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Honouring the Heraean Games

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January 3, 2009 by Debbie Hindley

With the 2004 Olympics returning to the country of the ancient games it is an appropriate that there is a monitor of the media coverage of women athletes. I say it is appropriate for two reasons. First because it is often overlooked that the Heraean Games, where girls and young women competed and held in honour of Hera, the Queen of Heaven, are reputed to be an older and the more important religious festival than the Olympiad that barred females.

Secondly, despite the work of academics who raised the problem of how the media view and commentate on women athletes differently from men decades ago, the media continues to marginalise, trivialise, sensationalise and feminise sporting achievements. Newspapers front and back pages are still filled with men, although if it is on the front page then it is likely to be relating to their off field games.

A recent example of the media's coverage of women's sport is that of Anastasia Myskina, the French Open women's champion and an article by Dave Hughes of The West Australian of June 7, 2004. Hughes commenced with: "The last time Anastasia Myskina was this famous was when she posed naked on horseback." In a double or triple play on words the article's caption stated "Red-hot Myskina buries her demons." Very clever Dave, also very demeaning. Despite attempting to counter a previous claim by GQ magazine that Myskina would be remembered for winning a tennis tournament, "unlike Anna what's-her-name" Hughes attempt to focus on Myskina's athleticism fell flat with his references to her hair, mouth and nostrils. Hughes's deepest analysis of her win at Roland Garros, prefaced by "tortured outburst" and "inner demons" was of her own description of her emotional state. Even worse were the accompanying photographs: a small profile shot of Myskina holding her trophy and poking out her tongue; a larger portrait with soft focus and the famous Lady Godiva pose for GQ. Recently I gave a talk to Year 7's on sport and gender who would now be more aware of the inequities of media representation than Hughes, perhaps I should send him my notes.

When Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the modern Games Olympic Games in 1896 the aim was to create goodwill and peace among men (he got that one wrong with security the greatest threat to Athens 2004) but not women. Females were not allowed to compete until 1912 when swimmers could compete and then in 1928 females could compete in track and field athletes. The Baron stated that "competition was natural for a man, but profoundly - unnatural for women." The 2004 Games with Mrs Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki as President includes two new competitions, women's wrestling and women's sabre and I am hoping that sports journalists of Hughes ilk can demonstrate some of their own mental gymnastics by providing a sound coverage of women's achievements not based on gender binaries and sexist clichés.

Perhaps the 2004 Games should have awards for journalists. The Hereaen award for the best coverage of the games based on equitable gender representation and the de Coubertin award for the worst.

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