Denial of Power in Televised Women’s Sports

in Sociology of Sport Journal
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Televised texts of women’s sports are examined using the hermeneutical method. This study begins with the observation that women’s participation in team sports and certain “male-appropriate” individual sports is significantly lower than men’s participation in these sports. More striking yet is the media’s (particularly television’s) virtual disregard of women in team sports and certain individual sports. On the basis of these observations, the authors frame their research question: Do these imbalances constitute a symbolic denial of power for women? To answer this question, the authors investigate televised depictions of basketball, surfing, and marathon running. In each sport, the television narratives and visuals of the women’s competition are contrasted with those of the men’s competition. These depictions reveal a profound ambivalence in the reporting of the women’s sports, something that is not present in the reporting of the men’s sports. This ambivalence consists of conflicting messages about female athletes; positive portrayals of sportswomen are combined with subtly negative suggestions that trivialize or undercut the women’s efforts. Such trivialization is a way of denying power to women. The authors conclude by asserting that sport and leisure educators have an ethical obligation to redress the imbalance of power in the sporting world.

The first author gratefully acknowledges the Center for Twentieth Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee for its support of this research.

Direct all correspondence to Margaret Carlisle Duncan, Department of Human Kinetics, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI 53201.
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