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KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 29-Nov-13 11:12:08

BBC Sports Personality of the Year - where are the bloody women?

The shortlist for the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year contains only two women, of a possible ten.

In this guest post, Mumsnet blogger Victoria Smith, who writes over at Glosswatch, asks why - once again - women's contribution to public life is being ignored.

Victoria Smith

Blogger, Glosswatch

Posted on: Fri 29-Nov-13 11:12:08


Lead photo

The shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year: two women, eight men

So the BBC have announced the shortlist for this year’s Sports Personality of the Year and guess what? Out of ten contenders, only two are women. That’s three down from last year, where the split was 50/50, but two up on 2011, when there were none at all. I make that an average of two and a bit, which probably means we women should be asking ourselves just where we’re going wrong.

Are we lacking in sportiness? Or do we just have rubbish personalities? I’ve never quite understood the weightings with this particular award (although judging by the current shortlist quotes I reckon sporting prowess is out there in front). Either way, it is galling to find that, yet again, half of the population is so poorly represented in what claims to be a list of Britain’s best.

Yet again it appears that there are sportspeople and then there are lady sportspeople. You look at the list and not only do you think “damn, the women are a bit thin on the ground”. Even though you know you shouldn’t, you also start to think “perhaps even Christine Ohuruogu and Hannah Cockcroft - great though they are - don’t deserve to be there, either. After all, they found eight men, eight proper sports personality types. Surely the judges could have dug out a couple more?” And that’s just one of the insidious ways in which the under-representation of women in just about everything becomes self-reinforcing. At first glance it might not seem right - but ultimately it’s easier to seek out justifications for it than it is to challenge.

This is our world, too. Our achievements, even if they are only measured in relation to the achievements of other women, are just as authentic as those of men. We deserve recognition just as much as men do.

As Caroline Criado-Perez found when she launched her banknote campaign, there will always be plenty of people - both men and women - willing to say under-representation is a non-issue and anyhow, isn’t it just true that women don’t do as much ace stuff as men? Even in Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman, considered by many to be the most engaging feminist book in recent times, the writer claims that "women have basically done fuck all for the last 10,000 years". So yeah, we’re still catching up (so the story goes) so isn’t it just reasonable for us not to have reached the top table yet?

With sport you face the added argument that women literally are not as good as men. They can’t run as fast. They tend not to be as strong. When women do Judo, poor Telegraph columnists can’t “help wondering about their soft limbs battered black and blue with bruises”. As The Spectator’s Rod Liddle sagely notes, "this sexist assumption that women are weaker than men - it’s right isn’t it?":

To give two examples, the fastest time set for a woman in the 1500 metres is 3.50.46, by Yunxia Qu of China. The record for men is 3:26:00. In the javelin the disparity is still greater — 80 metres for women, 104.8 metres for men.

Oh dear. That’s us told, right? I’m not so sure. After all, isn’t the point with competitive running not how quickly one gets from A to B (in which case, why not use a car?) but whether one has the grit, determination and passion to become the very best amongst one’s peers? And when women compete against women, are such things in any shorter supply? I suspect not.

If there is a problem with women’s relationship with sport, how better to combat it than with more high-profile role models? There are enough excellent sportswomen - complete with personalities! - who would fit the bill. Some people would claim this is tokenism. I would argue that granting women just as much space as is granted to men should be our default position.

This is our world, too. Our achievements, even if they are only measured in relation to the achievements of other women, are just as authentic as those of men. We deserve recognition just as much as men do. Otherwise, once again, we’ll cast our eyes on the next award shortlist, the panel on Question Time, the newspaper obituaries etc. and naturally assume that we’re always mere bit-part players in what constitutes real life.

By Victoria Smith

Twitter: @glosswitch

VenusDeWillendorf Fri 29-Nov-13 13:06:22

History is written by the winners.

How many on the BBC panel are men!

Who proposes the original list - is it the Public?
And who whittles it down? Who gets to vote then? How are they in they position?

What are the gender ratios of those lists and panellists?

DrankSangriaInThePark Fri 29-Nov-13 14:04:53

But women in sport compete against other women. So the argument that women don't run as fast, while true, is irrelevant. The comparison is that British women don't run as fast as American ones. Etc.

Had Laura Robson won Wimbledon, I expect she'd be on the list. She didn't. She isn't.

Not everything in life is unfair just because it's different.

LineRunner Fri 29-Nov-13 14:18:24

Didn't Nuts and Zoo readers have a hand in picking the entirely All Male Shortlist last year?

I gave up on the whole debacle back then tbh.

Middleagedmotheroftwo Fri 29-Nov-13 16:10:12

So what women would you have included on the list? I can't think of any.
Women's sport is boring. Fact. We should find something else to be good at and set up our own awards programme.

timidviper Fri 29-Nov-13 18:04:44

Unless there are high profile events in the year, like the Olympics, women's sport is rarely seen and most of us don't know about women's achievements which is why they don't feature

FrillyMilly Fri 29-Nov-13 19:13:26

Surely if you enjoy certain sports then you will be aware of people (male or female) that take part in those sports whether or not there is a high profile event. I don't know who 3 of the men are and am only vaguely aware of 2 others. As much as it annoys me I do think it would be better if it was split and a seperate award given to women. It would help to raise the profiles of sports women.

