Scholars have argued that sport is a highly gendered space where dominant and subordinate groups engage in struggles of resistance and counter-resistance. There are two limitations with this research. First, the majority of investigations have been confined to adult women; examinations of adolescent females are virtually nonexistent. Second, most research has focused on print and broadcast journalism. The influence of one important medium—young adult sports fiction—has been neglected. This investigation analyzed “lone girl” novels (where adolescent female protagonists try out for boys’ teams), as well as books focusing on women’s team sports. Findings revealed lone girl novels characterized female protagonists as going against their “true nature.” Novels featuring women’s team sports undermined female solidarity by equating it with heterosexual desire. These results constitute a fictional denial of sport as a site of resistance and empowerment for athletic females.
Mary Jo Kane
This study examined the impact of Title IX on media coverage given to female athletes to determine if there has been a shift away from negative social stereotypes traditionally associated with women’s sports participation toward a more socially accepting view of the female athlete. A content analysis of feature articles within 1,228 issues of Sports Illustrated was undertaken for the years 1964-1987. These represented three 8-year time spans before (1964-71), during (1972-79), and after (1980-87) Title IX. In order to assess whether attitudes have changed toward female athletes as related to a Title IX timeline, amount and type of coverage were considered. Chi-square analyses revealed mixed results. There was a significant increase in the proportion of coverage given to women in athletic (e.g., professional golfer) versus nonathletic (e.g., swimsuit model) roles. However, feature articles about female athletes gave significantly more coverage to women in "sex-appropriate" sports such as tennis versus "sex-inappropriate" sports such as rugby, regardless of the Title IX time frame. Results are discussed in terms of challenging current beliefs that women’s athletics have gained widespread social acceptance following the enactment of Tide IX. Implications for practitioners and academics within sport management are presented.
LeeAnn Kriegh and Mary Jo Kane
Over the past two decades, sport media scholars have demonstrated that female athletes are portrayed in ways that trivialize and undermine their accomplishments as highly skilled competitors, thus denying them power. More recently, scholars in a related field of knowledge—homophobia in women’s athletics—have also addressed the various ways in which power is denied to sportswomen. Although scholars within both bodies of knowledge have investigated institutional structures, ideologies and practices by which men continue to monopolize sport, few studies have explicitly linked sport media scholarship to the literature on homophobia in women’s athlet. An additional limitation in both fields of knowledge is that analyses focused primarily on adult female athletes; examinations of adolescent females are virtually nonexistent. A final limitation is that the vast majority of studies have focused on print and broadcast journalism, thereby ignoring another influential medium, young adult sports fiction. Therefore, the purpose of our investigation was to extend the knowledge base in three ways: 1) to explicitly link two bodies of knowledge concerned with women’s athleticism--sport media and homophobia/heterosexism; 2) to focus on a population that has been sorely neglected; and 3) to investigate a rich new area of analysis-young adult literature-particularly as it relates to the presence, and characterization of, lesbians in sport.
The sample consisted of novels meeting the following criteria: (a) published for a young adult audience, (b) featured a female athlete as protagonist, (c) had sport as a major characteristic of the story, and (d) and be published during or after 1970. Using a qualitative methodology, we examined themes and character portrayals related to the suppression and oppression of young sportswomen in general and lesbians in particular. More specifically, we were interested in whether manifestations of homophobia in women’s athletics (e.g., silence and denial) were present in the novels under consideration. Results indicated that a lesbian presence was subverted in numerous ways, ranging from explicit verbal attacks on female protagonists accused of being “freaks,” to more subtle, apologetic constructions in which female athletes were characterized as ultra-feminine. These findings suggest that the homophobic and heterosexist coverage given to sportswomen in print and broadcast journalism extends into young adult sports fiction.
