Gender Effects on Spectators' Attitudes toward WNBA Basketball

By McCabe, Catherine | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, April 2008 | Go to article overview

Gender Effects on Spectators' Attitudes toward WNBA Basketball


McCabe, Catherine, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


The primary objective for this research was to apply the concepts of multifactorial gender identity theory and test the effects of gender on spectators' attitudes towards women's professional basketball. The sample consisted of 466 women and 107 men. Results show that expressive traits and egalitarian gender-role attitudes extend our understanding of the relationship between gender and spectators' affect for women's professional basketball. The findings are discussed in terms of their theoretical and practical contributions, and recommendations for future research are proposed.

Keywords: gender, gender identity, sports spectators, Women's National Basketball Association, spectators' attitudes, sex roles, stereotypes.

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This study explored the contribution of multiple gender factors in predicting spectators' affect toward a gendered experience, Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) basketball. Competitive team sports provide a context in which the production and expression of gender is especially significant (Theberge, 1997). As gendered experiences, many team sports are stereotyped as being appropriate for either men or women due to gender-role expectations and the perceptions of what activities are considered suitable for each sex (Costa, 1994; Deaux & Major, 1987; Fischer & Arnold, 1994; Matteo, 1988; Spence, 1993). For example, playing tackle football or engaging in Greco-Roman wrestling are generally not accepted as appropriate sport behaviors for girls or women, but are considered appropriate activities for boys and men.

The importance of examining affect lies in its power to influence spectators' responses to women's professional basketball. Affect represents an overall and general attitude toward a product or brand (Pritchard, Havitz, & Howard, 1999). Conceptually defined, affect is a psychological tendency expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favor or disfavor (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993). For example, a positive affect toward WNBA basketball will potentially influence spectators' levels of interest in attending games or purchasing team licensed merchandise, two important consumption activities for establishing long-term success for the WNBA.

Scholars have argued for the importance of examining not only sex differences within sports contexts, but the psychological and social aspects of gender as well (e.g., McCabe, 2007). Yet, most empirical investigations are limited to sex differences (e.g., Klomsten, March, & Skaalvik, 2005; Koivula, 1999; Krane, Choi, Baird, Aimar, & Kauer, 2004), with a few studies having explored the influence of individuals' masculine and feminine gender traits on team sports (e.g., Matteo, 1988; Miller & Levy, 1996; Wann & Waddill, 2003). While these studies have provided important insights into differences between men and women within different sport contexts, to date, no study has examined the multifactorial nature of gender on spectators' affect for WNBA basketball. Bristor and Fischer (1993) argue that in-depth research on the gendered nature of consumption phenomena can enrich our understanding of the psychosocial and institutional dynamics that shape consumer practices and preferences. Failure to consider gender, when relevant, results in a lack of awareness of the way gendered signifiers inform theoretical discourses.

Multifactorial gender identity theory (Spence, 1993) provides the theoretical foundation for the current study. Spence's gender identity theory proposes that gender phenomena are multifactorial and deeply embedded in social contexts. In addition to one's biological sex, instrumental (masculine) and expressive (feminine) psychological traits, as well as other gender-related factors, such as gender-role attitudes, are relevant to gender-based activities and attitudes such as participating in team sports or being a spectator of a team sport (Edwards & Spence, 1987; Spence, 1993).

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