April 16, 2021 3:20:26 am
Do an online search for “greatest tennis player of all time”. The first name that comes up will be a man’s. In fact, all the names that come up will be men because the default search query for which you’re getting the result is “greatest tennis player of all time/male”. Can you wrap your head around that? It’s as if Google has never heard of Serena Williams.
It’s not the search engine’s fault; it is, after all, designed and built by humans and runs on the data that we feed it. It is this data — mainly media coverage — which betrays the persistence of an ancient bias. The “Exploring sports gender equality in the media” report, by the International Tennis Federation, which was released on Monday, highlights this problem. As the report discovered, media coverage of women’s tennis focuses on their clothes, family and off-court activities, while on-court battles and physical prowess were highlighted in men’s tennis. The results for the latter were also 70 per cent more likely to mention “GOAT” (greatest of all time) and 40 per cent more likely to use the phrase “making history”.
Of course, we will argue that the great maw of the internet will only accept such coverage because, actually, that maw belongs to the Reader, an amorphous Thing that is simultaneously an accurate reflection of human society and a god-like figure that must be appeased with more and more of the same because otherwise it will render us irrelevant. It’s time we break free of this circular logic, an endless loop of bias that feeds on itself. The ITF report quite rightly calls out the media’s own biases and the only responsible response is an acknowledgement of our errors and making sure that we do better from now on.
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