The Influence of Gender-Role Socialization, Media Use and Sports Participation on Perceptions of Gender-Appropriate Sports

Article excerpt

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. …