Prospects for Change in a New Millennium: Gender Beliefs of Young Girls in Sport and Physical Activity

in Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal
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  • 1 Department of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation Southwest Missouri State University, Springfield, MO 65804
  • 2 Department of Physical Education Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Carbondale, IL 62901-4310
  • 3 Health Education Roosevelt High School, St. Louis, MO 63108
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Given the changing roles of women and the increasing involvement of girls and women in sport and physical activity during the last quarter of the 20th century, traditional gender belief systems about women’s assumed physical weakness and incompetence have been challenged. Belief systems are internalized at a young age and influence future choices and behavior. Therefore, the current study was an exploration of the perceptions and attitudes of young girls at the end of the 20th century. This examination is an attempt to provide an indication of the prospects for greater involvement of girls and women in sport and physical activity in the new millennium. Forty-six fourth and fifth grade girls were interviewed to explore perceptions and attitudes related to sport and physical activity. In particular, we examined (a) perceptions of the capabilities of boys and girls, (b) interactions with boys in sport and physical activity, and (c) internalized messages about sport and physical activity. Participants generally (a) perceived boys as possessing superior sport skills and physical attributes, (b) felt girls and boys played differently, (c) believed that boys held negative views of the physical ability of girls, (d) associated an athlete with being male, and (e) internalized negative societal messages about girls in sport. Despite the optimism surrounding girls’ and women’s increased participation, the attitudes and perceptions of the respondents suggested that many traditional beliefs about sport and physical activity remain.

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