Analysing the print media coverage of professional football players: British magazines and newspaper coverage of female players and officials in the women’s super league and females in football. Introduction The following research analyses coverage of women’s football and women involved in football in both nationally and locally distributed magazines and newspapers. The focus of the research looks at how the journalists refer and describe the women’s performance through interviews, writer’s columns and match reports, it is a long term study looking at data from October 1995 until the present day.
With the recent introduction of a women’s super league and the existing premier league, most of the data revolves around these leagues, although there are also interviews with officials involved in overseeing the men’s game. The investigation found an extremely unequal balance in coverage between men and women’s sport, particularly football. When it was featured in a more general audience magazine such as Four Four Two or You magazine, there was often reference to the women’s appearance, partners and family life, as well as the man’s game.
Alternatively in match reports featured in team specific publications such as programmes and fanzines there was much fewer references to the male game and a greater focus on skill and performance. Methodology Data collection The magazines and newspaper articles collected came from widely circulated publications including the Liverpool football club magazine, Four Four Two magazine and You magazine a supplement publication from the Mail on Sunday.
The audience for these magazines are generic and not aimed particularly at one gender, although that is not to say both genders are equally likely to read it. The sport specific magazines are mainly focused on men’s football and representatively more men take an interest in football and are likely to buy the magazine. However it does feature articles about women’s sport. With the recent introduction of the women’s super league the focus of much of the in the more contemporary articles has been on this, however there are articles from 1995 until the present day.
Sampling The data was chosen from a selection of publications that had been collected from 1995 until 2011, the articles that featured women’s football were found and the ones that had sufficient information about the team and the games they were involved in rather than just mentioned or the fixtures were used. The articles predominantly contained Liverpool ladies, although England, Everton and Chelsea teams were looked at along with an interview with a female official.
The limitations of the sample are that most of the coverage comes from Liverpool’s match day programme and given the late start of the women’s season there has only been recent coverage of the current season. Also there are only relatively few articles in the publications and the collection was not exhaustive so some articles may have been missing from the archive, particularly away games and several months issues of Four Four Two. Data analysis After the data was collected it was read over and a content analysis was carried out, looking at lexis choices, tone and attitude of the writer towards the female athletes and officials.
Points of interest and themes were highlighted in the articles, particularly the address of the female athletes, reference to the men’s game, and any sexual references. In articles containing interviews the questions put to the footballers were looked at for interviewer bias looking at any agenda the writer may have for presenting the woman’s game. The articles are in the appendices. Analysis Looking at the names of the teams involved in women’s premier league and super league is perhaps the most obvious form of subjugation within football.
Names such as ‘Millwall Lionesses’, ‘Doncaster Rover Belles’ (LFC programme 11th April) and ‘Leeds City Vixens’ are part of the women’s football league even the national team are known as the ‘three Lionesses’ (You magazine 11th March) or the Australian national team ‘the Matildas’ (Four Four Two Oct 07). Other teams who just have the names of male football team names such as Everton are known ‘Everton ladies’, the name of the teams, although some may just be nicknames rather than official league names, put women in a lower position than men.
Given that the game of football is not naturally gendered, it is not a male game, the idea that there is a need to differentiate they are female teams is quite surprising. In articles such as the Echo article from the 21st April, there is only an initial reference to gender in the headline ‘Dowie rescues a point for dominant ladies’ to prevent any confusion with the male team but throughout the rest of the interview, it is unbiased and simply refers to the players as members of the team, with references such as ‘the Toffees’ or simply just ‘Everton’.
In other magazines such as LFC weekly from the 12th April when talking about the start of the new season in women’s football, the writer refers to the teams gender 60 times, 24 references to ‘ladies’ and ‘women’ 33 times. If the gender had been stated at the beginning of the article then there would be little reason to continue referencing the gender repeatedly throughout. The Everton programme from 11th December 2004 (LFC VS EFC) the women’s team is referred to as ‘the Girls in Blue’, the word girls is usually used to describe a young female which conjures up ideas of inexperience and immaturity.
