Writing in the Pacific Standard recently, Tom Jacobs pointed to two new studies that reveal a decidedly mixed picture of NBC’s prime-time Olympic coverage when it comes to gender equitability.
The first study, out of the University of Delaware, found that in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics men received almost 23 hours of prime-time coverage, versus a little less than 13 hours for women. The second study, from the University of North Carolina, look at the Summer Olympics in 2008 as well as previous years, and discovered a more equitable balance: 46.3 percent of air time went to women in 2008, and 47.9 percent in 2004. However, coverage of women’s events tilted heavily towards what the researchers termed “socially acceptable” sports for women, and sports with minimal clothing where women can be displayed as physically attractive:
[N]early three-quarters of the women’s coverage was devoted to gymnastics, swimming, diving and beach volleyball.
Track and field, where the clothing is almost as minimal, made up another 13 percent of the women’s prime-time coverage. “The remaining sports represented—rowing, cycling, and fencing—are not, by traditional standards, ‘socially acceptable’ sports for women, and make up approximately 2 percent of coverage,” the researchers write.
“Women who take part in sports that involve either power or hard-body contact are particularly unlikely to receive media coverage. When women engage in stereotypical feminine events, or look pretty or graceful, they will receive coverage, but they risk being shunned if they venture from that space.”
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