Introduction Over the period of a few short weeks in Australian media coverage and public discussion was dominated by news of a 'sex scandal' involving two high-profile celebrities--Lara Bingle model and then fiancee of the vice-captain of the Australian cricket team Michael Clarke , and the Australian rules football 'bad boy' Brendan Fevola.
The scandal began with the publication of a pixellated photograph in the popular Australian women's magazine, Woman's Day, of a naked and apparently unconsenting Bingle in the shower, which was allegedly taken by Fevola during a brief affair years previously and distributed via his mobile phone.
Fevola was married at the time of the affair and when the image subsequently went viral. As is the nature of celebrity scandal, this one held the public's interest for a short time before being superseded by another of its kind, yet the explosion of media commentary and debate it generated raises a number of persistent issues regarding gender, sexuality, celebrity and sport in Australia as they circulate around heterosexuality and white privilege.
This article examines the constructions of women's sexuality, gender and celebrity scandal in mainstream media coverage of this event. There is little doubt that the pervasive, instant and wide-reaching nature of digital communication technologies, coupled with the potent mixture of celebrity, nudity and infidelity, precipitated the mainstream media production of the Bingle-Fevola scandal.
In turning our attention toward the Australian news media's discursive constructions of Bingle's sexual behaviour, we begin to map the ways in which celebrity scandals in the mainstream media provoke wider debate about 'gender appropriate' conduct sexual and otherwise.
What constitutes a 'legitimate' enactment of femininity or masculinity is contestable, as evidenced by the variety of responses to the scandal offered by media commentators, which ranged from demonising Bingle to promoting her as a feminist icon, as well as characterising her ex-fiance Clark as both effeminate and manly.
This coexistence of feminist and anti-feminist themes in mainstream representational and discursive practice is indicative of a contemporary postfeminist media climate, as identified by Rosalind Gill Gill b: It is against this backdrop that we situate our analysis, coming to an agreement with sociologist Joshua Gamson , p.
By consequence, media organisations thrive off "selling scandal" and in many instances, fuel and shape the scandal story Thompson , p. According to social theorist John Thompson, scandal involves the transgression of "certain values, norms or moral codes" , p.
Such a transgression must be known to others, some of whom may believe it is "morally discreditable" Thompson , p. What is deemed to be scandalous, however, is not timeless--rather, it is "deeply rooted in culturally and historically-specific ideas about how individuals are expected to behave" Lumby , p.
Being in the public eye, celebrities are especially susceptible to being the subject of scandal Thompson , p. Given the increasing commercialisation and globalisation of sport Albury and Lumby , p. As cultural commentator David Rowe , p. What distinguishes the Bingle-Fevola incident from other sport sex scandals is that consent in sexual relations is not the primary issue, but rather the unconsensual capturing and distribution of a nude photograph.
As one half of Australia's answer to "Posh 'n' Becks" Maley , np --as internationally famous soccer star, David Beckham and his wife, former 'Spice Girl' Victoria are widely known--the publication of a nude, albeit pixellated, photograph of Lara Bingle was bound to be scandalous. The photograph, published in the March edition of Woman's Day, shows Bingle naked in the shower, trying to cover herself with her hand Byrne , np and wearing an expression that indicates that the photograph was taken against her wishes.
The scandal "divided the nation" according to the Herald Sun Langmaid , np. However, following a paid interview with Woman's Day to discuss her plight, public support for Bingle eroded Penberthy , np. The interview also, apparently, lost her the support of her fiance, Michael Clarke, who flew back from New Zealand where he was on tour with the Australian cricket team and incited criticism from cricket commentators in the process.
Method This paper employs discourse analysis to explore articles generated in response to the scandal by the Australia's major, mainstream newspapers that are either owned by the traditionally conservative News Limited or its liberal rival, Fairfax. The coverage afforded to this scandal by both tabloid and broadsheet publications can be seen as further evidence of the media's obsession with "fame, celebrity, public confession and scandal" Lumby , p.
The articles selected for analysis date from March 2, until March 23, a period that spans the appearance of the compromising photograph of Bingle in Woman's Day and the subsequent media coverage of the scandal. Nineteen articles published by mainstream Australian newspapers were deemed relevant for this paper. In order for an article to be considered relevant, the Bingle-Fevola scandal had to inform the main focus of the article. For this reason stories concerning the performance of Bingle's cricketer fiance were included but articles in which the scandal was mentioned only in passing were excluded.
The news stories for analysis were obtained from the Factiva database or the publications' websites. Eighteen articles were analysed, with the vast majority of the articles being sourced from Fairfax's The Sydney Morning Herald and its Melbourne counterpart The Age, in addition to material from News Limited's tabloids The Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun from Sydney and Melbourne respectively, Australia's two largest cities and the national broadsheet, The Australian.
