The Importance of Photographing Women In Sports

  • 2019-07-08
  • Wired

Alana Paterson knows how isolating it can be to compete in an intensely male-dominated arena. She's not only a photographer—a job disproportionately occupied by men—but also a skateboarder. Growing up in the late 1990s in British Columbia, she’d enter competitions with dozens of male contestants but just two or three other girls. The only other female skateboarders she saw in those pre-Instagram days were in magazines, "and they published maybe a handful of photos a year," she says.

Now that Paterson's behind the camera, she's turning it on female athletes like herself. For her series Title IX, she documented junior and college hockey players from 14 teams across the US and Canada. It's part of a larger body of work that gives visibility to women in sport.

Since President Nixon signed Title IX into law in 1972, US girls' participation in high school sports has increased by more than 1,000 percent—from 294,000 in 1971 to 3.4 million in the 2017–2018 school year. Though not all will make it to the Women's World Cup or Wimbledon, they still reap the host of physical, psychological, and socio-economic benefits that sports offer—like, say, getting to be CEO.

The overt lack of media representation fuels the divide. While four out of 10 athletes are female, just 4 percent of sports-related media coverage is devoted to them. They get only 5 percent of Sports Illustrated covers and a paltry 2 percent of airtime on ESPN's SportsCenter. And they're often sexualized. It doesn't help that women are vastly underrepresented among sports photographers.