Sex Roles

, Volume 74, Issue 7–8, pp 275–287

Microaggressions and Female Athletes

Feminist Forum Review Article

Abstract

Using a combination of scholarly literature and media reports, this paper classifies instances of subtle bias, or microaggressions, toward female athletes in the United States. We identify three common microaggression themes against these athletes based on Sue’s (2010) taxonomy: assumption of inferiority, objectification, and restrictive gender roles. We apply each of these themes to explore the ways in which female athletes in the U.S. experience pervasive and subtle gender-based biases. Women are assumed to be inferior athletes and therefore receive media coverage that is dismissive of their abilities, if they receive coverage at all. The media also focus primarily on the appearance of female athletes regardless of their athletic successes, and are quick to recoil at women who do not fit into the traditional feminine mold. We examine how these microaggressions are associated with deleterious biological, cognitive, and behavioral consequences among athletes. We also explore the effect of these microaggressions on the self-image and physical fitness of female non-athletes. Finally, potential avenues for future research are discussed.

Keywords

Microaggression Gender Athletes Women 

References

  1. 2012 Olympics volleyball: Bikinis for the women….but what about the men? (2012, July 27) The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/27/2012-olympics-volleyball-bikinis_n_1709148.html
  2. American Psychological Association, Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. (2010). Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report-full.pdf
  3. Barber, H., & Krane, V. (2007). Creating inclusive and positive climates in girls’ and women’s sport: Position statement on homophobia, homonegativism, and heterosexism. Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal, 16, 53–55.Google Scholar
  4. Beilock, S. L., Rydell, R. J., & McConnell, A. R. (2007). Stereotype threat and working memory: Mechanisms, alleviation, and spillover. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 136, 256–276. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.136.2.256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bianchi, S. M., Milkie, M. A., Sayer, L. C., & Robinson, J. P. (2000). Is anyone doing the housework? Trends in the gender division of household labor. Social Forces, 79, 191–228. doi:10.1093/sf/79.1.191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Birrell, S. (1983). The psychological dimensions of female athletic participation. In M. A. Boutilier & L. SanGiovanni (Eds.), The sporting woman (pp. 49–92). Champaign: Human Kinetics.Google Scholar
  7. Carty, V. (2005). Textual portrayals of female athletes: Liberation or nuanced forms of patriarchy? Frontiers, 26(2), 132–155. doi:10.1353/fro.2005.0020.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Why strength training? Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/growingstronger/why/
  9. Collins, J. & Lidz, F. (2013, April 29). Why NBA center Jason Collins is coming out now. Sports Illustrated: The Magazine, Retrieved from http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/magazine/news/20130429/jason-collins-gay-nba-player/
  10. Craig, M. L., & Liberti, R. (2007). “Cause that’s what girls do”: The making of a feminized gym. Gender and Society, 21, 676–699. doi:10.1177/0891243207306382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Daniels, E. A. (2012). Sexy versus strong: What girls and women think of female athletes. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 33, 79–90. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2011.12.002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Daniels, E. A. (2009). Sex objects, athletes and sexy athletes: How media representations of women athletes can impact adolescent girls and college women. Journal of Adolescent Research, 24, 399–422. doi:10.1177/0743558409336748.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Daniels, E. A., & Wartena, H. (2011). Athlete or sex symbol: What boys think of media representations of female athletes. Sex Roles, 65, 566–579. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-9959-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Davis-Delano, L. R., Pollock, A., & Vose, J. E. (2009). Apologetic behavior among female athletes: A new questionnaire and initial results. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 22, 131–150. doi:10.1177/1012690209335524.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Duncan, M. C., Messner, M. A., Williams, L., & Jensen, K. (1990). Gender stereotyping in televised sports. Los Angeles: Amateur Athletic Foundation.Google Scholar