Mary Jo Kane and Nicole LaVoi
Two generations removed from Title IX, women have made unprecedented advances in sports. Yet there remains one important arena where females have witnessed dramatic declines—leadership positions, most notably in coaching. The percentage of female coaches has declined from 90% in the early 1970s to 43% in 2018. In 1988, Acosta and Carpenter surveyed intercollegiate athletic directors (ADs) regarding their attributions for this employment trend. They found significant gender differences whereby male ADs focused on the attributes of individual women (e.g., they are unqualified), while female ADs highlighted organizational factors (e.g., success of “old boys’ network”). This investigation replicated and extended the earlier study. We surveyed a nationwide sample of college athletic administrators to determine current-day perceptions regarding the underrepresentation of female head coaches. Significant gender differences emerged in that female administrators continued to rate institutional variables such as unconscious discrimination as key attribution factors, while male administrators attributed the absence to individual variables such as time constraints due to family obligations. An unexpected finding compared to 30 years ago was that female ADs, even more strongly than their male counterparts, believed that a major contributing factor was women’s failure to apply for jobs. These findings—and their broader implications—are discussed within the theoretical framework of critical feminist theory.
Mary Jo Kane and Jo Ann Buysse
In the aftermath of the passage of Title IX, Michael Messner laid the theoretical groundwork for what was at stake as a result of this landmark legislation. He argued that women’s entrance into sport marked a quest for equality and thus represented a challenge to male domination. He further argued that media representations of athletic females were a powerful vehicle for subverting any counterhegemonic potential posed by sportswomen. Scholars should therefore examine “frameworks of meaning” linked to female athletes because they have become “contested terrain.” Our investigation addressed Messner’s concerns by examining the cultural narratives of intercollegiate media guides. We did so by analyzing longitudinal data from the early 1990s through the 2003–04 season. Findings revealed an unmistakable shift toward representations of women as serious athletes and a sharp decline in gender differences. Results are discussed against a backdrop of sport scholars in particular—and institutions of higher education in general—serving as agents of social change.
Mary Jo Kane and Lisa J. Disch
Numerous media commentators have deemed the sexual harassment locker room incident between Lisa Olson and the New England Patriots to be an embarrassing case of mismanagement. Our analysis challenges this popular assumption; we argue that the event represents an overt manifestation of male power by means of sexual violence against women. The response to Olson suggests that in an era where women’s entry into sport has challenged men’s exclusive hold on that domain, the locker room, like the playing field, must be understood as contested terrain. For men to maintain control over the terrain of the locker room, the female sportswriter must be displaced from her role as authoritative critic of male performance and reassigned to her “appropriate” role of sexual object. In light of the importance of sport, and the status of the locker room as an inner sanctum of male privilege, the incident between Olson and the Patriots was not mismanaged at all but, in fact, handled effectively.
Eldon E. Snyder and Mary Jo Kane
Previous research has identified gender appropriate and inappropriate sports for females. The present study uses a photo elicitation technique to study respondents’ attitudes toward two women’s sports: college basketball and gymnastics, Interestingly, this methodology manifests different results from more traditional techniques. Contrary to the expected results based on previous studies, the photo elicitation technique indicates that the perceptions of female participation in basketball were similar to gymnastics. This method of gathering data as well as the results of this study have several important implications for the field of sport management.
Mary Jo Kane and Janet B. Parks
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.
Joah G. Iannotta and Mary Jo Kane
Previous research has relied on the personal narratives of female coaches and athletes to generate knowledge related to homophobia in women’s athletics. We suggest that the body of knowledge generated from these investigations has served to construct a meta story of victimization surrounding women’s sport experiences. We make this claim primarily around theoretical frameworks that link a final, liberating stage of development with being explicitly out as a lesbian. As a result, only a narrow range of sexual identity performances (e.g., linguistically naming oneself as lesbian) is recognized as being effective in creating climates of tolerance and, by extension, social change. Employing an analytical tool developed by Plummer (1995), we examined the “sexual stories” of intercollegiate coaches who did not identify themselves as “out” lesbians, but who nevertheless employed a multiplicity of strategies related to the performance of their sexual identity to actively resist social injustice. Based on these findings, we call for a reconceptualization of identity performance that recognizes the non-linear, fluid and contextualized nature of sexual identity.