However in this instance it does not appear that is the writers intention to imply the women are any less than the best, after all Everton are one of the consistently best performing women’s team and it is in fact the only reference in the article about gender. It is more likely in this case, just a play on words adapting the slang reference to police as the boys in blue, McLoughlin (2000) looked at how magazines the writers expectations of women come through the text about what is accepted behaviour for women to do, football is still fairly off limits to women.
Ultimately this will have some power over the reader who may feel pressure to conform to norms in the media. Throughout almost all of the articles the female players are referred to as ladies, although the competitions are the women’s super league and women’s premier league when the specific teams are mentioned they are called the ‘ladies’ for example ‘Liverpool ladies’ (LFC programme 10th Jan 98).
This is an example of asymmetry not purely because of the use of diminutive ladies but also the need to differentiate from the male game. It would seem that it is normalising football as a male game as Liverpool men or any other team would not be referred to as Liverpool gentlemen, Janet Holmes also looked at the loaded meanings of the word ladies in her 2000 study. Gentlemen is the antonym of ladies which conjures up the images of gallantry and traditional ideas of gender, male ootball players would never be referred to as this as these are not the images that are desired for playing football, there will be evidence of respect and sportsmanship but it is a competition and a contact sport that has some level of controlled aggression and fierce competitiveness. Yet the women are referred to as ladies, this conjures up images of a reserved, gentle fairer sex, however they are just as capable of playing a hard tactile game.
Therefore the programme from October 1995 ‘ladies fight back’, title is almost an oxymoron as ladies and fighting are not compatible images. While a feminist may take offence at the reference to women’s football as ladies, given the context it would seem that writers are not trying to demean women by using it and it would appear the women they are referring to are happy to be known as that, or surely by now the strong women in the game would have done something to have this changed.
Later in the same programme the divide is further noted when the journalist writes ‘first-ever women’s derby match to be played at our famous stadium’, it is a common feature that youth teams play big games at Anfield even testimonials with male celebrities, yet it is made to be an honour at the thought of a women’s game occurring there, what is made worse is the description of the ground ‘our famous stadium’, this gives the impression it is solely for the men’s team, the fan’s, the writer, almost everyone except the women’s team, who should feel privileged to play at the ground.
Messner and Duncan (1993) believe that sport media are wary of changing the coverage of women’s sport as it would challenge the male hegemony, this is also supported by Hardin, Lynn and Walsdorf (2005) and Curry, Arriagada and Cornwell (2002). With the recognition of women’s football by FIFA only happening in 1991 according to the October 2007 Four Four Two interview with the England team, the female game is still very much emerging. However women have been playing football and taking part in sport for centuries.
By highlighting this is only ‘the second world cup England have qualified for’. He is raising the issue that the sport was only recently recognised yet taking away from the women’s achievements by bringing up the point that they hadn’t qualified many times before. As it is stated further in the magazine they have to balance ‘having full time jobs and preparing for the biggest tournament of your lives’, it is hardly surprising that they do not qualify as often as the men do as most of the players must remain amateur and the two games annot realistically be compared. The emergence of sports such as football has derived from local games that took part in villages as looked at in work by Reiley (2005) and Gerhadt (1993); mob games where two neighbouring villages would compete to get an object over the boundary into their village in order to win the game.
These were very violent and thought of as no place for ladies to be, as the governing bodies developed from the public school systems like Rugby and Eton where the boys would take the village games and refine them, it was still very much a boys world as at that time girls schools would not have encouraged these type of games. It was once thought that if women took part in sport it would impact on their child baring abilities. Eventually women were introduced to non contact sports such as tennis but it took many more years before they began to play more aggressive sports.
