The Influence of Gender-Role Socialization, Media Use and Sports Participation on Perceptions of Gender-Appropriate Sports
Hardin, Marie, Greer, Jennifer D., Journal of Sport Behavior
Although the experiences of millions of girls and women in the United States indicate the contrary, research demonstrates that media consistently, and across all platforms, present sports as the purview of men (Duncan & Sayaovong, 1990; Hardin, Lynn, Walsdorf, & Hardin, 2002; Pedersen, 2002). Numerous studies have demonstrated that female athletes have been vastly underrepresented in media coverage (Bernstein, 2002; Pedersen, 2002). The reason for this could be that the most popular spectator sports in the United States are those considered masculine (Messner, 2002). Yet, since the passage of Title IX in 1972, the movement of girls and women into many sports that are not considered "feminine" has been phenomenal. Girls and women participate in virtually every type of sport, even those used to showcase the ultimate in hegemonic masculinity; several professional women's football leagues have operated in the United States since 2000 (About NWFA, n.d.; Associated Press, 2007).
Inclusion of more women than ever reflects changing values about their athletic aptitude. It seems logical to ask: Have perceptions of sports progressed in ways that mirror participation? In addition, participation in and media coverage of action sports has grown dramatically since earlier studies have examined attitudes toward gender-appropriate (1) sports. Men and women alike are competing in sports such as snowboarding, wakeboarding, and skateboarding--and sports broadcasters are there to capture the action.
Because of these trends, this study updates research on how U.S. sports are viewed in light of gender norms. Attitudes toward the masculinity of 14 sports were collected through a mass Internet survey of college-age men and women. Further, the study examined how these attitudes were related to sports participation, media consumption, and gender socialization.
Although gender-role differences as biological and "natural" exist in popular consciousness, research has long demonstrated that, instead, many are socially constructed (Bandura, 1986; Messner, 2002). Gender stereotyping is a ubiquitous, invisible regulator of relationships and opportunities. Hargreaves (1994) argues that individuals understand their gender because they are given names and treated in particular ways, such as dressed in pink for girls or blue for boys, that reflect social constructions of gender. Bandura's social cognitive theory is a key in understanding the factors in socialization. He argues that behavior, environmental events, and cognitive factors operate to shape attitudes and action. Individuals ponder action and its outcome, projecting consequences and adjusting accordingly. Thus, action is not a result of "imprinted histories" as much as it is a result of "cognized futures" (Bandura, 1986, p. 19). Bandura emphasizes the role of media in social learning, so much that, he argues, television influence has "dethroned" the primacy of interpersonal experience. As a consequence, life models the media (Bandura, 1986, p. 20).
Bandura leaves open the possibility for evolution in how activities are typed in terms of gender. Multiple models of men or women exhibiting consistent activity is the basis of the gender typing process; over time, "concordance gender-linked modeling can confer masculinity or femininity to previously neutral activities" (1986, p. 95). Thus, previously gender-typed activities, if modeled often enough by men and women, could eventually confer neutrality on them.
Perceptions of Sports as Gender-appropriate
As children are introduced to sports, their experiences are based on gender roles and expectations (Hargreaves, 1994; Nilges, 1998). The construction of sports as appropriate replicates gender-typed toys: rough-and-tumble symbols for boys, domestically oriented symbols for girls. Messner (2002) writes that day-to-day interactions of children with each other and with adults still privilege boys and men in the athletic status system and marginalize girls and women.
Early work on how sports are typed in regard to gender was done by Metheny (1965), who proposed a set of attributes used to categorize a sport as feminine or masculine; sports recognized as masculine involve contact and the use of force or heavy objects (Koivula, 2001). Later, Postow (1980) argued that sports-related attitudes such as devotion to a team, stamina, and competitive spirit also are perceived as masculine. Thus, team sports are considered more masculine than individual sports. Sports in which aggressiveness is considered an essential part of the game, including ice hockey and football, have been regarded as masculine (Koivula, 2001). Sports that have historically been perceived as feminine, such as figure skating or gymnastics, are those that allow women to exhibit gender-role attributes such as grace and beauty while participating (Koivula, 2001). These typologies reinforce ideas of difference; they showcase constructions of men as stronger and faster, thus deserving a higher rank in the overall social order, than women. Generally, men and women type sports similarly; exceptions sometimes occur with basketball, which may be categorized as a more masculine sport by boys than by girls (Riemer & Feltz, 1995).
Although Cashinore (2005) argues that the typologies developed by Metheny (1965) and others are "about as fresh as disco music and mullets" (p. 157), research indicates that even in recent years, sports have been gender-typed in traditional ways (Koivula, 2001; Matteo, 1986; Riemer & Feltz, 1995; Solmon, Lee, Belcher, Harrison, & Wells, 2003). More recent studies, however, have identified that some sports are perceived as more neutral--indicating a slight shift in perception that sports must be either masculine or feminine. A recent study (Koivula, 2001) involving 400 university students found that participants categorized sports as feminine, masculine, or gender-neutral based on their perceptions of the sports' aesthetics, speed, and risk. Sports such as tennis, volleyball, and swimming were ranked as neutral, gymnastics and aerobics were ranked as feminine, and baseball, soccer, and football were typed as masculine. Respondents incorporated the perceived purpose of a sport and its risk when assigning labels. Koivula (2001) points out that definitions of a gender-appropriate sport can change because gender is constructed based on historically and culturally specific conditions. Action sports, which have attracted more participants and more attention from media in recent years, have not been examined in past studies related to gender-typing.
The Influence of Sports Participation
Since passage of Title IX, sports participation by girls and women has grown exponentially. In 1972, 1 in 27 girls played high school sports; in 1998, one in three did (Sports Illustrated for Women, 2002). Sports participation by boys also has increased, although not at the same rate (Carpenter & Acosta, 2005). Most growth in participation by girls and women has been in sports that have been typed neutral or masculine, such as soccer. The most frequent college varsity sports for women are basketball, volleyball, cross country, soccer, softball, tennis, track and field, golf, swimming, and lacrosse--none of which is aesthetically oriented (Acosta & Carpenter, 2004).
The expanding role of sports in the lives of girls (and boys) in the United States could lead to more progressive ideas about what constitutes a gender-appropriate sport, but research has not supported that possibility. Several studies have revealed that male athletes have more conservative, traditional attitudes toward gender roles than do male non-athletes (Andre & Holland, 1995; Boyle, 1997; Houseworth, Peplow, & Thirer, 1989). Studies in the 1980s and 1990s demonstrated that high school and college students judged participation in gender-appropriate sports as socially more desirable than participation in sports deemed gender-inappropriate; for instance, girls who participated in gymnastics were deemed more desirable as a date (for boys) and as a friend (for girls) than were girls who played golf or softball (Holland & Thomas, 1994).
Matteo (986) found that the more strongly a male …
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Publication information: Article title: The Influence of Gender-Role Socialization, Media Use and Sports Participation on Perceptions of Gender-Appropriate Sports. Contributors: Hardin, Marie - Author, Greer, Jennifer D. - Author. Journal title: Journal of Sport Behavior. Volume: 32. Issue: 2 Publication date: June 2009. Page number: 207+. © 1999 University of South Alabama. COPYRIGHT 2009 Gale Group.