  16. Fallon, M. A., & Jome, L. M. (2007). An exploration of gender-role expectations and conflict among women rugby players. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31, 311–321. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2007.00374.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Feder-Kane, A. (2000). “A radiant smile from a lovely lady”: Overdetermined femininity in “ladies” figure skating. In S. Birrell & M. G. McDonald (Eds.), Reading sport: Critical essays on power and representation (pp. 206–233). Boston: Northeastern University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Felshin, J. (1974). The triple option … for women in sport. Quest, 21, 36–40. doi:10.1080/00336297.1974.10519789.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fredrickson, B. L., & Roberts, T. A. (1997). Objectification theory: Toward understanding women’s lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 173–206. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1997.tb00108.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Frye, M. (1983). The politics of reality. Trumansburg: The Crossing Press.Google Scholar
  21. Gee, G. C., Ro, A., Shariff-Marco, S., & Chae, D. (2009). Racial discrimination and health among Asian Americans: Evidence, assessment, and directions for future research. Epidemiological Reviews, 31, 130–151. doi:10.1093/epirev/mxp009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gervais, S. J., Vescio, T. K., & Allen, J. (2011). When what you see is what you get: The consequences of the objectifying gaze for men and women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 35, 5–17. doi:10.1177/0361684310386121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gilmour, R. (2012, May 28) World badminton ditches controversial women’s skirts ruling ahead of London Olympics. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/badminton/9294626/World-badminton-ditches-controversial-womens-skirts-ruling-ahead-of-London-Olympics.html
  24. Gurung, R., & Chrouser, C. (2007). Predicting objectification: Do provocative clothing and observer characteristics matter? Sex Roles, 57, 91–99. doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9219-z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gwyneth Paltrow’s workout routine [Web Video]. (2008, September 17). Retrieved from http://www.oprah.com/health/Gwyneth-Paltrows-Workout-Routine
  26. Hall, R. L. (2007). Sweating it out: The good news and the bad news about women and sport. In J. C. Chrisler, C. Golden, & P. D. Rozee (Eds.), Lectures on the psychology of women (4th ed., pp. 97–115). New York: McGraw Hill.Google Scholar
  27. Hardin, M., & Greer, J. D. (2009). The influence of gender-role socialization, media use, and sports participation on perceptions of gender-appropriate sports. Journal of Sport and Behavior, 32, 207–225.Google Scholar
  28. Harrell, J. P., Hall, S., & Taliaferro, J. (2003). Physiological responses to racism and discrimination: An assessment of the evidence. American Journal of Public Health, 93, 243–248. doi:10.2105/AJPH.93.2.243.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  29. Humes, K. R., Jones, N. A., & Ramirez, R. R. (2011). Overview of race and Hispanic origin: 2010. U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration. Washington: U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-02.pdf.Google Scholar
  30. Kane, M. J. (1996). Resistance/transformation of the oppositional binary: Exposing sport as a continuum. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 19, 191–218. doi:10.1177/0193723950019002006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kimber, S., & Delgao-Romero, E. A. (2011). Sexual orientation microaggressions: The experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer clients in psychotherapy. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 58, 210–221. doi:10.1037/a0022251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. King, A. (2013). The naked female athlete: The case of Rebecca Romero. International Review of the Sociology of Sport, 2012, 515–534. doi:10.1177/1012690212449608.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Knight, J. L., & Giuliano, T. A. (2001). He’s a Laker; she’s a “looker”: The consequences of gender-stereotypical portrayals of male and female athletes by the print media. Sex Roles, 45, 217–229. doi:10.1023/A:1013553811620.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kotloff, B. (2013, May 21). Brittney Griner says Baylor told her to keep her homosexuality private. Retrieved from http://tracking.si.com/2013/05/18/brittney-griner-gay-baylor/
  35. Koivula, N. (2001). Perceived characteristics of sports categorized as gender-neutral, feminine and masculine. Journal of Sport Behavior, 24, 377–393.Google Scholar
