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Televised sports’ ‘honey shot’ plays into the idea that games are only for men

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Objectifying images of spectators imply that only men like sport, and that all men like pictures of lightly dressed women

It is known as “the honey shot” and we all know it well. Some delay is occurring in the (usually) sporting activity which is the main television event. We switch to a camera showing a section of the audience – a section carefully selected. There she is, front centre, a pretty young girl. Occasionally she is wearing very little. Occasionally there’s more than one – the much sought after “double honey shot”. Sometimes she will jump up and wave at the camera with excitement. Sometimes a lascivious voiceover will remark on her charms. And now back to the action.

It was pioneered by Andy Sidaris in the 1980s, an American football director for ABC. Originally it confined itself to leering shots of cheerleaders. Soon it spread to other sports, to showing “pretty young things” among spectators, players’ girlfriends, now even to music events. Anyone who watched coverage of the Glastonbury festival will have seen it. The shot’s aesthetic is almost always unabashedly pornographic. Sidaris went on to direct third-rate sexploitation movies involving former centrefolds. Some of his efforts can be seen in the Girls, Guns and G-strings DVD set.

I’m not going to pretend I have never admired someone beautiful. I’m not going to say that during Wimbledon I have not looked at a player’s legs and thought thoughts that do not belong in the national press. But when watching a sporting event, the athlete’s almost superhuman fitness, their shape and definition, the fact that they are physically extraordinary, is very much part of the natural admiration we have for sportspeople. I don’t see how shots of a player’s beautiful girlfriend – between every point, it feels like sometimes – add to that.

To me, the explanation is simpler and grossly offensive. It is this: only men like sport. All men also like “birds”. Let’s throw some “birds” in with their sport. And if you’re thinking it is all rather innocent and not objectification, consider that some (almost without exception) middle-aged, male director is sitting in a control room somewhere, scanning shots of the crowd, until he chances upon one and thinks “Phwoar! Yeah. Let’s show her.”

This is the flip side of John Inverdale commenting on Marion Bartoli’s looks just after she won the world’s biggest tennis event. We hand-wring about certain sports not attracting bigger female audiences, while tailoring them for men only – actually tailoring them for a lowest common denominator, a cipher in a director’s mind of what a man of his age and sexual mindset might want.

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Recently, when I voiced my displeasure on social media about this practice, I got the full range of excuses. They included the perennial, “Why did she dress like that and wave at the camera if she didn’t want to be objectified?” Well, many reasons, actually. People find great joy in video evidence that they were at a big sporting event. They tend to wave to their family back home, not to your groin. Also, it was 35C in Brazil that day. Is the assumption that any woman wearing something light obviously wants to be ogled not a distant cousin of the “she asked for it” defence? In any case, that some women choose to pose for page three doesn’t make it any less objectifying or exploitative in the eyes of others.

It’s also useful to counterpose the treatment of men in similar events. First, there is the “let’s mock obesity” shot; you know, the fat bloke who dared to take his shirt off so let’s show him to millions of viewers and make some hilarious comment. It is as common a diversion as the honey shot in some ways. And what of streakers? The policy is for the camera to immediately turn away and not show any of them. Here is someone who obviously wants the attention, but is not shown because the brief notoriety will only encourage others. Also, remember the basic rationale: only men like sport. All men like “birds”. No man wants his sport interrupted by a penis.

There is nothing innocent about the honey shot. Watch the next match in a big sports bar. Observe the alcohol-fuelled reaction to it by some men in the watching crowd. It is reasonable to wonder if it might help legitimise the sort of street harassment that projects like Everyday Sexism have so well documented, as that drunken crowd spills out onto the streets.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014

[Image credit: Cyril Hou / Shutterstock.com]

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