Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Gender Bias in the 1996 Olympic Games: Audience Perception and Effects

Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Gender Bias in the 1996 Olympic Games: Audience Perception and Effects

Article excerpt


Sports are omnipresent in American society; available for viewing 24 hours a day and can constitute much of everyday life and conversation. Researchers have indicated that men and women relate to sport differently (Gantz & Wenner, 1991). Evidence shows males outnumber females in sport viewership, and in the past much of the sport programming to which we are exposed caters specifically to men. The purpose of the present study was to explore issues related to audience perception of the 1996 Olympic Games. Participants (125 males and 92 females) ranging from 18 to 40 years of age were administered a gender specific version of the Audience Perception Questionnaires (APQ) following viewing video segments of men's and women's competitions (i.e., basketball, gymnastics, swimming and diving, and volleyball). The two versions of the APQ were developed from current literature, and by employing a delphi technique to validate the APQ. Factor analyses resulted in four underlying media perception dimensions: Commentary Coverage. Gender Marking and Stereotyping, Hierarchy of Naming, and Verbal Descriptors. Results revealed perceptions of male and female athletes by the public are influenced to a great degree by gender.


The media provide information about events and people, as well as interpretations of what is going on in the world (Creedon, 1998; Coakley, 2004). Media provide people with entertainment, define what is deemed newsworthy (Creedon, 1998), and help shape values, attitudes, and beliefs. Apart from the family, there is arguably no other social institution that has such a pervasive impact (Coakley, 2004; Halbert & Latimer, 1994; Lee, 1992).

Sports are available for viewing 24 hours every day and constitute a major staple of American television (Gantz & Wenner, 1991). How one approaches the viewing of sports events may be influenced by perceptions of television as an entity and sports programming as a genre (Wenner & Gantz, 1989). Televised sport has been associated over the years with a male audience. The media often help perpetuate traditional definitions of gender (Duncan & Messner, 2000; Duncan & Messner, 1998; Lee, 1992) and present definitions of what is considered female and male. In addition, media serve to emphasize gender differences and establish a hierarchy based upon what has been considered traditional definitions of masculinity and femininity (Kane & Parks, 1992).

With respect to sports viewership, Roloff & Solomon (1989) noted that males enjoyed watching sporting events for social and entertainment purposes, and are more likely to be emotionally responsive while watching and viewing sporting events, whereas females more often watched out of a sense of duty or obligation to family and friends (Gantz & Wenner, 1991; 1995; Wenner & Gantz, 1989). Differences have also been noted in basic measures of sports interest and media related behaviors. From a sample population, Gantz and Wenner, (1991) noted over half of the males were "very interested" in sports viewing and considered themselves to be "somewhat" or "very knowledgeable" about sports. Conversely, while less than one quarter of the female respondents reported being "very interested" in viewing sports, less than one-fifth of the women considered themselves to be "very knowledgeable" about sports.

Media coverage of elite sporting events such as the Olympic Games afford opportunities to shape social reality and reinforce or change existing ideologies regarding presentation of male and female athletes (Higgs & Weiller, 1994; Kane & Parks, 1992). Remnich (1996) indicated that a ratings disaster in 1988 for NBC forced a change toward a "feminine Olympics" (p. 27) in order to construct maximum ratings. Previous studies of media coverage in the Olympic Games have examined both electronic and print media in an effort to analyze gender differences in media presentation (Duncan, 1986; 1990; Higgs & Weiller, 1994; Higgs, Weiller & Martin, 2003). …

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