Updated: April 15, 2021 9:24:28 am
A study into gender equality across the media has found that women’s tennis coverage is more focussed on family and off-court activities, while men’s tennis highlights the on-court battles and physical prowess.
According to the International Tennis Federation (ITF) study titled ‘Exploring sports gender equality in the media’ — the results of which were released on Monday — terms such as ‘GOAT’ and ‘making history’ are used more in the context of men’s tennis content. The conversation around women’s tennis in online content, as well as social media posts, focussed a lot more on age, health and family.
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What are the key takeaways?
While the focus of men’s coverage is more on the physicality and the stature of ‘GOAT’, positioning the male players as athletes more, women’s coverage focuses a lot more on a player’s age, family and off-court life.
According to the research, men’s tennis content is twice as likely to refer to what is described as ‘battle’ terminology than women’s. Results for men’s tennis is 70 per cent more likely to mention a player’s physical prowess and the acronym GOAT (Greatest of All Time) was also mentioned 50 per cent more times in the context of a male player as compared to a woman. There are also 40 per cent more references to ‘making history’ in men’s content.
On the other side, women’s tennis content is as likely to mention specific age/teen/’youngness’ of players than men’s content. It is also more than twice likely to mention health and medical treatment. The results for women’s tennis are 30 per cent more likely to refer to the player’s family and the term ‘career’ is mentioned nearly 50 per cent more in women’s coverage.
What are the other findings?
The mentions of clothing occur twice as much in women’s coverage than in men’s. And while social issues have a low volume of mentions overall — comprising less than 0.5% of online content — they are more prevalent in women’s content.
There were 11 times more mentions of skin colour in women’s tennis and 3 times as many mentions of the Black Lives Matter movement; the latter could be attributed largely to Naomi Osaka. The World No. 2 campaigned for social justice reforms last year and wore masks bearing the name of a black victim of alleged police or racist violence in the US at the US Open.
The study further adds that the discussion of ‘net worth’ is more prevalent in men’s tennis. And upon Googling ‘top 50 tennis players’, only six out of 50 search results are women.
Overall, however, there are very few differences in search terms and search questions around male and female tennis players. The study notes that “there is a similar level of interest in sport-related searches, searches around relationships and family, interest in their country of origin, age, height and current location.”
How was the research conducted?
The data was compiled by market research firm Ipsos MORI. The study was sourced from publicly available tennis content from 2019 and 2020 in English, Spanish and French. Chinese content from 2019 was also retrieved. Comparative analysis between male and female athletes was undertaken on a sample of 25,000 online posts per gender, per sport, per year, per language/country.
What have been the responses?
Speakers at ITF’s global forum on gender equality, ‘Level the Playing Field’, discussed the study on Tuesday. Former world No. 6 Chanda Rubin said she “wasn’t surprised by the results.”
“When you look at how women are talked about how conversations are around women versus men, men are athletes first,” said the American. “And in many cases, the media and in general people having these conversations, look to find other interesting things about women, apart from them being athletes. They’re looking at their upbringing, their background, their ethnicity. We do want to change the conversation surrounding women athletes.”
When asked how to improve search engine optimization for women’s sport, Peter Hutton, head of sports at Facebook, said it could be done “by changing the data that’s going into them.”
“If you look at what search engines do, they basically reflect society. That’s how they’re supposed to operate. If you manually change search engines, then you open yourself up to other accusations of bias as well,” said Hutton. “The important thing is to have more women stories out there because that’s going to affect those search engines. I think the importance is encouraging organisations, individuals federations to put out more women stories to encourage the media outlets to put out more stories, and that inevitably will change the search results.”
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