Isn’t this what all female football fans look like?

     This image is an example of the stereotype of women in the realm of football. Marissa Miller, Sports Illustrated and Victoria’s Secret supermodel, became a spokesperson for the 49ers for the 2010-2011 season because the NFL wanted to involve women in marketing and “recognize the female football fan”. This image represents the stereotype of the sexualized female football fan, as is evidenced by the choice of spokesperson, her attire, and her pose.

     The NFL chose a female spokesperson because they wanted to acknowledge the presence of females amongst their fans. However, this representation presupposes that this is what the female football fan looks like. Women in sports media are not represented the same way as men. According to Toni Bruce’s article, mediasport is “an overwhelmingly male and hegemonically masculine domain that produces coverage by men, for men and about men”. This hegemonic ideal of women in sports is evidenced by the type of female selected for the campaign. From this image, the viewer gathers that Miller is likely being photographed in a studio because of the plain white ground and background, lack of other objects around her, and the strong, concentrated lighting. The model’s skin has light reflecting off of it, indicating that it is smooth and flawless. Strands of her hair are suspended in midair, telling us that there is a source of wind which is likely a fan blowing her hair to create a glamorous, effortless effect. Miller’s body is also positioned in an unnatural pose. Her right arm is pointed out behind her with her palm facing downward, and in the other she holds a football close to her body. Her right knee is up and crossed over her left leg, and her chin is pointed up with her mouth slightly ajar. Her hair is uniform in both color and style indicating that it has been done, and her face has a sheen and contour that indicates makeup and airbrushing. In addition, the way that Miller is dressed communicates to us who the ad’s target audience is. She is wearing a football t-shirt, but it is very form-fitting and has a hole in it that expose her décolletage so that it is sexy rather than shabby. It is unclear whether she is wearing shorts or some form of underwear, but she is exposing most of her leg and upper thigh. She is also wearing high heeled shoes, which, paired with the positioning of her body elongate her legs and accentuate her butt. All of these are indications that the figure we see is a model who has been primped and posed for this shoot, and not just your average American female engaging in the sport that they love. Miller has features that have been deemed “model-like” by our society. These include her long legs and thin fame which are highlighted by her t-shirt clinging to her body and revealing no bumps or other indications of excess fat on her body. Terms such as thin, beautiful and feminine are part of the discourse that our culture uses to think about those they deem desirable and ideal for headlining a campaign.

     Miller’s form of dress and the positioning of her body display the sexualization of women in sports media that Bruce discusses. This sexualization “represents women within discourses of idealized sexual attractiveness” (Bruce, 129). Our society holds an ideal view of what is sexually attractive, and represents women in sports in this way. This sexualization caters to a male audience even though the purpose of this campaign was to include the NFL’s female fans. This supports the idea of sport masculinity, which holds that sports are hegemonically for men (Bruce, 128). Women in football, on the other hand, are stereotypically represented in one of two ways. First, the woman is represented as uninterested in the sport and nagging their husband while he is trying to watch the game. However, if women are actually represented as showing an interest in football, a Miller-type figure is utilized. The female football fan is shown as a sex object that fulfills a man’s fantasy of a woman who is interested in sports; that is, scantily clad but still clutching that pigskin to show her remote interest in the game. The female fan cannot just wear a regular jersey (without cleavage-bearing tears) and cheer her team on like her male counterparts. Instead, she must be primped and posed. She must show off her glistening, toned legs and wear shoes that she would never wear during an actual game of football. All of this is to satisfy the male gaze. The female body is objectified by an assumed male gaze that focuses on the model’s body parts. A male football player or fan would not be depicted so scantily clad or posed in a football ad, unless it was for satirical purposes. Sports media has constructed a notion of hegemonic masculinity by marginalizing the less masculine, both males and females alike (Messner, 117). This ad is one such example of how women within football are sexualized in order to maintain the hegemonic masculinity.

Bruce, Toni. “Reflections on Communication and Sport: On Women and FemininitiesCommunication and Sport 1:1/2 (2012) 125-137.

Messner, Michael. “Reflections on Communication and Spot: On Men and MasculinitiesCommunication and Sport 1:1/2 (2012) 113-124.

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2 Responses to Isn’t this what all female football fans look like?

  1. Sarah McCullough says:

    Great, clear, and organized post! Your argument makes me wonder if the ad is also implying that the “average” female football fan should strive to look like the model, and/or conform their appearance to the male gaze. What do you think?

    • nsmr9 says:

      Definitely! I think because the NFL implies that this is the typical female fan, the actual female fan base feels pressure to be more like the supposed norm.

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