Many of the male teams that are in existence today such as Everton and Arsenal were developed from churches and factories for social reasons around the time of the industrial revolution, there is evidence of women’s teams developing slightly later during the times of war as the men went to fight and women were left behind to run industries, at the same time they started up their own teams, however it is only within the last 20 years that FIFA recognised the women in the sport.
With the introduction of many modern women’s football leagues and competitions and the use of female officials in the male game, it would appear that women’s teams are receiving a much greater coverage in the media. In mainstream football magazines such as Four Four Two and LFC magazine women’s football has featured over the last 16 years, however it appears only now that it has become somewhat of a regular feature.
While the men’s team, the reserve and youth teams have always had a weekly place in the Liverpool programme, with its own section women’s sport seemed confined to the occasional feature in the ‘community’ section. Stories from 1995 until more recently have covered the occasional trivial story such as the women’s team working with a school tournament shown in the October 1995 ‘girls shoot it out’ extract. Little emphasis was put on the team’s performance, rather the feeling that by covering this story Liverpool are showing what a caring club they are.
Other features within the community section have been the clubs charity work internationally and with children with disabilities, by clumping the women’s team in with these stories it suggests that they are not on the same level as the men’s game and it is almost a privilege to be featured along with the ‘main team’, that the coverage of the women’s game is almost charitable. While some may argue that the programme is reporting on the events of the men’s first team and this may be why the women do not feature frequently, then surely the features of the reserves and youth team games should be only covered occasionally.
Slowly this does appear to be changing, although the women’s leagues only start the season after the male counterparts, in the hope that the male game does not over shadow the women’s game, women’s football has featured in the recent Liverpool programme every home game recently and it has also moved from being covered in the community section to the ‘news’ (see Liverpool vs. Manchester city April 2011). However when it does feature in the publications however it is rarely a full page, often less than a quarter of a page as in the Liverpool programme (October 2008 LFC vs.
Portsmouth) within a 82 page magazine, although the LFC weekly featured a 4 page article in a 50 page magazine. It would appear female footballers are finally gaining more acceptance in the media. Sexualisation of females within men’s magazines such as nuts and zoo is a common feature, the main reader of football specific magazines are men, so it may be expected that women are also portrayed as sexual objects in them.
However this does not appear to be the case for much of the features found in the media, although there are still some examples of it. The interview with the England team in Four Four Two from 2007 talks to the women about their chances in the world cup, the interview asks questions such as ‘the Australian women’s team ‘the matildas’ posed nude for a calendar. Would you ever consider doing likewise? , another example of this is the interview in you magazine when the writer refers to the team as ‘the group of leggy and enviably toned young women’, women may be viewed as sexual objects in some of the male dominated readership magazines as a way of gender commodifcation an idea supported by work by Whannel (2000), a way of conforming to male ideals that in buying the magazine about football and sexualised women they are becoming more manly, that it ok to view women as objects men are the dominant gender, magazines and the media have some part to play in the socialisation of today’s youth according to Wilemsen (1998), he even believes magazines widen the gap and differences between the genders. It is good then that the female athletes and officials are being covered about their roles in the mass media, but there is still some way to go to completely remove the gender stereotypes and bias.
Although saying that, there are many interviews featured in magazines with male sports stars that objectify images of them and pass judgement on their physique, for some this may seem a positive move that women have the same powers over men but it may be better to feature women in the female magazines that other women can look up to and aspire to be like.
It would also appear that coverage in a magazine that is aimed more at women but a more generic audience, You a supplement with The Mail, recently did a feature of the England team also discussing their chances at the world cup. Throughout the interview with the individual players they were given a small character description such as ‘the captain’ or ‘the veteran’ which are acceptable as they describe their role and dedication to the sport, however others were described as the ‘young mum’ or ‘the Beyonce fan’, while this style of reporting may be to normalise the girls and create a bond between the player and the reader who may have similar attributes, it also implies that they are doing something out of the ordinary and taking away from the girls sporting achievements by feminising and trivialising them.