In addition, two Herald Sun articles were utilised to provide additional background information on the scandal. Media coverage of this scandal was chosen as the primary site of analysis because the "media has become the key site for defining codes of sexual conduct" McRobbie , p. Written content of the articles forms the focus of this critique and we employ academic John E. Richardson's approach to discourse analysis--the "functionalist approach to discourse" , p.
In order to properly interpret an article that, for instance, makes disparaging comments about Lara Bingle's private life, it is necessary to work out what the writer is "doing through discourse" Richardson , p.
Object-ions in the Press Coverage of the scandal pivoted on whether the publication of a questionably obtained, unconsensual nude photograph is justifiable. According to Woman's Day editor, Fiona Connolly cited in Hunter , np , the photograph had been "doing the rounds" among cricketers and footballers "for a long time. Such commentary not only upholds a narrow, conservative notion of what is considered beautiful, but also suggests that Bingle's white, hetero-appealing beauty provides her with the privileged access to publicity that makes her scandal newsworthy within the media.
What these narratives imply is that the ongoing benefits Bingle receives from celebrity-hood, along with the immediate boost to her media profile as a result of the incident, nullify any rights she might have to privacy or consent, lending further credence to the argument for publication. Furthermore, Connolly's comments and Woman's Day's decision to publish the photograph originally captured on Fevola's mobile phone supports the notion that it is commonly women who bear the social stigma in the phenomenon of 'sexting', which involves the distribution of sexually explicit photos of oneself or others via text message Toffoletti , np.
Often with little control over the production, dissemination and publication of compromising photos taken by mobile cameras, women like Bingle are not only objectified as a result of the circulation of such images but also 'pay the price' for their unwitting involvement through the judgement and condemnation that ensues from the scandal. Amidst claims that the circulation of a nude image of Bingle is justifiable due to her female celebrity 'object-status' emerged critiques of this position in several newspaper articles.
Robbins, for example, is critical of the notion that, because Bingle had previously posed in "semi-nude photos as a bikini model" Robbins , np , she is fair game. The photograph of Bingle in the shower, Robbins notes, "was taken and distributed without her consent, which is one of the worst forms of harassment and bullying, and an unforgivable breach of privacy.
Whilst the unauthorised publication of photographs by newspapers is nothing new, these journalists appear to be particularly concerned with the implication that Bingle's career choice somehow renders her need to consent to such photographs, their distribution and her right to privacy obsolete. It may seem reassuring that some media commentators condemn the insinuation that Bingle's career as a bikini model makes the digital distribution, and eventual publication, of such an intimate photograph justifiable.
Nonetheless, the publication of the photograph in Woman's Day exists as a poignant reminder of just how unremarkable the objectification and "sexualisation of women's bodies in public space" Gill a, p. The condemnation of the objectification and sexualisation of women in popular culture has not resulted in the diminishment of such imagery, or the persistent gender ideologies that sustain them. Fuelled, in part, by a cultural obsession with celebrity, gender articulations that emphasise the sexualisation of women's bodies and sexual difference appear to circulate with as much, if not more, vigour that ever before in the western mediasphere Gill b, Sexual Reputations Bingle is commonly constructed as a sexually active subject in media reports of the scandal.
Caroline Marcus , np of The Sydney Morning Herald lists several of Bingle's alleged suitors such as "Kings Cross identity John Ibrahim," "former fling Craig Wing" as well as her "many [emphasis added] friends in the surfing world," having been romantically "linked to at least two--Taj Burrow and Kai Otton. It is also implied that she is a woman who fails to meet the standards and expectations for female behaviour appropriate to her class and race.
In scrutinising Bingle's behaviour and sexual past, such articles can be seen to perpetuate what social commentator Emily Maguire identifies as society's "hatred and disgust for the promiscuous woman" Maguire , p.
This is despite the popular belief that young, western women are sexually liberated, empowered and autonomous Gill b, Walter From the accounts offered here, it would appear that women continue to be judged according to sexual standards in a way that men are not. Another article builds on this condemnation by constructing Bingle as sexually forward. Former Hawthorn legend Dermott Brereton said he told [Bingle] that Fevola was married before they embarked on their affair. Rumours have swirled around Bingle all week.
This article presents Bingle as being aggressive in her pursuit of sexual conquests by allegedly pursuing the married Fevola and even kicking down a door to get to a man that she desires. Hence women like Lara Bingle, according to academics Shari L. Dworkin and Faye Linda Wachs cited in Toffoletti , p. Coverage of the scandal precipitated dialogue and debate about the problematic nature of the gender myths and stereotypes about female sexuality circulating in media accounts. A number of reports emerged that questioned the characterization of Bingle's sexual demeanour as exceeding the limits of what might be considered acceptable for women of her class and race background.
No, because nobody talks about male sexuality like that. As The Age's chief football writer Caroline Wilson , np points out, "in , [Fevola] certainly didn't act like his marriage meant very much," a view supported by The Age commentator Miranda Devine , np who reminds readers that it was Fevola "with the wife and kids," not single Bingle.
