April 25, 2009

Sport and Gender

author_brad By Bradley Wright

This week’s issue of ESPN magazine featured the star basketball player Candace Parker, and when I saw the cover photograph, I chuckled, but when I read the article, I rolled my eyes and sighed in exasperation.

You see, I had recently been writing a lecture on content analysis for my social research methods class, and I was looking for a video example to illustrate the power of this technique. With content analysis, we identify existing documents, photographs, or other forms of data, and we analyze them much the same way we would other forms of data, e.g., survey data or participant observation. In cruising around the internet, I found a presentation by Mediaed.org entitled Playing Unfair: The Media Image of the Female Athlete. It’s a clip from a longer film in which various experts subject talk about how female athletes are presented in the media.

The experts on this topic (and I am not one of them) identified several themes in the media presentation of female athletes. These representations tend to deemphasize the women’s athleticism by portraying them in street clothes or in everyday activities; in contrast, male athletes are more often portrayed in their uniform, performing their sport.

The representations also emphasize the women’s sexuality more so than men’s, so pictures and text about the women are more likely to highlight their sexual features. They emphasize the women’s heterosexuality to counteract stereotypes of female athletes as lesbians. Pictures of them often include a boyfriend, husband, or children. Finally, female athletes receive far less media coverage than do their male counterparts.

Okay, back to Candace Parker. I work at the University of Connecticut, which is a perennial powerhouse in women’s basketball. (At this point, you should be cheering U-C-O-N-N). Candace Parker, unfortunately, attended our archrival, Tennessee, where she led them to two national championships. She’s now gone pro in the WNBA, and in her first year she was both rookie-of-the-year and player-of-the-year. She even dunks the basketball! In short, Candace is perhaps the best women to ever play the game.

clip_image002ESPN magazine wants to feature her on its cover, and which picture do they choose? As you can see, it’s a picture that epitomizes the sociological analysis of women in sports. Candace is shown in a white dress, not a basketball uniform or playing basketball. The lighting and make-up are glamorous, and she’s pregnant—holding her hands on her womb to emphasize it. This is when I laughed—a perfect illustration of what the sociologists in the video spoke of.

As I thought about this image of Parker, I realized perhaps ESPN magazine routinely portrayed athletes in everyday life, and I had just happen to notice this week’s issue with a woman on the cover. So, I looked up the covers of the last five issues of the magazine, and four of the five had men in uniforms doing something related to their sports. The fifth had a male basketball player in street clothes, but he was dunking a basketball.

clip_image004Hm-m-m-m, maybe this is an ESPN magazine thing, so I looked up recent covers of Sports Illustrated--again all men, in uniforms, performing their sports except for one cover featuring a woman. The swimsuit issue.

Then I read the article about Candace Parker, and this is when I started rolling my eyes. Here are its opening lines:


She's the total package: your sister's pal, your brother's prom date, supermom-to-be. She's also an MVP—of a league few watch. So can Candace Parker be the female Jordan? Lots of folks are banking on it.
Candace Parker is beautiful. Breathtaking, really, with flawless skin, endless legs and a C cup she is proud of but never flaunts. She is also the best at what she does, a record-setter, a rule-breaker, a redefiner.

Can you imagine any mainstream magazine taking a similar approach to a male athlete? “Baseball player Sidd Finch is a hunk. A complete hunk, really, with chiseled features, rippling biceps, and a larger-than-average penis that he is proud of but never flaunts.” Ah, I don’t think so. (By the way, you get extra credit if you recognize the name of the player.)

Content analysis has various advantages. It’s a way to study existing documents and portrayals in society. It’s usually less work than collecting survey, interview or observation data. It can be analyzed using both qualitative and quantitative approaches.

It has its disadvantages too, but more than anything, after looking at these articles, I’m just depressed about the media’s portrayal of women athletes.


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This reminds me of something I just saw the other day. I'm a male member of Weight Watchers, and they have online content written specifically for men. It's generally awful stuff, trying to appeal to the "typical" male -- meaning gender stereotypes abound, since they seem to assume that beer, grilling, and watching sports with my "buddies" is all I want to do. Recently, they ran an article about playing baseball and softball. They featured a photograph of athlete Jenny Finch, and described her as: "Jennie Finch, Olympic Gold Medal softball pitcher and all-around hottie." It was only a few words tacked onto the end of that sentence, but it was irrelevant to the story... and offensive.

