Relationship of Sport Participation to Sex Role Orientation and Attitudes toward Women among High School Males and Females

By Andre, Thomas; Holland, Alyce | Journal of Sport Behavior, December 1995 | Go to article overview

Relationship of Sport Participation to Sex Role Orientation and Attitudes toward Women among High School Males and Females


Andre, Thomas, Holland, Alyce, Journal of Sport Behavior


Numerous studies have compared personality characteristics of male athletes to those of male nonathletes in order to investigate the overall socialization effects of sport participation. One line of research has compared sex role orientations and attitudes toward women of athletes to those of nonathletes. Researchers have theorized that participation in sport socializes athletes toward more masculine sex roles and more traditional attitudes toward women. Consistent with these hypotheses, male athletes, when compared to nonathletes, generally have possessed personality characteristics more associated with traditional masculine sex role orientation and more conservative or traditional attitudes toward women (Colley, Roberts, & Chipps, 1985; Houseworth, Peplow, & Thirer, 1989; Johnson & Morgan, 1981; Nation & LeUnes, 1983).

In addition to this typical difference between athletes and nonathletes, comparisons have also been made among athletes in different sports and among different skill positions within specific sports. Comparing across sports, Caron, Carter, and Brightman (1985) reported that male collegiate athletes who participated in team sports (football, basketball, hockey, lacrosse, and soccer) had higher masculinity scores and were more traditional in their attitudes toward women than were participants in individual sports (fencing, golf, riflery, swimming, tennis, and track). Kirkcaldy (1982) compared skill positions, and found that athletes who played attacking positions were higher in dominance and aggression, two traits associated with masculinity, than were athletes who played nonattacking positions.

More recently, Houseworth et al. (1989) theorized that contact sport athletes would possess more masculine sex role orientations and more traditional attitudes toward women than noncontact sport athletes because contact sports focus on aggression whereas noncontact sports focus on grace and skill. Contrary to their expectations and to the results of Caron et al. (1985), Houseworth et al. (1989) found no difference between male college participants in contact sports (football and wrestling) and noncontact sports (tennis and baseball) in either sex role orientation or attitudes toward women. However, the combined group of athletes (i.e., both contact and noncontact) had more traditional attitudes toward women than did the nonathletes.

It is possible that Houseworth et al.'s (1989) analysis of the differences between contact and noncontact sports may have overstated the case. They argued that noncontact sports emphasize form and grace, while contact sports emphasize aggression. However, noncontact sports also emphasize winning and dominance over opponents. Thus, it seems possible that participation in both contact and noncontact sports may result in male athletes being socialized to think in more hierarchical and masculine terms than nonathletes. To the extent that this is the case, differences between contact sport and noncontact sport athletic participation may be expected to be relatively small, whereas differences between athletes and nonathletes may be expected to be larger. This, in fact, is the pattern of results obtained by Houseworth et al.

A major limitation of previous research that has sought to compare sex role orientation and attitudes toward women of different sport types has been the use of college athletic participation as the basis for making such comparisons. Because college sports are more selective than high school sports, the nonathletes in collegiate samples may have participated in some form of high school athletics and the participants in noncontact college sports may have participated in contact sports while in high school. Such participation in high school would serve to minimize differences between the groups when comparing types of college athletic participants. Also, because high school participation comes at a time when the individual is acquiring adult gender identity and undergoing the family separation/identify formation process (Santrock, 1990), such high school participation may have a greater socialization effect than later participation in college. …

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