Work in sports

Ding, ding, ding. Round one ends and the fighters return to their corners for rest and recovery. Within minutes, the hollering from the crowd becomes deafening as a bikini-clad woman circles the ring, holding up a sign signaling the next round is about to begin.

The role of ring girls in combat sports is simple — to create excitement for the audience.

Many other sports, like cycling and mixed martial arts, also use women to draw attention during award ceremonies and weigh-ins. More commonly, women are the subjects of objectification but even men are treated like sex symbols in sports.
For example, in 2015, the NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus said he lobbied for hockey players to shave because he wanted viewers to “talk about how young and attractive they are.”

While objectification doesn’t just happen when you work in sports, it is still a major issue for the sports industry culture. Here is a look at how damaging it is in the workplace:

The Impact of Objectification

This culture of objectification is finally facing some blowback. For example, broadcasters pressured the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) to stop using ‘walk-on girls,’ women who escort male players to the stage. They want to focus more on the sport.

This is an important shift in priorities, not only for the integrity of the sport, but also for the sake of creating a safer space for men and women alike.

There are a couple of theories about objectification and how it can negatively impact mental and emotional well-being.

Objectification Theory

In 1997, psychologists Barbara Fredrickson and Tomi-Ann Roberts introduced this framework for understanding the experiences women have in cultures that objectify them. When women are assessed and eventually viewed merely as objects, they eventually see themselves as just an object of desire, not as a whole person.

Social Comparison Theory

According to social psychologist Leon Festinger, people determine their social and personal worth based on how they stack up to others. This leads to making self-evaluations of aspects like wealth, success, and attractiveness.

Combined with objectification theory, this theory can lead to several mental health issues. Women who self-objectify by internalizing an observer’s perspective of their physical selves tend to exhibit negative mood, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and body shame.

In the Workplace

Even if you don’t work in sports, you see the prevalence of objectification in the industry, especially in marketing and how female athletes are covered in sports media. This is the main message behind Cover the Athlete, a campaign centered on exposing the difference between what reporters ask male athletes and female athletes.

There are some situations where females are discriminated against in the workplace based on their appearance. In 2013, twenty-two cocktail servers sued a casino in Atlantic City over a policy that forbids them from gaining weight. They eventually lost their legal battle based on the fact that they didn’t fulfill their contractual obligations of maintaining their weight.

In 2013, Jhana, an online training resource for leaders, published a training guide that blamed women and their behavior for co-workers who hit on them. It told females who are “flirtatious by nature” to control their behavior in order to avoid male advances.

Objectification and female discrimination is still a big problem and it’s perpetuated by those who don’t understand the nature of microaggressions. Small gestures, like gazes or compliments about appearance can perpetuate the objectification problem. Instead of telling your male or female co-worker that you like their outfit, praise them for the awesome work they do.

What You Can Do

There are several ways you can take action on objectification. Both men and women who work in sports can take part by adopting these simple strategies:

  • Monitor and alter your own behavior: take notes on how you interact with your co-workers. Are you interacting with them as if they’re people? Or do you only regard them as objects?
  • Voice your feelings to leadership: if you notice ongoing issues in your workplace, approach leadership and tell them what you’re witnessing and experiencing.
  • Request new policies: write an action plan to present to your boss. Share your ideas on how to influence more respectful behavior.
  • Form awareness groups: create an employee group and gather others who want to promote new strategies for combating objectification.

What are examples of objectification you witness as you work in sports? Share in the comments!