  36. Kozee, H. B., Tylka, T. L., Augustus-Horvath, C. L., & Denchik, A. (2007). Development and psychometric evaluation of the interpersonal sexual objectification scale. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31, 176–189. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2007.00351.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Krane, V., Choi, Y. P. L., Baird, S. M., Aimar, C. M., & Kauer, K. J. (2004). Living the paradox: Female athletes negotiate femininity and mascularity. Sex Roles, 50, 315–329. doi:10.1023/B:SERS.0000018888.48437.4f.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lips, H. M. (1999). A new psychology of women: Gender, culture, and ethnicity. Mountain View: Mayfield Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  39. Manfred, T. (2012, June 26) No, Wanting women’s tennis players to stop screaming all the time doesn’t make you sexist. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/grunting-womens-tennis-isnt-sexist-2012-6
  40. Messner, M. A., & Cooky, C. (2010). Gender in televised sports: News and highlights shows, 1989–2009. Los Angeles: Center for Feminist Research, University of Southern California.Google Scholar
  41. Metheny, E. (1965). Symbolic forms of movement: The feminine image in sports. In E. Metheny (Ed.), Connotations of movement in sport and dance (pp. 43–56). Dubuque: Brown.Google Scholar
  42. Microaggressions: Power, Privilege, and Everyday Life (n.d.). Retrieved from http://microaggressions.tumblr.com
  43. National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. (2013). Women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering: 2013. Special Report NSF 13–304. Arlington: National Science Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/2013/start.cfm?CFID=12057557&CFTOKEN=51460300&jsessionid=f03089f9a06b462ec0e094516310273b434a.Google Scholar
  44. O’Dougherty, M., Dallman, A., Turcotte, L., Patterson, J., Napolitano, M. A., & Schmitz, K. H. (2008). Barriers and motivators for strength training among women of color and Caucasian women. Women & Health, 47, 41–62. doi:10.1080/03630240802092241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Olympic boxing body considers skirts for female competitors. (2011, November 4). Associated Press. Retrieved from http://www.foxnews.com/sports/2011/11/04/olympic-boxing-body-considers-skirts-for-women-competitors/
  46. Ossip-Klein, D. J., Doyne, E. J., Bowman, E. D., Osborn, K. M., McDougall-Wilson, I. B., & Neimeyer, R. A. (1989). Effects of running or weight lifting on self-concept in clinically depressed women. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57, 158–161. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.57.1.158.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Pearce, N. (2011, May 5). Badminton chiefs defend women’s dress ruling on grounds of style. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/8494496/London-2012-Olympics-badminton-chiefs-defend-womens-dress-ruling-on-grounds-of-style.html
  48. Pierce, C. (1970). Offensive mechanisms. In F. B. Barbour (Ed.), The Black Seventies (pp. 265–282). Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers.Google Scholar
  49. Postow, B. C. (1980). Women and masculine sports. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, VII, 51–58. doi:10.1080/00948705.1980.9714366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Richardson, L. (1993). Gender stereotyping in the English language. Feminist Frontiers, III, 44–50.Google Scholar
  51. Robinson, K., & Ferraro, F. R. (2004). The relationship between types of female athletic participation and female body type. The Journal of Psychology, 138, 115–128. doi:10.3200/JRLP. 138.2.115-128.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Roth, A., & Basow, S. A. (2004). Femininity, sports and feminism: Developing a theory of physical liberation. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 28, 245–265. doi:10.1177/0193723504266990.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Russell, K. M. (2004). On versus off the pitch: The transiency of body satisfaction among female rugby players, cricketers, and netballers. Sex Roles, 51, 561–574. doi:10.1007/s11199-004-5466-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Ryan, E. G. (2011, June 11) Women apparently ruining tennis with their excessive grunting. Jezebel. Retrieved from http://jezebel.com/5814569/women-apparently-ruining-tennis-with-their-excessive-grunting
  55. Sage, G. H., & Loudermilk, S. (1979). The female athlete and role conflict. Research Quarterly, 50, 88–96. doi:10.1080/10671315.1979.10615582.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Salvatore, J., & Marecek, J. (2010). Gender in the gym: Evaluation concerns as barriers to women’s weight lifting. Sex Roles, 63, 556–567. doi:10.1007/s11199-010-9800-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Salvatore, J., & Shelton, J. N. (2007). Cognitive costs of exposure to racial prejudice. Psychological Science, 18, 810–815. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01984.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  58. Sapolsky, M. P. (2004). Why zebras don’t get ulcers (3rd ed.). New York: Holt Paperbacks.Google Scholar
