“Lipstick is my bulletproof vest”: A sports women’s roundtable
I, one among many men in the sports section, sat down with sports copy editor Bridget Dolan and managing sports editor Meagan McKinley to discuss marginalization and objectification in sports reporting and in general.
What do marginalization and objectification mean to you personally?
Bridget Dolan: Marginalization is [socially] this gap between you and where you have the right to be. And there’s some system in place that’s keeping this gap there preventing you from bridging that margin and getting where you need to be on equal footing. Objectification is fairly straightforward: You’re treated more like an object and less like a person. It’s dehumanizing.”
Meagan McKinley: The best picture I have when it comes to marginalization is when I walk into the press box for a football game and I’m the only female there as a writer, as someone doing stats, as somebody doing broadcasting, officiating, video, anything. I’m the only woman in the box and that just is uncomfortable because you have nobody who actually understands what that is like. It has an impact — sometimes you don’t ask your questions in a press conference because reporters are often older than you, they speak before you do. We were taught to raise our notebook when we have a question but they just say them, without taking into account the other reporters in the room.
Objectification, to me, is more men objectifying women in the media. Female reporters wear dresses, they wear heels — have you ever tried to wear heels on a football field — it doesn’t work if you’re doing an interview on a field of dirt. Turf can be sometimes harder. Men can get away with jeans, a button-down and a tie, and that’s not fair. And I don’t want to wear makeup, and I shouldn’t have to, even though women are being essentially forced to dress themselves up for the camera.
Have you personally ever experienced marginalization or objectification as a sports reporter?
Bridget Dolan: I haven’t really gotten the condescension as a sports reporter because I try to make it a point to cover women’s teams, so that’s a place where I feel welcome. I haven’t really experienced it myself, but I do know other people who have gone to other sports games and gotten looks like, ‘What are you doing here?’
When I go out into the field I put on lipstick and I dress femininely because I’m afraid of being discriminated against because of the fact that I don’t ordinarily dress very femininely. And so I put on lipstick, I do eyeliner, I do mascara and I’ll use a floral backpack. I kind of put on a girl costume because I don’t know how people will react and it’s scary. Lipstick is my bulletproof vest.
Meagan McKinley: For me, a lot of it comes down to the fact that I’m the college student. At football games, I’m surrounded by reporters who may have been on this beat for 20 years. So, he gets to ask the questions first, he sits in the front row of the press conference, he gets his requests for post-game interviews. That I put down more toward seniority over any kind of sexism, and that to me is fair. But at the same time, you can’t help but wonder, especially if you’re the only woman in the room, if there’s more to it than that. I get it more being a sports fan than a sports reporter. I don’t get any of the harassment from other reporters. But I have also only been exposed to a very, very small part of the industry.
What are your thoughts and opinions on the way women are treated in sports reporting in general?
Bridget Dolan: I went to a sports reporting workshop in Nashville, Tenn., and all the time, the women would talk on their panels about how they were asked what they were doing here and at one point they were kept out of locker rooms so they couldn’t do their post-game interviews. It’s a big problem in the industry.
Meagan McKinley: It exists on both sides of the camera, even on the Olympic level. I saw an example of this on my social media, in beach volleyball at the Olympic level, men wear almost basketball-style tank tops and basketball shorts and the female players wear bikinis. I’m just gonna put this out there: Bikinis are really, really uncomfortable. How is that fair to play?
From what I have seen, in the media, it’s not an acceptable part, but unfortunately, I see it as a byproduct of the way we raised men and women to interact with each other. Society has essentially told men they can treat women like property. Men can look at women like objects, like we’re products, and aren’t human beings with feelings. As someone who is going into a male-dominated field, I have to anticipate that it’s going to happen. I hope it doesn’t happen, I don’t want it to, and I’m going to be really upset when it happens. It’s not on me to dress or act a certain way so that I don’t get sexually harassed or assaulted. The man’s actions are his responsibility.
Do you think the way female sports reporters are treated in the industry has gotten better or worse, or hasn’t changed?
Bridget Dolan: It’s probably gotten better in recent years. Granted, I’m not really in the industry, so I can’t fully speak for it, but it seems to me like it has gotten better than it has been. For instance, women are allowed in locker rooms now, which is kind of a big deal.
Meagan McKinley: I think it’s becoming more public so I feel like we see it a lot more. I wouldn’t say that there’s any kind of increase in it happening. I’d say there’s an increase in transparency, but at the same time, there’s no increase in accountability. But there has been an increased amount of women joining sports in general and so there appears to be an increased amount of incidents, which can poorly reflect on our society.
Sports news in a male-dominated industry, but just because of that, it shouldn’t be an industry in which women feel unsafe, or must change part of their own identity to better fit the image we try to impose on them.
As an industry and as a society, we need to progress and reject these archaic social notions that women are essentially required to dress one way and men dress another, that women do know as much about sports as men, that women aren’t able to have the same opportunities as men just because they are women.
Sports is an industry that relies heavily on tradition, whether it’s as insignificant as a team’s pregame ritual or as significant as male reporters taking the lead and having priority over female reporters. But now it’s time for those traditions to change for the better.