Feminising the “Coming Out” Story of Casey Dellacqua: Ambivalence, Acceptance, and Silence in the Australian Sports Media

By Chelsea Litchfield and Jaquelyn Osborne.

Published by Journal of Sporting Cultures and Identities

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Article: Print $US10.00
Published Online: January 7, 2016 $US5.00

Over a decade ago, Wensing and Bruce (2003) suggested that the media traditionally adhered to a set of unwritten “old rules” to describe women athletes, their sporting performance and their femininity (387). These rules included; “Gender Marking,” “Compulsory Heterosexuality,” ‘Emphasizing Appropriate Femininity,” “Infantilization” and “Focussing on Non-Sport-Related Aspects” and similar themes have since been used in research by Kane and Maxwell (2011). Additionally, Wensing and Bruce suggested a new rule exists to describe women athletes in sports media reporting, which they label “ambivalence” (2003, 388). “Ambivalence” in contemporary sports media refers to a combination of positive images and reporting, along with the traditional undermining and negative images and reporting of female athletes, women’s sporting competitions and women’s sporting success. In 2013 and 2014, athletes such as tennis player Casey Dellacqua, WNBL rookie Britney Griner and United States football (soccer) player Abby Wambach came out as lesbians in the sports media. The media reactions to these stories have been varied and in many ways parallel the new rule of “ambivalence” devised by Wensing and Bruce (2003) some time ago. Through a case study media analysis, the coming-out story through the eyes of the sports media of one of these particular athletes, Casey Dellacqua, is investigated in the current manuscript. Using a critical feminist framework, an analysis of the digital and print media of Dellacqua’s story has elicited a series of themes, including the abovementioned theme of “Ambivalence,” as well as “Acceptance” and “Silence.” Dellacqua’s story has been accepted and celebrated by some media outlets, particularly those who have exclusive rights to tennis coverage, while other media sources have remained relatively silent about her coming out story. Further media outlets have even feminised Dellacqua’s coming out story and erased her sexuality, partner and child in sports media coverage. The significance of such research lies in the exposition of media responses to female athlete diversity in the hetero-normative "space" of sport.

Keywords: Lesbian, Tennis, Media, Female, Dellacqua

Journal of Sporting Cultures and Identities, Volume 6, Issue 4, February 2016, pp.1-14. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published Online: January 7, 2016 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 407.369KB)), ISSN: ISSN 2381-6678.

Dr. Chelsea Litchfield

Lecturer, School of Human Movement Studies, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia

Chelsea Litchfield is a lecturer with the School of Human Movement Studies at Charles Sturt University. Chelsea teaches in the areas of sport sociology, sports media and sport ethics, and her research interests lie in sport and gender, sport and sexuality and the relationship between sport and media. Chelsea holds a Bachelor of Applied Science - Physical Education (Honours) degree, and a PhD in sport sociology through Victoria University. Her thesis explores the culture of and finding safe and affirming spaces in women's team sports in Melbourne.

Dr. Jaquelyn Osborne

Lecturer, School of Human Movement Studies, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia

Dr Jaquelyn Osborne is a lecturer and Course Director in the School of Human Movement Studies at Charles Sturt University. She researches in the areas of sport history and sport philosophy with a particular emphasis on sport and games in the ancient world.