I don't want to dismiss the examples of sexualized portrayal of women you provide. It is certainly the case for female athletes. But I have a different angle or preception. I think women are often portrayed as "complete" -- they are attractive, accomplished, athletic, social and gosh darn good at quilting. It is the over-accomplishing women syndrome. In the case of women athletes the physical attraction gets higher billing.

I'd be interested in looking at how women business people are portrayed in addition to their business skills(juggling kids, etc) whereas the men are emphasized for specific things, such as accomplishments or goals.

For anyone going into the Business field or anyone already a part of the field, these people all know that "Sex Sells." It's inevitable. And to be honest, showing Candace Parker on the cover with a dress on instead of a jersey is bound to sell way more copies.

Aside from the profit idea, it seems as if society sees women put themself out there more than males. Women seem to posess more sexual features that draw more people in than males. I blame the media and the men and women who are okay with giving their gender that persona.

Great article -- I hadn't seen the Playing Unfair video before but it makes some solid points and does so relatively succinctly.

Building on Jamie's comment, the standard discourse about female athletes needs to be challenged by media members and fans before we see widespread change in how women are represented. In my opinion, it's the unfortunate responsibility of leagues like the WNBA to stand up against these types of representations and present alternative narratives of what it means to be a woman and an athlete.

As someone commented on a blog post I wrote a few weeks ago about this issue, the WNBA "let the trolls set the topic, and now they're shocked to be losing the argument." Oh well...

This is a pretty good list. I have recently come across a few company blog that have comments disabled. I can’t for the life of me understand this. A blog isn’t a blog without comments. come on people. I would never come back or subscribe to a blog that has no comments.

This article does a good job at bringing out these gender issues that are always out there, but we are so used to its content that we sometimes ignore it. Women should also be portrayed as the proffesional athletes they are, after all, it is a sports magazine. It would be a different story if it was a fashion or a women-oriented magazine.

Wow, I never really realized while looking at my brother's billion copies of ESPN that there is a significant difference in how they portray female and male athletes. This article does a great job in showing one of the many blunt ways that people tend to see differences between males and females. There’s no reason that female athletes should be shown differently than male athletes. They’re both out there doing the same thing and playing the sport they love.

There are always going to be a difference on how men and women are potrayed. Alot of it is marketing thats why you see models in front of a sports article and it sells alot more than if there was an athlete. They shouldnt be potrayed any differently though, there both doing what they enjoy and worked hard for.

This is something I'd never really noticed before, but now that you've brought it up, it's so obvious to me. The female athlete is sort of desciminated against in the media; the focus is on the male. It seems the media is detracting from the athletisism of women (as you mentioned). I don't really understand why this happens, but it certainly does.

I'm a girl in highschool and I play sports. This issue is something I've noticed but haven't really been aware of. I don't think it's cool that this might be my future next year as I go off to play bball at school (especially because I put a lot of work and training into what I do and this is demeaning), but I definitely hope its something that changes.

I am not an athlete and I do not really follow sports, but I have noticed that women athletes are portrayed differently in the media than men are. While articles and stories focusing on men describe their athletic talent and abilities, usually the stories revolving around women describe their looks. In a world where women are thought to have the same opportunities and potential as men, it is sad that this kind of discrimination continues to go on. Hopefully, in the future, this will change.

