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Beth Tweddle live chat highlights sexism in sport

January 22nd 2014 / Judy Johnson Google+ Judy Johnson

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Sexism is rife in the sports industry and Beth Tweddle is not the only one to be judged on her looks, reports Judy Johnson

It was a dark day for women in sport yesterday, as Olympic medallist Beth Tweddle was the victim of online trolls during a live Q&A she was hosting for Sky Sports News.

Though Twitter trolls are nothing new, it's the inherent sexism and misogyny that they represented that made every woman around the globe sigh with despair. As feminist movement Everyday Sexism wrote, the live chat was supposed to highlight the 'often underrepresented' field of women's sport as the public were invited to ask questions using the hashtag #Sportswomen.

Instead, the athlete received a barrage of insults regarding her appearance such as 'On a scale of 1/10 how pig ugly would you class yourself?' and 'What happened to your top lip? where is it? [sic]'. They didn't stop there either; once she'd answered a perfectly normal, sports-related question, further trolls took it out of context and called Beth names such as 'dirty bitch' and 'slut'.

Aside from the outright nastiness (trolls are pointless, irritating little web bugs that sadly will probably always exist), it's the fact that a rare opportunity to showcase the talented women we have in sport was hijacked by those chauvinists who don't see a woman who won Bronze at last year's Olympics. Those who don't see a triple World Champion, a six-time European Champion or a Commonwealth Champion. Those who don't respect someone who is an inspiration to young girls. Those who simply see a woman, someone who can be berated for their appearance and sex life because God forbid she actually care about anything other than her looks.

The 'unacceptable and offensive abuse' of Beth Tweddle, as Sky Sports have condemned it, is not the only kind of behaviour that makes being a sportswoman a thankless task. Just a couple of days ago as 19-year-old tennis player Eugenie Bouchard became the first Canadian to reach the Australian Open semi finals, female court side reporter Samantha Smith asked, guiltily, the most irrelevant, sexist question of all: 'If you could date anyone in the world of sport, or movies, who would you date?'

Sorry, date? The girl's just made tennis history and you want to know who she would date? We can't imagine such tedious, personal, girlish questions being made to the likes of Andy Murray, Roger Federer or their male peers; this is just the kind of question that women have to put up with no matter what their achievements, leaving them to cringe live on TV and blush their way through an admittance that they rather like Justin Bieber.

Women in sport are certainly not unaware of the imbalance in representation they face, either. Everyday Sexism cited the research from Stylist that only 5% of sports media coverage features women; for every 53 articles written about sportsmen, there is just one about a woman. Add to this the recent study revealing that Britain's sportswomen feel that their body image is judged to be more important than their achievements and you get a depressing picture of inequality in the industry.

In a report commissioned by BT Sport, 67% of the women questioned said they felt the public and the media value a sportswoman's appearance over her sporting abilities, and a scary 76% said it had affected their diet or training regimes because they feel they have to conform to the female ideal of 'Stick thin, big boobs and pretty face'.

Here at GTG we say that women in sport are to be celebrated and recognised for not only their incredible talents and achievements, but their perseverance in what is a wholly unequal industry. Perhaps how Beth has overcome such misogyny to get to where she is and what she'd advise women wanting to follow her footsteps in a man's world might have been a better question to ask in that live chat - we'd love to know just how ballsy she's had to be to get there.

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