The Daily Telegraph's Sarrah Le Marquand , np takes a similar moral position arguing that, "while Bingle was guilty of being young and foolish, it was Fevola alone who reneged on his wedding vows" , np. These articles ignore the issues surrounding the publication of the photograph and instead draw attention to the personal circumstances of those primarily involved--Bingle and Fevola. While articles that focus on Bingle's alleged promiscuity and lack of sexual passivity allude to the sexual double standard that still exists in contemporary Australian society, other articles have criticised this state of affairscondemning the notion that women are responsible for male promiscuity and more specifically, that Bingle is to blame for Fevola's adultery.
In the debate emerging from the reporting of the scandal, we identify the potential of public discourse to challenge long-held social ideals whereby women are stigmatised "for any hint of their sexuality" Wolf , p. Femininity and Masculinity on Trial Michael Clarke's decision to return to Australia following his fiancee's paid magazine interview--despite being on tour in New Zealand--attracted the criticism of Australian cricket commentators who, through various articles, upheld hegemonic ideals of what it means to be a man and a woman in contemporary Australian society.
The Age's cricket commentator at the time of the scandal, Peter Roebuck, in his article 'Time for Clarke to decide on his career path,' casts Clark as an emasculated figure.
Roebuck , np compares Clarke to Mark Antony--the Roman warlord whose romantic and political alliance with Cleopatra ended in his downfall--stating that "obsession can be a man's undoing. Narratives of the sportman's potential demise at the hands of an attractive woman are nothing new, as demonstrated in analyses of media accounts of male sporting celebrities like golfer Tiger Woods, footballer David Beckham and cricketer Brian Lara Rowe , Whannel Rowe argues that unless women conform to the nurturing role of compliant wife and mother, they are cast within media discourse as seducers and distracters who threaten to jeopardise the sportsman's on-field performance Rowe , p.
Bingle, as a celebrity competitor to Clark for the media spotlight, presents a particular threat to a gender order predicated on masculine authority. Like Cleopatra and Victoria Beckham, Bingle's fame rivals that of her ex-partner. Such a union, as Rowe explains, The question of 'who rules the hearth and home? In partnering with a woman whose celebrity status threatens to undermine the primacy of male sporting endeavours, Clarke's commitment to the Australian cricket team is questioned.
As Roebuck , np states, "it is no small thing for a vice-captain to walk out on a team at any stage. Bingle's situation, in Roebuck's , np view, was "bad news," yet "pertained to disarray as opposed to crisis. Hence, Roebuck , np concludes that Cricket Australia will now be "reluctant to put the national team completely in his hands. An article by The Age journalist Will Swanton heavily employs the views of respected Australian cricket icons--former Test captain, Ian Chappell and former Test player, Mark Waugh--and in doing so, Clarke's 'difference' to past occupants of the captaincy is unfavourably emphasised.
Chappell supports the view that Clarke will have duties to team and country--"to be there all the time" cited in Swanton , np as the future captain of the Australian cricket team. Chappell states that there have "always [been] very durable guys as captains, [who are there] all the time" cited in Swanton , np. By returning home, Clarke is constructed as not robust, or masculine, enough to be a suitable candidate for the captaincy of the team--a role that is considered by some to be "the most important job [in Australia] after the prime ministership" Smith , np.
Waugh is critical of the undesirable fact that Clarke's "personal life has encroached on his cricket" cited in Swanton , np. According to sociologist Michael Kimmel , np , what has "traditionally made men reliable in a crisis" has also, by consequence, made them emotionally unavailable to others, such as a partner like Bingle.
Waugh also comments that hopefully this dereliction of duty is a "oneoff" cited in Swanton , np. He also states that "Michael would like to lead a much quieter life" cited in Swanton , np , implying that Clarke is also of the opinion that Bingle is failing to embody the model of "emphasised femininity" 1 Connell, , p.
Academics Ben Clayton and John Harris , p. Such a trend is clearly evident in the views of Roebuck, Chappell and Waugh, who construct Clarke as an emasculated and irresponsible figure, who, by returning to Australia for the sake of his fiancee, has not only failed as a cricketer, but as a man.
Roebuck's article upholds the expectation that the wives and girlfriends of sportsmen, or WAGS as they are popularly known, ideally should be "passive, supportive [and] decorative" Wedgwood , p.
This is achieved through the sports writer's characterization of Bingle as "a beautiful young woman Fashionistas talk of her headstrong ways and dubious customs She craves attention and courts controversy" Roebuck , np. By casting Bingle as a beautiful but dangerous and deviant figure, he implies that her behaviour is at odds with the expectations of what a celebrity sportsman's partner should be. While Roebuck attributes to Bingle a key aspect of emphasised femininity-beauty-he simultaneously portrays her as a rude, attention-seeking and classless figure through, for instance, the trivial attention afforded to her alleged behaviour in restaurants.