We like to think that we allow men and women to participate in sports, and athletic
endeavors equally. However once a women enters the professional arena we go out of our way to
make sure we can still see her as a woman, and not an athlete. This is to enforce the gender
norms of our society.
Even the way female athletes dress when playing their sport is different from men, often
enforcing the fact that they are women. For example, in beach volleyball the women wear tight
fitting swimsuits, whereas the men wear loose shorts and tank tops. Why is this? It obviously
does not affect their playing, so why don’t the women wear the same loose clothing as the men?
I think this is because our society wants to enforce the sex appeal of being female.
In the media we seldom see women portrayed as athletes. Articles about a female
athletes usually show her out of uniform doing something distinctly feminine. This is because
that while society says outwardly that we except female athletes, it is not really ready for them to
become a mainstream part of our culture. When a male athlete is featured in an article he is
almost always shown in uniform, often doing something physical, perhaps even playing his
sport. This is attempt on the part of our culture to cling to a standard that is rapidly becoming
As a female athlete myself, I feel that while women’s image may be abused in
mainstream American publications such as ESPN or Sports Illustrated, there are magazines that
present women on equal footing with the men. As a fencer, I subscribe to a magazine that most
people in this nation do not: American Fencing, published by the United States Fencing
Association. This magazine has largely features women on their cover, these women are in
uniform and the articles about them list their achievements, history in the sport, and future goals.
The accompanying photographs show them actively participating in the sport of fencing. Much
more so than basketball or soccer, fencing is a heavily male dominated sport. So why are the
women in American Fencing allowed to be featured as athletes, not exclusively women? Part of
that answer is tied into the audience reading this magazine, which will consist almost
exclusively of fencers. Most likely they participate in the sport themselves and are more
interested in Mariel Zagunis (2004 and 2008 Olympic women’s saber gold medalist) as a fencer
than a woman.
The American view of women and their position in athletics can only be changed by a
change in the media. Since the majority of the population is influenced by mainstream media,
such as ESPN, or Sports Illustrated and not more specific sports related magazines like
American Fencing, society will continue to uphold the gender norms enforced by the
mainstream magazines. This influence only allows for two views of athletic females, either they
are aggressive hard core athletes, or they are warm, loving, women who play sports; there is no
middle ground. As long as the media presents this outlook of women and sports, women will not
be perceived as both a woman and an athlete.

I was reading the article of sports and gender. As I started to get to the magazine covers I looked up online if that was true. IF all it was giong to be was guys playing their sport. Let me tell you what. When I clicked on the images all the pictures went right away to the sports illustrrated swimsuit edition. For 3 pages it was the same girl. There was no other pictures. So it did prove your point and women dont play that big a role in sports and many people must not be interested in women and sports.

Maybe I am going to be hated for my comment, but I honestly don’t care. I agree this article was very interesting and it is very true women aren’t portrayed like men are in our media. But, who do we blame? ESPN? Sports Illustrated? Or society? I’ll take society. ESPN and Sports Illustrated are two very big sport organizations. They’re businesses and when you’re a part of a business you like to publish what sells. I mean come on how many women are actually prescribed to these magazines? It would be like having a guy on the cover of next months Playboy it just doesn’t work out. In conclusion, don’t blame the companies blame the nation.

I think that the attention directed towards female athletes, such as in sports illustrated is the wrong form of attention that female athletes receive. Women work just as hard as men do to strive for the respect that in the end, only men receive as professional athletes. I definitely agree that you never come across a profile of a male athlete that focuses on their select body parts. Yes football players are judged by weight and height generally, but there isn’t specific attention aimed at their lips, chest, and butt. Most people would agree that there are female athletes out there who do not mind showing off their body, and in return allow this to happen so that they will have a chance at becoming known in the press. This is not the type of attention that female athletes should receive, but this is something that in example, a model or a pop-singer should attain in the press. I do not think fingers should specifically be pointed, as this is just a single opinion about a topic that involves different views and common sense.

Female athletes are commonly looked upon as a desirable figure and receive coverage in a biased manor. There are a lot more males covered in sports than females, so when a female is selected for her playing ability and she also happens to be easy on the eyes, the article will have a lot of emphasis on her looks because sex sells and it attracts readers. Women do deserve more coverage and to be viewed as the athletes they are. Unfortunately in this day and age most men are interested in the attraction that they have to the female athlete. Since it is more commonly men that read the articles the author suites it to what he or she thinks will sell the best. Women athletes have to work just as hard as men to excel in their own sports and should be treated equally, but as we all know, that is not what always happens in this world.

this is really true, but I feel like no one really minds this and as long as the female athletes don't either it's not going to cahnge. But being a surfer and looking through surf magazines all the time, I realized that this sport is completely even with the way they portray the sexes. All the guys in there pictures are on beaches in bathing suits and so are the women. So it's not every sport that the female athletes are portrayed sexually. Well they do wear smaller suits than guys and they do seem to be getting smaller, but that's not the media's fault that's there own choice of what they wanted to wear out surfing.

