In March this year, 13-year-old Melbourne surfer Olive Bowers penned a letter to Tracks magazine (dubbed ‘The Surfers’ Bible’) slamming the title’s sexist portrayal of women. When the story landed on mainstream media websites, I was rattled. The magazine I edit, Riptide, (which focuses on bodyboarding – surfing’s prone-positioned cousin) gave up on the boobs-and-butts approach years before I took the job, but the representation of women in our mag is miniscule.
The wave-riding realm, of course, is not alone in its lack of representation for female athletes. Turn on the TV, and you’re likely to see only a few brief clips and reports on women’s sport, among a gushing stream of coverage for men’s sporting news. A 2010 report by the University of NSW Journalism and Media Research Centre and Media Monitors found that coverage of women in sport made up only nine per cent of all sports coverage on Aussie TV news, while men’s occupied 81 per cent (10 per cent was gender neutral). Open up a newspaper, and after licking your thumb until it resembles a withered prune, you might find a few column inches dedicated to women’s sports in the back (if it’s not footy season). We already know about this broad disparity of representation; more important is what can or should be done about it. From my squeaky chair in sporting media, being in a position of editorial control, I was grappling with these issues around the time Olive woke me from my stupor.