NorthernLurker Fri 29-Nov-13 19:15:24

There is an intersting thread about this issue in Feminism atm. I think the issue is not that on this ocasion a woman deserves to win more than a man (personally I'm rooting for Andy) but that 2 in 12 is a pathetic reflection of the commitment, skill and talent women show in the sporting arena. On the thread there are a number of women suggested. Most of who I've never heard of. So who's fault is that? The women for not raising their own profile at the same time as excelling? Or the media and the social structures which privilege male contribution over female. That's the root of the problem here. This is a very simple illustration of the system problem which radical feminism challenges.

NorthernLurker Fri 29-Nov-13 19:18:51

Am I missing something - I can't see my last post?

DuckToWater Fri 29-Nov-13 23:45:55

As The Spectator’s Rod Liddle sagely notes, "this sexist assumption that women are weaker than men - it’s right isn’t it?"

I bet I could lift more weights than him, run faster and longer and then kick him through the pub window. What a specimen he is.

I don't know about Sports Personality though- it seems to me you have to be well-known to get the award, it may as well be called "Sports Celebrity of the Year". The real problem is with the crap coverage and publicity of women's sport and about how many women in sport are well-known faces in the media - not many. Maybe they should have a separate male and female award every year.

Oblomov Sat 30-Nov-13 10:39:31

I can't think of any women who I think should be on the list.

NorthernLurker Sat 30-Nov-13 12:27:29

Am I being really dim but why can you only see the last comment when somebody else posts a message?

NorthernLurker Sat 30-Nov-13 12:27:41


wonderstuff Sat 30-Nov-13 17:06:19

I think two awards would work better, it would force them to pick 12 women of note and raise their profile. Women at the top of sport are mostly invisible, and this would be a good first step to address this.

I took dd to women's football during the Olympics, we won a really lively game, but they obviously couldn't give away those tickets, the stadium was disappointingly empty. It's a vicious cycle, no one watches, so it doesn't attract funding, so the standard is low, so no one watches.. Having said that women's hockey and netball are very engaging at a national level, but rarely given tv time.

Sport could be as important to females as males, but the message girls get is that it just isn't for us.

DameEdnasBridesmaid Sat 30-Nov-13 20:26:18

Which women are missing? I can't think of anyone. They shouldn't be on the list because they are women.

pincasgft721 Sat 30-Nov-13 20:47:04

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pincasgft721 Sat 30-Nov-13 20:48:50

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pixietrixiepanto Sat 30-Nov-13 21:19:05

"Women's sport is boring. Fact. We should find something else to be good at and set up our own awards programme."

Wow that's pretty damming. Why don't we just get our dd's learning to bake while the boys can do PE? That would stop those pesky women trying and failing at men's sport. Why should women run, sail, jump, swim etc etc, when they are so very very boring?

I'm bored just talking about it. I'm going to go and have some babies, or do some baking, or mend my dh's trousers instead. And teach my dd that she should do likewise. Our bodies are not for sport, we should find something else to be good at. Fact.

NoComet Sun 01-Dec-13 00:17:41

I think there should be two lists, because then more minority sports, male and female would get a look in.

Our male gymnasts did really well at the world's and they're not there.

(The Women's team are quite young after Olympic retirements)

Sports personality if the year should be a round up of netball, hockey, gymnastics, diving, swimming, the sports loads of DDs do as well as those their parents watch.

I f we want a fitter nation we need to highlight activities people actually do.

I guess badminton and squash fit into this sort if group too

merrymouse Sun 01-Dec-13 09:23:01

I think a big problem is that sports personality of the year is based on sports that people watch, not sports that people participate in.

Watching sport on TV does tend to be a male dominated pass time.

Agree with starball - 2 awards would widen the number of people who could be nominated and extend coverage to people who are involved in sports that have good levels of participation but not necessarily much TV coverage.

Andcake Sun 01-Dec-13 14:37:09

Although the other women who made a point about sport being boring seems to have been deleted. Just wanted to say I am in no way a pink, baking woman (high flying career, dh is a stay at home dad) but must admit you couldn't have paid me to go and see womens football at the Olympics. In fact I hate sport but do regular exercise. I don't enjoy watching men doing sport either. Wimbledon is probably the dullest thing ever. The majority of women I know don't watch sport are not interested - and it is because it is not interesting. my kind of equality is not about doing everything men do - i don't want to be a man - I want to have the choice and choose the good bits grin men can keep sport in my mind.

Yes if more british women had won major trophies they should be on it! But if they didn't why!

wonderstuff Sun 01-Dec-13 14:54:56

But the thing is there are women who enjoy sport, just as there are men who don't. There are women who SAH and don't understand your desire to have a career, but that shouldn't stop us celebrating female achievement in business.

FrillyMilly Sun 01-Dec-13 19:12:13

We can't just blame it on them choosing men from high profile sports. I don't know anyone who watches sailing, nor have I stumbled across it on tv. How is womens sport any duller than men's sport? I really don't understand that.

merrymouse Sun 01-Dec-13 21:46:26

It's not all about watching though. Far more people participate in doing sailing than watching sailing. I'd be prepared to bet that more women participate in sport than watch sport, and that the numbers of women actively participating in a sport isn't that different to men participating in sports, but that both numbers are dwarfed by the number of men who watch sport.

As a broadcaster, the BBC is clearly interested in spectator sports, but as a public service broadcaster, shouldn't they go out of their way to support participation in sport?

NumptyNameChange Mon 02-Dec-13 09:17:02

agree there should be two awards - as men and women compete separately in sports so the awards should be separate too. and as someone else has said it would provide a perfect opportunity to raise the profile of women in sport and provide role models for young girls.

the winner should then be an ambassador for the year talking to young people and engaging in promotion of sports.

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