When I think of women athletes I think of non feminine women. This is a great article that shows that not all women athletes need not to worry about what others think about them. They try and show that they are heterosexual but what they should really be worried about is how they are doing in their sport. Because the majority of female athletes don’t really fit the category of “sexy” they get less media coverage. This is because in some way they are breaking the gender norm. When women athletes are portrayed in magazines, they tend to show of their sexuality more so than their athleticism.

I think it is sad and not very surprising about the media's portrayal of women. Even though women are now ending up in more positions once controlled by men, I still believe that there will always be a part of us that see women more as inferior sex objects than true equals. After all, this type of treatment has lasted for thousands of years, and it's not going to go away just like that. Perhaps as society goes on, women will someday truly get the respect that they deserve, but for now, I still feel that people are in the process of accepting them in positions of power.

We live in a time when, though advancements have been made, women in sports are still being treated differently, rather than equal. A sport in today’s time is revered as a man’s hobby. It’s typically labeled as masculine, but more recently women have been stepping up in a man’s world. Women have been playing sports for decades but no one seems to makes a big deal about it, because it has grown to be a huge part of our society. Female sports have grown rapidly due to such success stories as the women's world cup, media influences, school activities and the success of Olympic gold medal winners. But will woman athletes ever be able to compete in the same league as men?
Typically, male species are believed to be stronger, faster and naturally better athletes overall. It seems that today more girls and women are participating in sports than ever before. Whether its popular sports like soccer, tennis, or basketball, female athletes often do not receive the recognition that they rightly deserve. Because of that, it has resulted in an unequal spread of publicity and therefore, a huge lack of encouraging role models for young girls.

Wow i give all the credit deserved to women athlets. I use to run the mile in Jr. High and there was a girl who could run sub five and I gave here what she deserved. It makes me mad that male athletes don't treat female athletes the same. Just because most men can run faster than girls does not mean that we all can there is a girl on our track team now that runs her 100m dash in 12 seconds breaking ghe own record again and again an she is alot faster than alot of the guys on our team and on most teams. The UCONN girls could probably beat alot of male college teams.

The major reason that men and women are portrayed differently on ESPN magazine is probably marketing. Sexy women on magazine cover are more attractive to the main audiences of the sports magazine:men.

Great post. Thanks for sharing this. Looking forward to read more from you.

I am a sociology student and we just learned about sexism. I think this article is a great example of sexism in action. ESPN articles and photos are clearly not portraying men in women athletes the same, as you pointed out. This inequality has to have reasons behind it somewhere, could it be that gender identity comes in somewhere? Do the women actually want to be portrayed as a little more feminine? Maybe it could even be people using gender socialization to make these female athletes better fit the mold for a girl. Hard to say for sure, but the inequality is there and there are reasons.
Thanks for posting.

When reading this post I realized that they will use pretty women to get peoples attention, but really these women athletes are not getting the attention they deserve because they are being portrayed just as something to catch your attention.

I'm learning about gender differences in my sociology class and this article was a great example of how media portrays males and females differently. It's so offensive that they don't show the actual sports side of a female athlete. I personally wouldn't want to read about how hot a female basketball player is. I'd rather read facts like with the males.

The type of attention female athletes get is the wrong type of attention. I'm not very much into sports, but I do notice how unusual the female on a cover of a sports magazine looks. Sometimes they do not even look like the true athletes they are, but in fact they are in revealing clothes showing themselves off to be feminine or posing with their husband, etc. This is a type of sexism and it is not acceptable. Female athletes should be allowed the same type of respect that men do. They should be applauded for their awards and success, not how nice their butt looks in short shorts.

After I read this posting about sports and gender, all I could do was agree with Bradley Wright. Men are potrayed on magazine covers as athletic individuals playing their sports with some type of uniform on while women are shown to be more feminine and less active with no uniform on. I believe that even though the more feminine magazine covers tends to sell more, they should show female athletes to be more active because they work just as hard as males to get their athlete status up to. And about the Canadace Parker cover, why didn't they show her dunking or in her basketball clothes? The media potrayal of female athletes is horrible and people should act upon this problem because female athletes deserve as much respect as male athletes.

great article, very interesting video,
i see it really has a strong point.. and i agree.

