published 234 stories, and only 11 were about women’s sport (4.7 per cent). You tell me, is that good enough?

Oh, and for the record, South Korean golfer Jiyai Shin won the Australian Open yesterday, and this is how smh.com.au/sport is reporting Australia’s cricket win:

Smh.com.au/sport coverage of the Southern Stars winning the World Cup early this morning

Smh.com.au/sport coverage of the Southern Stars winning the World Cup early this morning