The Sexualization of Female Athletes

January 27, 2011 :: Dayna Daniels
Moderated by Christina Cuthbertson


In the 21st century girls and women are as likely as boys and men to be participants in sports. It would be easy to challenge this statement from a media perspective as very few women athletes are seen on television, in sports magazines, on sport-related internet sites or on the sports pages of newspapers. In the world of sport, women are still seen to be intruders in a male domain.

There are exceptions, of course. Women athletes who are especially beautiful are welcomed in various media outlets - particularly if they are scantily clad and gazing into the camera with the come-hither expression of a sex kitten. The sexualization of women athletes is not a new phenomenon. The physical appearance of women athletes has been the most frequently used aspect of publicity regarding women and sport for over a century. The beauty (and, therefore, the assumed heterosexuality) of the female athlete has been used to legitimize women's participation in a seemingly masculine activity.

Over the decades, as women athletes have gotten greater opportunities to train and compete in sport, their level of performance has increased to the point that many women athletes equal the skill and physicality of many men athletes. One push-back to this increasing excellence of women athletes is for them to 'prove' that they are women. Reducing the woman athlete to a heterosexually attractive body is one method of 'allowing' women to be participants in the traditionally masculine domain of sport.

Speaker: Dayna Daniels, Ph.D.

Dayna Daniels is a professor at The University of Lethbridge in the departments of Women's Studies and Kinesiology and Physical Education. As a lifelong participant in sport, she has lived and studied the differences that exist between females and males in accessing and participating in sport and physical activities. Her recent book, Polygendered and Ponytailed: The Dilemma of Femininity and the Female Athlete, investigates the historical and contemporary barriers that keep girls and women from achieving excellence in many areas of the sporting world - most particularly the focus on their requisite presentation of femininity and heterosexuality.

Dr. Daniels is an advocate for girls and women in sport and physical activity. She has served on the board of CAAWS - the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity.

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