I have always been amazed at how a single distinguishing factor such as a person's gender can completely change how society in general portrays someone. Of course, I found your obeservations regarding covers of sports magazines to be quite interesting, but what you were just talking about now reminds me of something else that involves a lot of "gender talk" - education. You will be amazed at how something as simple as whether you are male or female can basically control the choices you make when it comes to school-related topics like choosing classes or choosing a certain degree to pursue at a university.

In my opinion, the United States is one of the most "gender-conscious" countries today, and sometimes that can turn out to be a problem!

I also am a women who has played sports throughout high school and college and find that this issue needs to be addressed. Women are most certainly treated different than men in the world of sports. Women athletes accomplish just as much as male athletes and receive very little recognition. For example, in the golf world everyone has heard of Tiger Woods, but Annika Sorentam, the best female golfer's name is hardly recognizable. This is pathetic.

I agree with Lei Hei, women's figures sell more than the male figure.

This treatment of women athletes is unacceptable. They deserve to be recognized for their abilities instead of their body. If men are always pictured in their uniform playing their sport and women are dressed up, you think that might be a little unfair? I do. Give women a chance to be professional athletes instead of sex figures.

You know I've seen all the magazines, and read news articles about famous women atheletes, and it didn't sink in till now that they do that to women. You could be the best womens basketball player on earth, but I bet if you're not gorgeous, you will not be on the cover of 'Sports Illustrated' and that is just stupid. Women are getting attention, but not for the reasons they should. For example, all the Magazine covers being Males, except for the swimsuit addition?! That's just not right.

I really appreciate this article. I think it's time we educated the public about this type of analyzation of women. We fought so hard to even have a womens league, and still it is deemphasized.

I always noticed the difference in the way women are treated while playing sports and the way men are treated. Some women are just as good as men at a sport, some worse, and some better. It doesn't matter boy, or girl, all athletes should get the same recognition and the same attention. Just because on the cover of a magazine a girl athlete is pregnant and wearing a dress, doesn't mean she's any less of an athlete. She's a girl, what do you expect? Just because she plays sports doesn't mean she has to give up being a girl.

I am a sociology student reading about how genders are treated differently and will never really be considered equal, and I never realized what you have pointed out but it's true! Magazines talk all about the way female athletes look and portray themselves, but when they talk about male athletes they just talk stats. It would seem weird if they talked all about how the male looked, so why does it not seem weird when they talk about female athletes this way? Do they talk about them this way just because it is mostly males that read these magazines? This was just another example of how the genders are treated differently.

In my sociology class, we learned about sexism and how women were not accepted in the same ways as men, and are still in the process of getting there. This article, in my opinion, really highlights the sexism aspect in media. It just doesn't make sense that a woman athlete is on the cover of ESPN, but looks nothing like an athlete. She looks like a typical expecting housewife. I think this is disrespectful, too, because it doesn't focus on her accomplishments, but rather tries to direct attention to her femininity. I just think that should be saved for a different magazine, not a sports one.

Gender inequality has been a part of socities for generations. Sure women are getting a little credit for their achievments, but as this article shows they are not being portrayed in the same light as men. Women are still used as the sex symbol to attract attention. Even the stuff that women have to wear while playing sports shows a difference. In men's volleyball they wear gym shorts, but when in women's volleyballthey are expected to wear spandex. In tennis again men wear shorts, women wear skorts. Maybe it is to show their feminicity, but it sure isn't for reasons of practicality.

I think the inequalities in media coverage for male and female athletes are unfortunate. We encountered a problem with men's vs women's sports at my high school. The state changed the season schedule so that instead of running during opposite seasons, men's and women's basketball competes during the same season. Many, many people in the community were upset because Friday nights were no longer reserved for Men's basketball and 'Snowcoming' now included women players. I thought it was more an instance of sexism than a conflict of tradition.

I agree with the post written earlier about why the media advertises women athletes they way they do. They do it for marketing; when a women is in uniform, she isn't wearing an outfit that fits her curves, she is wearing the outfit that is most appropriate to that sport. In my experience, men would rather look at a woman in a bikini than watch her play sports. A lot of men I know still think "women can't play sports." It's quite depressing.

