Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Prospects for Change in a New Millennium: Gender Beliefs of Young Girls in Sport and Physical Activity

Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Prospects for Change in a New Millennium: Gender Beliefs of Young Girls in Sport and Physical Activity

Article excerpt

Abstract

Given the changing roles of women and the increasing involvement of girls and women in sport and physical activity during the last quarter of the 20th century, traditional gender belief systems about women's assumed physical weakness and incompetence have been challenged. Belief systems are internalized at a young age and influence future choices and behavior. Therefore, the current study was an exploration of the perceptions and attitudes of young girls at the end of the 20th century. This examination is an attempt to provide an indication of the prospects for greater involvement of girls and women in sport and physical activity in the new millennium. Forty-six fourth and fifth grade girls were interviewed to explore perceptions and attitudes related to sport and physical activity. In particular, we examined (a) perceptions of the capabilities of boys and girls, (b) interactions with boys in sport and physical activity, and (c) internalized messages about sport and physical activity. Participants generally (a) perceived boys as possessing superior sport skills and physical attributes, (b) felt girls and boys played differently, (c) believed that boys held negative views of the physical ability of girls, (d) associated an athlete with being male, and (e) internalized negative societal messages about girls in sport. Despite the optimism surrounding girls' and women's increased participation, the attitudes and perceptions of the respondents suggested that many traditional beliefs about sport and physical activity remain.

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Societal concern and opposition relative to the involvement of girls and women in sport and physical activity has been present throughout the 20th century (Motley & Lavine, 2001; Sage, 1998). Although the nature of this concern and opposition has changed from decade to decade and within various racial and social identifications, girls and women have received a consistent message that sport and physical activity should be approached with caution and that females should be aware of possible negative outcomes of participation (Rail, 1990). Such belief systems have impacted the self-perceptions of girls and women about the appropriateness of their involvement as well as the availability of opportunities for their participation (Baum, 1998; McClung, 1996; Motley & Lavine, 2001; Schell & Rodriquez, 2000).

Despite traditional beliefs about females and sport (Schell & Rodriquez, 2000; Sage, 1998), girls and women have experienced a significant increase in their sport and physical activity involvement throughout the 20th century (Coakley, 2001; Motley & Lavine, 2001). According to Coakley (2001), the movement of girls and women into sport has been the most important change in the realm of sport during the past generation. Participation numbers for girls and women in sport have increased at the high school, college, community, professional, and Olympic levels (Acosta & Carpenter, 2002; Baum, 1998; Coakley, 2001; Sabo & Messner, 1993; Sage, 1998; Spencer & McClung, 2001). Coakley (2001) identified five factors accounting for this recent surge in participation for girls and women--availability of new opportunities for participation, government legislation focusing on equal rights (e.g. Title IX), the women's rights movement, greater emphasis on fitness and health issues, and increased coverage of women's sport by various media outlets (e.g., more visible role models).

The influx of girls and women into the realm of sport and physical activity represents an important challenge to the historical construction of sport as a male domain (Theberge, 2000). Moreover, the physical competency and athleticism demonstrated by girls and women challenges belief systems based on women's lack of physical ability (Messner, 1988). A rethinking of traditional notions about the physical capabilities of girls and women, and boys and men, would seem a logical outcome of this increased involvement in sport and physical activity. …

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