The Social Construction of Gender Difference and Hierarchy in Sport Journalism — Few New Twists on Very Old Themes

in Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal
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Past researchers have consistently demonstrated that female and male athletes receive differential treatment in the media: males are presented in ways that emphasize their physical/athletic ability, while females are portrayed in terms of their femininity and physical attractiveness. Researchers have concluded that this pattern of coverage is a manifestation of the social construction of gender difference and hierarchy in sport and thus serves a patriarchal agenda. However, a widely-held “common-sense” perception is that differential treatment occurs due to methodological inconsistencies related to prior research, rather than to media bias designed to devalue and disempower women. For example, in the past, researchers have examined different media types, sports, readerships and editorial policies. These methodological variations are frequently offered by various audiences (ranging from academicians to the general public) as alternative, competing explanations for differential coverage found in prior research. An example of competing explanation, grounded in methodological concerns, is the following: the difference in coverage is perceived to have occurred because one researcher examined professional tennis while another researcher focused on intercollegiate basketball. Implicit in this perception is the suggestion that different sport levels and types are responsible for differential coverage, not media bias. Controlling for methodological differences in previous research, the hermeneutic method was employed to analyze the written text of feature articles in the same magazine (Sports Illustrated), for the same year (1989), covering the same sport (professional tennis). Statements in the text that referred to female and male athletes were classified within a Performance Related Dimension (athletic ability, mental ability, strength of character) or a Non-Performance Related Dimension (emotions, physical appearance, personal life). In spite of tight methodological controls, a consistent pattern of gender difference and hierarchy was found throughout the feature articles. Implications of the study relative to future research that address consumers’ perceptions of media portrayals are presented.

Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal
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