Comparing Perceived Sex Role Orientations of the Ideal Male and Female Athlete to the Ideal Male and Female Person

Article excerpt

Sports are pervasive in our society. We are all affected by them in some way throughout our lives. Companies have increasingly turned to sports and athletes as a means of promoting their products, children are often encouraged to excel in sports as a potential means of acquiring college funding, and athletes are often touted to be the heroes of our children. Yet, in spite of the millions of dollars spent annually on sports, very little is understood beyond the mere recognition that there are differences and similarities in how male and female athletes are perceived by the general population.

A preponderance of research in recent years has focused on the existence of dissimilar perceptions of men and women as athletes (Colley, 1987; Colley, Roberts, & Chipps, 1985; Greendorfer, 1987; Griffin, 1973; Lewko & Greendorfer, 1978; Jackson & Marsh, 1986; Nixon, Maresca, & Silverman, 1979; Snyder & Kivlin, 1977). One fairly consistent outcome of past research is that female athletes are evaluated much less positively than male athletes by both males and females. For example, Nixon, Maresca, and Silverman (1979) found that, although female subjects were more accepting of women in sports than male subjects, in general all subjects felt that women were not as acceptable as men in the role of athlete.

One explanation for the negative evaluation of women athletes is that sport participation is incompatible with the female sex role (Colley, 1987). That is, a female cannot be both an ideal woman and an ideal athlete because the characteristics that constitute a good athlete are inconsistent with the characteristics that constitute a good woman. Sage and Loudermilk (1979) identified strong feelings of role conflict in approximately 25% of their sample of female athletes indicating that at least some athletes report feeling this inconsistency. Jackson and Marsh (1986) reported significant differences in both perceived and experienced role conflict between Australian female athletes and non-athletes. Griffin (1973) found that, from a list of woman identities (e.g., mother, female professor), female athletes were rated by both males and females as farthest from subjects' image of the ideal woman. Similarly, Fisher, Genovese, Morris, & Morris (1978) found that males, compared to females, rated women in sports as less close to their ideal woman. Colley, Roberts, and Chipps (1985) among others (e.g., Nixon, Maresca, & Silverman, 1979) found that males were more negative about women in sports than females, but this finding was contingent on the type of sport in which women were participating. Snyder and Kivlin (1977) found female athletes more strongly endorsed female sex role-consistent behaviors than did female non-athletes, leading Colley (1987) to conclude that the role conflict experienced by female athletes may push female athletes into expressing "apologetic" behaviors.

While previous research has provided support for the role conflict explanation, Matteo (1988) has suggested an alternative explanation which helps to identify the theoretical process that occurs to produce the perceived conflict. Matteo had subjects rate their level of interest for 68 sports, after which subjects were to indicate their reasons for rejecting two sex-inappropriate sports. As predicted, sex-typed individuals (those who conformed to gender stereotypes) were more likely to give gender related reasons for rejecting the sex-inappropriate sports than non-sex typed individuals (those who do not conform to gender stereotypes). In addition, sex-typed individuals thought gender based reasons were more important to their decisions to reject sex-inappropriate sports than did non-sex-typed individuals. When rating a hypothetical individual purported to enjoy a sport on 12 traits taken from the BSRI, sex-typed subjects gave higher masculine ratings for the individual enjoying a masculine sport and higher feminine trait ratings for individuals thought to enjoy a feminine sport than did non-sex-typed individuals. …