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Tour de France

Commentary: Sadly, sexism still exists when it comes to how females in sports journalism are treated on social media

Female cycling journalists still have to regularly deal with sexist comments and it should be called out.

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“Someone should tell this awful loud woman on Eurosport in the inappropriate clothing that I am sitting right in front of her and that there’s no need to shout.”

That’s just one of the many abusive tweets that Eurosport and GCN presenter Orla Chennaoui, who is currently fronting the channels’ Tour de France coverage, receives on a regular basis when she is on television. Many of them tag her social media channels so that she is forced to see them.

The vast majority of these abusive messages center around how Chennaoui dresses and the way she talks because she dares to be herself. She doesn’t bow to how other people think a woman should look, she is unabashedly herself and that seems to rile up a small but vocal minority who believe women should be quiet and reserved.

Chennaoui is not the only woman to suffer this sort of abuse on social media. There are more women than ever working in the sports media, but they are still in the minority, and sexist attitudes toward them are still rife.

The sports industry, and cycling specifically, is still an overwhelmingly male-dominated world. A quick glance around the Tour de France press room this July shows only a handful of women among the hundreds of photographers and journalists. It’s the same throughout the season at almost every event.

Things have changed somewhat since I first started working in cycling journalism, but it’s still rare to see women among the press corps, whether it be as TV presenters, pundits, writers, or photographers.

Various studies across the world have shown the huge imbalance between men and women in the sports journalism industry. A study published in Germany this year found that fewer than 10 percent of bylines in sports were attributed to women.

Sexism comes in a lot of different forms. It comes in the outright manner of abusive messages on social media but it can also come in a much more inexplicit way.

When I attended Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne earlier this season, I was the only woman in the press room, and I was mistaken by another journalist as a member of the catering staff. In the past, I’ve had others question my presence in a press scrum, believing me to be a fan rather than a journalist.

Stuff like this seems small but it is a demonstration of the rarity of women in the press corps that the expectation is that women don’t belong. I have also been told on social media that women shouldn’t be writing about cycling because they don’t understand it, a refrain that many female sports journalists will be familiar with.

When women do put their heads above the parapet in sport, particularly in television, they’re often subjected to far more abuse than their male counterparts. Abuse of journalists, male or female, is wrong but women in sports journalism so often bear the brunt of it with harassment and trolling comments on social media.

Women shouldn’t be immune from constructive criticisms, but so often these so-called criticisms are not about a woman’s ability to do her job.

So often, women are berated for what they wear, how they sound, how they look, whether they smile too much or not enough, and other standards that their male counterparts aren’t held to. Women are also compared to each other as if only a few of us can be allowed in this male-dominated space and it’s a competition to see who is the best.

For some, women are not allowed to be too loud, stand out, or dress in a way that is anything less than conservative.

There is a school of thought that we should starve these so-called “trolls” of the attention that they want, and it will go away, but the repeated abusive messages that women like Chennaoui get all the time show that this doesn’t work.

Messages like these should be called out for what they are, sexist. Female sports journalists, indeed all women, should be allowed to do their job without concern that they are going to be criticized for what they’re wearing or how they look.

We can’t just sit by and silently do nothing. We shouldn’t just be forced to take it because it’s “part of the job.” We all must stand up and stand against sexism in all its forms.