Gender expectations of women and men have an impact on many choices in life, including the choice of leisure activities. Over the past several decades, changes have taken place in the United States with regard to gender expectations, particularly for women, which have led to more positive attitudes about women's participation in sports, one type of leisure activity. These attitudinal changes along with opportunities stimulated by the enactment of Title IX in 1972 have resulted in women's increased participation in sports, particularly at the collegiate level. For example, while in 1970 about 16,000 women participated on intercollegiate sports teams in the U.S., this grew dramatically to about 180,000 women by 2006. Similarly, while in the late 1970s there were about 1400 women's intercollegiate teams in the U.S., there are now over 8700 women's intercollegiate teams (Carpenter & Acosta, 2006).
Despite these changes, gender expectations and gender socialization continue to influence leisure preferences and result in gendered leisure choices for both men and women (Carpenter & Acosta, 2006; Gill, 2002; Henderson, 1990; Henderson & Bialeschki, 1993; Hultsman, 1993a; for review, see Shaw & Henderson, 2005). The continued impact of gender expectations on leisure choices and sports participation is currently reflected, for example, in the large percentage of men as compared to women playing tackle football and hunting with bow and arrow and the large percentage of women compared to men involved in cheerleading and T'ai Chi/Yoga (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2006, Table 604.) The effect of gender expectations is further reflected in perceptions of particular sports as feminine, gender-neutral, or masculine (Coakley, 2004; Koivula, 1995; Matteo, 1986; Metheny, 1965).
Gill (2002) explicitly points to the importance of taking into account the social and historical context in order to understand the impact of gender on sport participation. While birth cohort may have little effect on participation in some sports, it becomes a potentially salient variable when expectations shift and structural changes occur such that opportunities not available to an earlier generation become available for a later generation. This study of three cohorts of women who played collegiate ice hockey in the U.S. provides an interesting context in which to examine the effect of gender and cohort because of women's increased participation in sports during that time as well as the continued impact of gender expectations on perceptions of leisure activities.
Using either subjective or objective criteria (Standley & Soule, 1974), playing ice hockey would be classified as a nontraditional sport for women. Subjectively, the game of ice hockey is typically thought of as a "male" sport (Kane & Lenskyj, 1998, p. 193) and the typical ice hockey player is thought of as stereotypically masculine (Koivula, 1995; Laberge, 1995; Matteo, 1986). These notions are influenced by gendered perception of sports more generally and may be further influenced by televised and the admittedly mediated images (Duncan & Messner, 1998) of male players fighting during National Hockey League games (Morra & Smith, 1996). Although photographs document women playing ice hockey in the U.S. as early as 1892 (Avery & Stevens, 1997), objectively, ice hockey still remains a statistically male-dominated sport with women and girls currently comprising only about 12% of players registered with USA Hockey, the national governing body of amateur hockey in the U.S. (USA Hockey, 2006). Nevertheless, women's participation and visibility in ice hockey have increased over time. In 1998, when women's ice hockey became an Olympic sport, women's games were televised on a major network for the first time. And in less than 15 years, the number of female teams has grown from less than 150 to 2,200, and over 54,000 female players were registered with USA Hockey in the most recent season (USA Hockey, 2006). …