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Gender Roles in Sports Photography

The first thing that struck me about this article was the notion that women are pictured in a domestic, inferior role as compared to men in sports photography. While I’m sure this happens more than it should, the images that come to my mind when I think of women in sports photography are not feminine images. I recall sweaty, screaming women soccer players celebrating a scored goal. I see really tall basketball players all jumping for the ball. I can honestly say that I don’t recall a single sports image where a woman seems subservient or less celebrated than a man.

I decided to Google “women in sports” images to see if this was just my perspective… Then I changed my mind. You can see the (highly inappropriate) results here. The SECOND image in my search is a picture up close to the revealing bikini bottom of two volleyball players from behind. The fourth picture is even worse, but it’s a poorly photoshopped version so I can’t say it exactly qualifies for this search. Even so, the fact that in the first two rows of images there are 4 pictures depicting underdressed body parts of female athletes is a bad sign (the third row contains a highly disturbing photo of a woman taking off her pants with a sorry excuse for underwear on… I would avoid it). These images don’t just depict women as valued for their feminism, it entirely demeans them.

But then I did a search for “men in sports.” The first three rows of this search did not show a single action shot. What? I thought men dominated this field? Instead, there are multiple images of shoes and clothes, in addition to cologne ads, sales pitches and magazine shots. The men in the ads are all made to look beautiful, and in my opinion even softer than the women.

Isn’t he beautiful?

This was an interesting little experiment. Obviously it’s not very thorough or conclusive, but it’s still remarkable that the women’s search returned nine true action shots while the men’s search returned zero (in comparing the first three rows of images). What does that mean? Are gender roles in sports media starting to change?

The idea of sports photography as a sort of pornography is not too off. Just in the first three rows of my image searches there were the toned boobs and butts of women, and the finely chiseled chests of handsome, athletic men.

This makes me wonder; Are we making this gender gap in sports media, or is it the photographers/publishers forcing this stereotype?


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