Friday, July 24, 2009

Another Twist to the Story

The Erin Andrews story becomes more interesting every day. Now, respected sportswriter Christine Brennan has thrown in her two cents.

Brennan wrote on her Twitter (!) account that:

Women sports journalists need to be smart and not play to the frat house. There are tons of nuts out there. Erin Andrews incident is bad, but to add perspective: there are 100s of women sports journalists who have never had this happen to them.

To say the least, Brennan's comments created a firestorm of negative publicity. Bill O'Reilly's show on Fox last night did a lengthy interview segment, and other media pundits have weighed in criticizing Brennan for suggesting that Andrews was "asking for it." Some have gone as far as to say that Brennan is jealous because of Andrews' popularity with male viewers.

But I agree with Brennan.

First of all, let me make clear that it's impossible to condone the criminal activity that took place against Andrews, and I certainly don't think that's what Brennan is saying. The point is that a great deal of Andrews' popularity and success has come from her looks. Lots of media outlets (including Coed Magazine and Playboy) have polls where people (read: men) can vote for the "Sexiest Sportscaster in America," and Andrews always ranks near the top of these contests (to my knowledge, I don't believe there is a "Sexiest Male Sportscaster" contest). Watch any ESPN event where she is broadcasting and you'll see hordes of young males ogling her while she's on-air.

I'm not being naive here; this is the way the world, and especially the world of sports media, works. But at the same time, women in the professional sports media industry have struggled mightily to overcome these stereotypes--the idea that they can only succeed because of how they look--since the days of Phyllis George and Jayne Kennedy on CBS in the 1970s [See, for example, Hardin, M. & Shain, S. (2005). Strength in numbers? The experiences and attitudes of women in sports media careers. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 82(4), 804-819 and Sheffer, M.L. & Schultz, B. (2007). Double standard: Why women have trouble getting jobs in local television sports. Journal of Sports Media, 2, 78-103].

There's no reason to think that Andrews plays up her sexy image, but at the same time she hasn't necessarily discouraged it, either. For whatever reasons in our culture, you can't have it both ways--sexy and respected. Again, this is no fault of Andrews'; she has certain assets that have helped her in a sports broadcasting career and she has used them to her advantage. But as long as we live in a culture that sexually objectifies the female body, this tension is going to exist. Andrews didn't do anything wrong, but she should necessarily be surprised that something like this happened.


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