It is very unfortunate that while male players are seen as perfection with just the list of their career accomplishments, and females, in order to be "well-rounded" are expected to be sexually appealing and successful.

It's like they have to uphold a lot more to be a superstar... Almost like they've already been set up for failure...

One must be a athlete, a good one actually, a mom, beautiful, bib breasts, perfect teeth, grace, strength, weakness, and to top it all off, a stunning sense of style... at all times.

I think it is sad and not very surprising about the media's portrayal of women. Even though women are now ending up in more positions once controlled by men, I still believe that there will always be a part of us that see women more as inferior sex objects than true equals...

Thanks for speaking on the gender issues. We have to start from somewhere for the matters to be addressed. If you have a moment come visit http://LimeActiveWear.com for women’s athletic clothing.

I think you have an excellent point. Women are not given the same opportunities that men are when it comes to sports. The same thing happens in schools. The all male football team, and the baseball team, and the lacross team are given more attention than any of the girls sports. Our principal has even said in announcements the basketball team had a hard loss to whomever last night, and the GIRLS basketball team beat whoever last night. The boys team IS the basketball team. The girls team is just another school team. They aren't quite as important. That's what the message comes off as. My point is, not only does Sports Illustrated do this, but many schools do it as well.

Female athlete have a hard time. They have a very small fan base and are rarely seen as sex symbols. If they are seen as sex symbols, then their play is overlooked.

I think this is both a clever marketing ploy from ESPN and the way they think that society wants to view female athletes. A sexy, scantily-clad covergirl will sell magazines. I completely agree with what the author was saying about how the media emphasizes female athlete's sexuality instead of focusing on the sport they play. It shows that women still have a long way to go in sports.

Great blog! I also think that women are being portrayed differently than men in the sports magazines. I think that people pay attention to male sports way more than they do to women. That is dumb because women are just as good of atheletes as men so they should be portrayed that way.

Your article is a very good example of sexism. I went and noticed some of my fathers magazines and saw they same things you described in them. The women are always brought back to the "women" role instead of having their talents show cased like the men in the sports industry.

Women are not only discriminated against when it comes to athletes but also in the work force. People assume women should have a certain occupation such as a nanny. Also women are discriminated again when it comes to pay. Should men be paid more then women for preforming the same tasks?

Women in uniforms or playing a sport when they're sweaty probably aren't the most attractive things to guys. Magazines want to make the highest profit they can, so they post pictures of "attractive" women on the cover because they know more men will buy it. This is very degrading to women; women are just as capable of being great athletes (without being homosexual) as men are. I am a teenage girl that plays lacrosse, and I am pretty skilled in the sport (not to be cocky, just trying to make a point). I have worked for several years and I've been through countless hours of training to get to the skill level that I am at today. It's offending to see that people feel the need to "pretty" girls up so they can make a profit.

I was just researching about genders in sports and this article definitely expresses our perceptions on genders. Males are perceived as the masculine type and it makes sense for them to be featured in there uniform showing their dedication to the sport. While women are suppose to be feminine and beautiful so they feature women in bikinis or being pregnant. It definitely has a big part of what the media believes society will like to see more, and perhaps because we emphasize a lot on gender roles that we don't want to see a woman in her sport attire but something that represents her role as a female.

I am also researching about genders in sports for a class that I am in. And I have to agree that this article truly expresses society's perception on genders. It seems to me that men are always seen in their uniforms, performing their craft. While women are pictured as one of two things; the complete put together mom/mom to be or the half-naked scantily clad bikini babes in the swimsuit addition of Sports Illustrated. But I can’t help but think about the whole idea of “sex sells”. I am a student at a business school and the mind set of making money and selling sex is something that a lot of people in the business world agree on. For me it is hard to see a problem with women being depicted in these ways seeing that it was their choice to model for these types of phot shoots in order to make money, and in that industry doesn’t money tend me to the end goal?

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In the realm of sports, performance is paramount. It is the measure of an athlete's skills, abilities, and training put to the test. Poor performance, therefore, refers to a state where an athlete fails to meet the expected standards or underperforms compared to their potential. This can manifest in various forms, including inability to achieve desired results, declining performance levels, or inconsistency in performance.

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