Women sports journalists face harassment

Curator's Note

The sexist nature of recent Rio Olympics media coverage highlighted a problem in sports journalism: a shortage of women’s sports coverage as well as a lack of women working as sports journalists. In 2015, 90 percent of sports editors and 85 percent of sports columnists were male. The same year, women produced only about 10 percent of the sports news in the Unites States. Sports journalism is dominated by male power and privilege; a world of hegemonic masculinity in which women are considered secondary. This may be why, when it comes to the Olympics, where women’s sports suddenly are on a equal plane with men’s, some journalists respond in sexist ways.

For example, during the Games, a BBC interviewer congratulated Scottish tennis player Andy Murray on "being the first person ever to win two Olympic tennis gold medals," prompting Murray to correct him: "I think Venus and Serena (Williams) won about four each.” The Chicago Tribune in a tweet referred to Cory Cogdell, a bronze medalist athlete, as the wife of a football player instead of by her own name. Women journalists often either choose not to enter or decide to leave sports because of compound factors; however, one reason is harassment. A video released in 2016 showed sports journalists Julie DiCaro and Sarah Spain listening to unassuming men read aloud threatening tweets the women had received simply for doing their jobs. (For example, “One of the players should beat you to death with a hockey stick like the whore you are.”)

My current research focuses on harassment of women sports journalists and the effect it has on their lives. So far I have uncovered some startling and revealing information. Not one woman I have interviewed so far (of 10) has escaped verbal, physical, sexual, or online intimidation. The women employ various strategies for coping with such behavior, including ignoring, blocking, or reporting their harassers. Some talk with other women journalists for support; others rely on family and friends; and others cope alone. Women face physical threats, crude sexual comments, and other attacks that cause them distress and anxiety. As one high-profile journalist I interviewed noted, social media sites and individuals could do more to prevent online attacks on women, “There is too much tolerance for cyber bullying,” she said. “We all could do a better job and stop giving them the attention that they seek.”

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