This thesis takes as its foundational assumption that televised sporting events are not mere documentations of games as they unfold, but carefully constructed performances whose conventions are geared to its ideal spectator – the white heterosexual man. While this assertion is axiomatic, it does not explain televised sports enormous popularity amongst women. According to a 1999 article in The New York Times on the Web of the 130 million viewers watched the Super Bowl that year, 43 percent were women (Kane par. 24). Why do women want to watch a performance that is so clearly geared to white, heterosexual men? According to one recent editorial in the Elizabethtown College paper, “we watch for the ‘tight ends,’ and I do not mean the field position. There is just something special about tight, padded spandex football pants. Amen” (Jacobs par. 7). Corporate sponsors of sports such as football have seen the statistics and are increasingly gearing their commercials towards women. This acknowledgement within the televised performances of sport lends a new type of clout to women viewers. Now that sport programmers and advertisers know women are present, they need to keep them tuned in. As a white, heterosexual female gazer, I find myself being hailed by commercials within the sports narrative with increasing frequency, not only with the products being pitched, but how they are being marketed. I also find this hailing at work within game coverage through the inclusion of female sportscasters and the increasing coverage of women’s sports. Male athletes are beginning to occupy positions as sex objects as well, as the media focus on their athletic bodies. Each of these shifts indicates the broadening of the sports narrative to include multiple identities and subjectivities.
However, the unequal power dynamics working in the sports narrative often serve to recontain these identities and subjectivities within the confines of white hetero-male gazing structures. Female viewers, although hailed occasionally, often find themselves complicit in the objectification of women working within the narrative. Women’s bodies continue to be common currency in sports. Although women’s sports are becoming increasingly visible, they are often ghettoized in non-mainstream magazines such as Sports Illustrated for Women, websites, such as ESPN Page 2, and television, such as ESPN2. Sporting narrative representations also materialize through the eye of the camera, and often multiple cameras, which direct and exercise control over the view of the female spectator. These cameras exercise surveillance over transgressive gazes and actions. Transgression and interventions by multiple subjectivities into established white hetero-male gazing structures are quite often recontained.
This recontainment is never absolute, producing gaps through which resistance is possible. An analysis of sports reveals an active site for feminist performance, particularly performances that resist the constraints of the male gaze. These perceived oppositions are performed by female athletes and broadcasters within the televised sporting performance, as well as by female spectators watching the televised event. These two areas of performance, from within the representation and from the outside looking in, resist the male gaze in separate, but complimentary ways. Representations of female athletes and broadcasters’ bodies within the sporting narrative work as a type of textual performance that refuses the objectifying gaze of the male spectator, while female spectators watching the representations of the narrative may use what bell hooks refers to as an oppositional gaze that challenges and deconstructs the narrative’s attempts to cater to the male gaze. I will use the tools of feminist performance analysis, cultural studies, media studies, and sports studies to explore how these performances are pitched to the white heterosexual male spectator and how white heterosexual women, women of color, and lesbians within the structures of patriarchal sport trouble the dominant constructions and readings of sporting narrative representations.