Originally, I had tried to put down some thoughts so I could comment on a post at WTS. But they have grown too numerous for a comment, apparently, so I share them here. (Note: You may want to listen to the interview before reading on.)
In the interview, we are told that athletic competence (i.e., athleticism) is, or should be, paramount. Unfortunately, when an excellent opportunity to address that subject comes up, it is altogether missed. The gentleman in the studio, there ostensibly as a friendly witness, says that female basketball players have better “fundamentals.” Why? Well, because they can’t rely (as much?) on athletic gifts. The slight is overlooked, however, and the discussion continues on with seemingly less relevant matters.
The top male athletes no doubt rule the roost in sports media. They can do no wrong, and their options are almost limitless; do something silly or degrading, Star Male Athlete? not to worry, hardly a question will be asked or an eyebrow raised. But these are the top athletes at their sport/position in the world, and in sports, practically by definition, that is what matters most. (Why you hear much about Tiger Woods, and not so much about, say, Jerry Kelly.)
The problem for female athletes is that few fall into this category, which isn’t, of course, their fault. In many cases, where they theoretically could, they aren’t allowed to compete directly with men, and thus can’t prove themselves against the established best. Moreover, outmoded, traditional ideals of femininity keep them from fully developing their physical prowess, atrophied from generations of forced neglect; e.g., it still isn’t entirely acceptable for a woman to develop large, powerful muscles-something many women are quite capable of doing.
Clearly, then, this research at best skims the central issue, and has no relevance at all to the career choices or personal expressions of someone like Chantelle Anderson. (I suspect sex does sell sport, as it does most things, to some degree, probably varying based on how well a particular sport relates to sex. But again, this isn’t the biggest issue facing female athletes anyway.)
I must also point out something not to be overlooked about the research: it is based on focus groups, not the most reliable means to make determinations of this kind. From the link already provided:
“Focus groups are not a panacea for tapping ‘true’ feelings. People often do not themselves understand their own motivations and preferences and thus cannot articulate them well. People have complex, even conflicting motivations which may come together in unpredictable ways given only slightly varying ways of presenting a stimulus. People may give acceptable or politically correct responses in front of peers, and they may act differently in real situations compared with hypothetical ones. They may be aware of the study’s sponsorship and tell the researcher what they believe he or she wants to hear. People tend to express views which enhance their own image of themselves, and they also may formulate opinions “on the spot,” lacking any real commitment to what they say. And people lie.”
“Focus groups are generally a poor choice when quantitative information is desired (ex., when one wants to know the percentage of people who will buy product X or vote for candidate X). The small size of focus groups makes any estimates of quantitative proportions unreliable, even if the members of the focus group are representative of the target population. By the same token, focus group research is a poor choice for multivariate research, where one again needs the stability of large random samples to be ably to disaggregate the effects of explanatory variables through statistical techniques.”
So what we have, in actuality, is research that proves little or nothing but probably found what it was looking for. (Trust me, it would take a study far more comprehensive, with many more controls, than this one to come close to proving that, in all cases, sex doesn’t sell sport.) But what is more, it says even less about the truly onerous obstacles confronting female athletes.