  59. Schacht, T. (2008). A broader view of racial microaggression in psychotherapy. The American Psychologist, 63, 273. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.63.4.273.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Schultz, J. (2005). Reading the catsuit: Serena Williams and the productions of blackness at the 2002 U.S. Open. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 29, 338–357. doi:10.1177/0193723505276230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Sheridan-Rabideau, M. P. (2009). Girls, feminism, and grassroots literacies: Activism in the GirlZone. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  62. Shirbon, E. (2012, July 29). Olympics-beach volleyball-women wear bikinis with pride. Reuters. Retrieved from http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSL6E8IRM7E20120729?irpc=932
  63. Sorensen, E. (1998, March 3). Asian groups attack MSNBC headline referring to Kwan--news website apologizes for controversial wording. The Seattle Times. Retrieved from http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19980303&slug=2737594
  64. Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African-Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 26–37. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.69.5.797.Google Scholar
  65. Steinfeldt, J. A., Zakrajsek, R., Carter, H., & Steinfeldt, M. C. (2011). Conformity to gender norms among female student-athletes: Implications for body image. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 12, 401. doi:10.1037/a0023634.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Sue, D. W. (2010). Microaggressions in everyday life: Race, gender and sexual orientation. Hoboken: Wiley.Google Scholar
  67. Sue, D. W., Bucceri, J., Lin, A. I., Nadal, K. L., & Torino, G. C. (2007a). Racial microaggressions and the Asian American experience. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 13, 72–81. doi:10.1037/1099-9809.13.1.72.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  68. Sue, D., Capodilupo, C. M., Nadal, K. L., & Torino, G. C. (2008). Racial microaggressions and the power to define reality. American Psychologist, 63, 277–279. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.63.4.277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Sue, D., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A. B., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007b). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: Implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist, 62, 271–286. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.62.4.271.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  70. Swami, V., & Voracek, M. (2013). Associations among men’s sexist attitudes, objectification of women, and their own drive for muscularity. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 14, 168–174. doi:10.1037/a0028437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Thomas, K. (2008). Macrononsense in multiculturalism. The American Psychologist, 63, 274–275. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.63.4.274.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  72. Thomsen, S. R., Bower, D. W., & Barnes, M. D. (2004). Photographic images in women’s health, fitness, & sports magazines and the physical self-concept of a group of adolescent female volleyball players. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 28, 266–283. doi:10.1177/0193723504266991.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Tichenor, V. (2005). Maintaining men’s dominance: Negotiating identity and power when she earns more. Sex Roles, 53, 191–205. doi:10.1007/s11199-005-5678-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. U. S. Department of Education (2005, March 14). Requirements under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/interath.html
  75. Utsey, S. O., Giesbrecht, N., Hook, J., & Stanard, P. M. (2008). Cultural, sociofamilial, and psychological resources that inhibit psychological distress in African Americans exposed to stressful life events and race-related stress. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 55, 49–62. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.55.1.49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Williams, P. A., & Cash, T. F. (2001). Effects of a circuit weight training program on the body images of college students. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 30, 75–82. doi:10.1002/eat.1056.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  77. Women’s Sports Foundation (2013, March 18). Title IX myths and facts. Retrieved from: https://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/en/home/advocate/title-ix-and-issues/what-is-title-ix/title-ix-myths-and-facts

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Massachusetts LowellLowellUSA

Personalised recommendations