It’s a Man’s Game: Female Objectification at the Euros

Euro 2020 is up and running, a year late and with the usual gloss of corporate marketing and largely sterile games.

Diversity is to the fore of this year’s event. Players take the knee before matches (sometimes to boos, nice one England!) while UEFA’s official site promotes #equalgame, with Chelsea Ladies player Pernille Harder flying the flag for women’s football.

The Free Press would suggest that you do not need to look far beneath the surface to see that football is still very much a “man’s game”.

When watching previous big tournaments we’ve been struck by how often cutaway shots to the crowd pick out young women who fit conventions of attractiveness popularised by the mass media. The shots often feel voyeuristic, as if the match director has accidentally cut to a cameraman on his break, abusing his, ahem, telescopic lens.

Such coverage fits Laura Mulvey’s theory on The Male Gaze, which highlights that “men do the looking, and women are to be looked at.”

Football, much like the movie industry Mulvey primarily referred to, has strong patriarchal roots. It would, therefore, be no surprise if football coverage reflected the following summary of Mulvey’s theory: “The male viewer is the target audience, therefore their needs are met first…(women) are simply put there to be observed from an objectified point of view”.

Is this the case?

We analysed two Euro 2020 matches where the camera team (who, we confidently presume, are predominantly male) captured shots of men of all ages, shapes and sizes but appeared to almost exclusively take an interest in young female fans who resemble the “symmetrical, toned, white, and thin women…advertised as the “ideal” by mainstream media”.

We went through the matches, from the beginning of the national anthems to the final whistle, and screenshotted every filler shot of the crowd where a zoom was used to pick out individual fans or small groups.

By filler shots we refer to dead spots in the play, where fans are not captured for their reaction to anything in particular, but simply to add “colour” to the coverage.

Take a look through the images and see if you think “the male gaze” really was in action…

England vs Croatia (June 13th)

Croatian national anthem begins – this is the only solo zoom shot of either national anthem
Croatian national anthem continues – some age diversity here
First fill shot of the match – and another young woman who fits the Western media’s beauty stereotype?
Second fill shot – a number of individuals in here (including some familiar faces from the national anthem shots…)
Was it the hat that drew the cameraman/match director to this shot?
The last fill shot of the match – the lady in the hat matches “national anthem lady” with a second moment in the limelight. A personal favourite of the cameraman?

Hungary vs portugal (june 15th)

Agree with us that England-Croatia showed the male gaze in action? Then brace yourself for the testosterone overload of Hungary-Portugal…

Portuguese national anthem begins with Latin lady flying the flag
Trademark appearance of man in comical hat
Hungarian national anthem begins with a young lady solo shot
The lads (range of ages) sing along!
Young woman, solo, as half-time approaches. Did the cameraman go on his break early?
Young female – effectively solo (only individual in focus)
Hungary fans may be gutted but the cameramen are still enjoying themselves – at the final whistle shots of celebrating fans are interspersed with this, less relevant (we felt!) shot of ANOTHER three young ladies

Conclusion

Have we demonstrated sexism in the selection of fans for fill shots during Euro 2020?

We believe there is a clear theme in the above images and in coverage of sporting events in general. Men of all ages, shapes and sizes can earn their moment in the limelight, usually by dressing extravagantly or looking laddish, while women make it onto screen, almost exclusively, because they are young and meet media stereotypes of physical attractiveness.

Statistics pulled from the above images bear this out:

22 fill shots were selected in total from England-Croatia. Seven of these images predominantly feature or focus on women. We would argue that at least five of the shots (71%) have been selected because the women connote the quality of “to-be-looked-at-ness” identified by Laura Mulvey and match Western media stereotypes of female attractiveness.

12 of the images from the match predominantly feature men. We believe a maximum of one of these shots (8%) may have been selected because the men within it match Western media notions of male physical attractiveness (shirts off, lads!).

20 fill shots were selected in total from Hungary-Portugal. 11 of these images predominantly feature or focus on women and we would argue that at least eight of them (72%) have been selected to connote “to-be-looked-at-ness”/attractiveness.

7 of the images from the match predominantly feature men. We do not believe ANY of these shots (0%) have been selected because the men are considered physically attractive.

As mentioned above, the Hungary-Portugal match appears to be a particularly startling case of the male gaze in action. The match features 7 images where a lone individual is unarguably the focus of the shot. 6 of these individuals are female and 5 of them appear to be in their 20s or 30s, the age range at which most women thrive as models or actresses.

The only male picked out as the sole focus of a shot is a child (who appears to be in the company of his mother).

We looked through all the images from Hungary-Portugal and, while we identified an additional shot of a male child enjoying the match with his family, could not identify corresponding footage of a female child. Likewise, a number of men in their 40s, 50s and 60s are shown but only one women in this age range makes an appearance (and, arguably, is selected because she is at the youthful end of this spectrum and “attractive”).

“Television is a sort of mirror of society,” feminist director Maimouna Doucoure has said, “but for me, I never saw my reflection in it. Which makes it quite difficult afterwards to open up all the imaginative possibilities…”

What “imaginative possibilities” would a young girl glean from watching the Euros? That she will only enjoy visibility if she makes herself attractive? That she can stand on the sidelines, cheerleading prettily, and share attention with superstar footballers and the core fanbase of leering lads and older men wearing ridiculous hats?

It’s a grim picture and one that UEFA (#equalgame!) should be deeply ashamed to project…

What do you think of our article? Should we approach UEFA with our findings? Please let us know in the comments below.

Obviously there is a subjective element to our analysis and we are both male so we’d be particularly keen to know what female readers think!

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