This paper is a synthesis of results from five separate studies examining how recent structural and philosophical changes in women’s intercollegiate sport programs may have altered the sport experience of female athletes. Based on both questionnaire and interview data, it was apparent that athletes participating in sport programs characterized by the greatest change (e.g., post-Title IX programs, programs of the 1980s, product-oriented sport models, and Division I programs of recent years) shared somewhat common experiences — with the presence of conflict being one of the most pervasive themes. Four types of conflict were identified: (a) value alienation, (b) role strain, (c) role conflict, and (d) exploitation. Each of these types of conflict is discussed and examples to substantiate the presence of each form of conflict are presented. Based upon the findings, it is suggested that the changing context and emphases of college sport may have exposed female athletes to different sets of circumstances, expectations, and experiences, thus altering the nature of the sport experience and bringing into question the educational legitimacy of college sport.
Elaine M. Blinde and Susan L. Greendorfer
Elizabeth A. Daniels
Past research has shown that teen girls consume media that frequently contains objectified images of women. Little is known about whether these girls are also exposed to empowering images, such as women playing sports. The current study evaluated the prevalence of these images in five popular magazines aimed at teen girls. Of the 620 photographs examined, only 7% showed women engaged in physical activity or sport. The majority of these images showed women in fitness activities that emphasize shape and muscle tone, rather than in sport activities that emphasize instrumentality. Results demonstrate that women athletes are largely invisible in mainstream magazines for teen girls.
From a theoretical perspective, I analyze the claim that women’s athletic performances are negatively affected by their menstrual cycles. To demonstrate the perpetuation of the belief that menstruation is a mythical debilitating bodily function for women and sport participation, an overview of Elizabeth Spelman, Simone De Beauvoir, and Iris Marion Young’s philosophical framing of somatophobia and menstruation is outlined. Analysis of specific examples of elite female athletes who have addressed menstruation in connection to their sporting performance are also discussed to emphasize how menstruation is linked to the frailty myth. I offer an analysis of the scientific literature on hormonal swings of the menstrual cycle and, the effects on sport performance to show that research is equivocal. Finally, a brief examination of feminine hygiene marking campaigns takes place to further emphasize the argument how the frailty myth is closely linked to women athletes and menstruation and how change can be created.
Tracy Everbach and Jenny Mumah
This study analyzed the reactions of college women athletes to mass media images of nude and scantily clad professional female athletes. The study focused on interviews of 18- to 22-year-old female athletes about the pressure on women to pose for sexualized photographs. Using a feminist framework, the study found that some of the college athletes rejected socially constructed concepts of femininity, others criticized the professional athletes for posing, and others accepted socially constructed standards of beauty. This research suggests that young women athletes are conflicted by the images of femininity presented by mass media and react in complex ways to them.
Pat Williams, Dana Pennett O’Neil, Anneliese Goslin and Darlene Kluka
Hilary Mathesen and Kay Flatten
This research was to assess changes in Great Britain (GB) in the percent coverage of women’s sports in six national and Sunday newspapers (Telegraph, Guardian, Independent, Express, Mail and Mirror) between 1984 and 1994. Measurements were taken of all sports articles on the front pages, editorial pages and sports pages for the period 1st-14th July in both years. Data were categorized into male only, female only and mixed articles per day, square centimetres per day and photos per day. There was a decrease in percentage coverage of women’s sport coverage (articles per day down 5.2%; cm2 per day down 5.2%; photos per day down 7.1%) while the overall coverage of sport increased. During the time period the portion of GB Olympians who were women increased by 7% and there was a 3% increase in proportion of sports participants in the general population who were women. An adjustment index is presented which uses population figures and sport participation figures to calculate the proportion of sport participants who are female. This index was used to assess fairness in reporting sport.
In 2002, Ty Votaw, then commissioner of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), introduced a marketing plan called the Five Points of Celebrity, which included performance, approachability, passion and joy, appearance, and relevance. Votaw endorsed the Five Points of Celebrity as a way for women golfers to succeed in a competitive sports and entertainment marketplace. Rhetorical criticism of the Five Points of Celebrity using the framework of gender as performance reveals the underlying homophobic notions of the plan. First, Votaw presents the plan as a way to cater to what fans in a sports and entertainment marketplace desire. Second, the plan supports athletes’ displaying femininity to compensate for displaying traditionally masculine characteristics while participating in sport. Third, presentation of femininity emerges as a concomitant presentation of heterosexuality to subvert the “image problem” of LPGA of athletes being perceived as lesbians.
Dayna B. Daniels
Tattooing the body, a traditionally masculine and, in some interpretations, deviant practice is increasingly being adopted by women. Contemporary boundaries of acceptable feminine presentation are changing to accept a body that is somewhat more masculine, including tone and muscle. However, for many women athletes strict conformity to feminine standards of presentation is often necessary to avoid the negative consequences of a collective public gaze which tends to judge her more on her outward appearance than on her athletic abilities. Physical attributes of the woman athlete often transgress the hazy dividing line between feminine and masculine and prompt frequent challenges to the femininity and sexuality of a woman athlete. How then might women athletes negotiate the shifting signifiers of having a tattoo within their self-surveillance of feminine presentation? Two hundred forty-five university-aged Canadian women athletes were surveyed to gain insight regarding their practices and interpretations of permanent and temporary tattooing. Results showed that a significantly smaller number of subjects had permanent tattoos than might be expected in a university population; however a majority utilized temporary tattoos in game situations as a motivating factor for their team. For this sample population, the desire for tattooing the body came as an indicator of achieving a significant sporting accomplishment such as making an Olympic team or winning a national championship.
Never have women athletes made such rapid progress in a wide range of events in such a short time — some two or three years — or improved world records by such remarkable margins. The reasons for the progress of Chinese women athletes are examined in this article. One of the reasons is an absence in China of a number of deep-seated prejudices in regard to sexuality that have been common in western historical develoment — prejudices centred on the notion that sport was a ‘male preserve’.
The major factors that have facilitated Chinese women’s progress in sport have to be sought in various elements intrinsic to Chinese society and shaped by historically-conditioned attitudes to sport and women that differ markedly from those that have formed the dominant values of sport in western society, at least since the time of Ancient Greece.
Insosfar as world-wide women’s sporting attainments are reflecting, reinforcing and sometimes even precipitating processes of social change in the role and status of women, the Chinese women’s example offers exciting prospects for the future of women in all societies, particularly the modernising communities of Asia and Africa.