Female sporting stereotypes

November 18, 2020
Nicola McKelvey

For the past six months, I’ve been working with the Women’s Sport Trust on its #unlocked campaign, helping to raise awareness of women’s sport.

From speaking to a lot of the athletes, reading and hearing their stories, one subject that stood out was around sporting stereotypes.

This topic seems to cover anything from seeing women’s sport on TV, women working in sport or seeing different body types, different races and people from different religions taking part in different sports. It can also be about how girls are portrayed on screen and in media.

Sport England’s “this girl can” launched in 2015, went some way to addressing these issues. The campaign featured girls acting in a non-stereotypical way – they were aggressive, angry, focused, sweaty, older etc etc.

However look at most of the campaigns from the big brands. The females they feature tend to be white, slim, young and pretty. And what does that say to a new generation of girls who want to play sport?

A few months ago, Canterbury got criticised for featuring female models rather than actual female rugby players in images for Ireland’s new shirt. The men’s campaign featured three Ireland rugby players. The hashtag #iamenough popped up on Twitter with female rugby players posting pictures of themselves playing the game. Canterbury has since apologised and has hopefully learned its lesson.

So what can be done about it?

In 2016, Getty Images partnered with the Women’s Sport Trust to curate a selection of images featuring the world’s top sportswomen in action. The aim was to help promote a powerful depiction of women and girls in sports.

Just a few weeks ago, Ebony Rainford-Brent helped launch cricket’s ACE programme. This aims to offer cricketing opportunities to boys and girls from Africa-Caribbean backgrounds.

It’s a start. However I would look to the media and brands to feature different types of women. That way, more girls from more diverse backgrounds can see sport, in whatever form it comes, as a real option.

After all, if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.