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Summer 2011 – time for the women’s World Cup.

This time last summer, my friends and I gathered every evening to watch whatever game from the men’s World Cup that was on that day. Without fail we would rush home from work, eat our sunflower seeds and spend the next two 90 minutes yelling at the TV.

And this summer?

I haven’t watched a single game of this World Cup. Every so often I catch the results of one of the games if it happens to come up in the headlines of one of the news websites I’m reading.

Clearly I’m not the only one paying less attention to female sports. An article in Time magazine explains that a recent study showed that across TV and print media in the US, female athletics makes up about 8% of the overall sports coverage. In an attempt to counteract the lack of coverage and increase viewership, female sports associations have been seeking to drive up publicity for their sport through more aggressive advertising.

One example of this is the Women’s Tennis Association, which launched the Strong is Beautiful campaign. In its video segments, female tennis stars are shown hitting the ball in slow motion as they explain their love of the game in a voiceover. Obviously the emphasis on the female form and beauty has drawn criticism. The article mentioned above explains, “when female athletes are featured in ads, it tends to be in ways that hyperfeminize them rather than highlight their athletic competence.”

A similar approach was taken by members of the female German national soccer team, with several players deciding to pose in Playboy magazine in their underwear, explaining, “we want to disprove the cliché that all female footballers are butch. The message is: look, we are very normal — and lovely — girls!” The article makes the overall point that advertisements focusing on female athletics seem to by tied up in the context in which the public is comfortable looking at women. Essentially the idea that women can be strong, powerful athletes has to be curbed by the idea that they are beautiful as well. To simply be strong and capable athletes would be off putting, it’s not how society likes to see its women. We like our women beautiful.

I guess. So say the advertising and athletic associations that are desperate for money and funding and somewhere along the way they got to decide how we like to view women. As it explains in the document, “media systems work to naturalize the messages and habits of thought they propogate, until these messages and habits begin to appear as normal, inevitable features of social life.” So maybe these media messages aren’t the norm, they aren’t what people really want. Maybe there is a market out there for people who just enjoy sports; who enjoying watching people play to their fullest capacity. Maybe they just need a helping hand to realize what they are missing and should be reminded through images of athletes doing what they do best not looking their best. People like me.