Sex Roles

, Volume 74, Issue 7–8, pp 299–309 | Cite as

Images of Sports Women: A review

Original Article

Abstract

Despite the steady increase in volume and quality of women’s sport participation over the last century, female athletes continue to be underrepresented across all platforms of the media. A range of mechanisms have been shown to contribute to media constructions of women’s sport, including the low volume of media attention, narrative focus, prominence of placement or scheduling, linguistic choices and visual representations of women’s sport. This review paper examines scholarly research on the role of print media images in the construction of attitudes towards and perceptions of women’s sport. Beginning with international research, the review thematically summarises selected literature to draw out some of the ways in which images are pressed into service in the sports media. Research from the Australasian region (Australia and New Zealand) is then reviewed and compared with the international research with a view to observing commonalities and differences. The review reveals that internationally and in Australasia, media images of sports women continue to fail to represent the realities of women’s sport performance. Some movement away from sexualisation is noted; however this appears to be occurring in concert with a slight reduction in terms of volume.

Keywords

Female athletes Media portrayal Sports images Review 

References

  1. Australian Sports Commission. (2001). Body image and participation in sport. [Canberra]: Australian Sports Commission.Google Scholar
  2. Barthes, R. (1977). Image, music, text (S. Heath, Trans.). New York: Hill & Wang.Google Scholar
  3. Bernstein, A. (2002). Is it time for a victory lap?: Changes in the media coverage of women in sport. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 37, 415–428. doi:10.1177/101269020203700301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bishop, R. (2003). Missing in action: Feature coverage of women’s sports in sports illustrated. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 27, 184–194. doi:10.1177/0193732502250718.Google Scholar
  5. Bowman, A., & Daniels, D. (1995). A shifting gaze? The changing photographic representation of women athletes. Canadian Woman Studies, 15(4), 84–88.Google Scholar
  6. Buysse, J. A. M., & Embser-Herbert, M. S. (2004). Constructions of gender in sport: An analysis of intercollegiate media guide cover photographs. Gender and Society, 18, 66–81. doi:10.1177/0891243203257914.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Capranica, L., Minganti, C., Billat, V., Hanghoj, S., Piacentini, M. F., Cumps, E., & Meeusen, R. (2005). Newspaper coverage of women’s sports during the 2000 Sydney Olympic games: Belgium, Denmark, France, and Italy. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 76, 212–223. doi:10.1080/02701367.2005.10599282.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Carvalho, J., Preston, T., Jr., Pokrywczynski, J., & Kirby, N. (2012). The evolution of “the toy department”: A content analysis of newspaper sports sections since 1956. Journal of Sports Media, 7(2), 61–73. doi:10.1353/jsm.2012.0011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cooky, C., Messner, M. A., & Hextrum, R. H. (2013). Women play sport, but not on TV: A longitudinal study of televised news media. Communication & Sport, 1, 203–230. doi:10.1177/2167479513476947.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cranmer, G. A., Brann, M., & Bowman, N. D. (2014). Male athletes, female aesthetics: The continued ambivalence toward female athletes in ESPN’s The Body Issue. International Journal of Sport Communication, 7, 145–165. doi:10.1123/IJSC.2014-0021.
  11. Daniels, E. A. (2009). Sex objects, athletes, and sexy athletes. Journal of Adolescent Research, 24, 399–422. doi:10.1177/0743558409336748.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 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
  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. Duncan, M. (1990). Sports photographs and sexual difference: Images of women and men in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic games. Sociology of Sport Journal, 7, 22–43.Google Scholar
  15. Duncan, M. C., & Messner, M. A. (1998). The media image of sport and sex. In L. A. Wenner (Ed.), Media sport (pp. 170–185). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  16. Elueze, R., & Jones, R. L. (1998). A quest for equality: A gender comparison of the BBC’s TV coverage of the 1995 world athletics championships. Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, 7(1), 45–45.Google Scholar
  17. Fink, J. S. (2014). Female athletes, women’s sport, and the sport mediacommercial complex: Have we really “come a long way, baby”? Sport Management Review. doi:10.1016/j.smr.2014.05.001.Google Scholar
  18. Fink, J. S., & Kensicki, L. J. (2002). An imperceptible difference: visual and textual constructions of femininity in Sports Illustrated and Sports Illustrated for women. Mass Communication & Society, 5, 317–339. doi:10.1207/S15327825MCS0503_5.
  19. French, S. (2013). Still not there: The continued invisibility of female athletes and sports in the New Zealand print media. Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture & Policy, 148, 39–50.Google Scholar
  20. George, C., Hartley, A., & Paris, J. (2001). The representation of female athletes in textual and visual media. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 6, 94–101. doi:10.1108/13563280110391007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Godoy-Pressland, A. (2014). “Nothing to report”: A semi-longitudinal investigation of the print media coverage of sportswomen in British Sunday newspapers. Media, Culture & Society, 36, 595–609. doi:10.1177/0163443714532977.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Godoy-Pressland, A., & Griggs, G. (2014). The photographic representation of female athletes in the British print media during the London 2012 Olympic games. Sport in Society, 17, 1–16. doi:10.1080/17430437.2014.882908.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Goffman, E. (1979). Gender advertisements. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  24. Grainey, T. F. (2012). Beyond “bend It like Beckham”: The global phenomenon of women’s soccer. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.Google Scholar
  25. Hardin, M. (2005). Stopped at the gate: Women’s sports, “reader interest”, and decision making by editors. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 82, 62–77. doi:10.1177/107769900508200105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hardin, M., Chance, J., Dodd, J. E., & Hardin, B. (2002a). Olympic photo coverage fair to female athletes. Newspaper Research Journal, 23(2/3), 64–78.Google Scholar
  27. Hardin, M., Lynn, S., Walsdorf, K., & Hardin, B. (2002b). The framing of sexual difference in SI for Kids editorial photos. Mass Communication and Society, 5, 341–359. doi:10.1207/S15327825MCS0503_6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hardin, M., Dodd, J. E., & Chance, J. (2005). On equal footing? The framing of sexual difference in Runner’s World. Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, 14(2).Google Scholar
  29. Hughson, S., Kilpatrick, A., Paton, M.-A., & Simms, D. (2001). Sexploitation. Ausport. Retrieved from http://fulltext.ausport.gov.au/fulltext/2000/ascweb/sexploitation.asp
  30. International Olympic Committee. (2014). Women in the Olympic Movement. Lausanne, Switzerland: IOC.Google Scholar
  31. Jones, D. (2004). Half the story? Olympic women on ABC News Online. Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture & Policy, 110, 132–146.Google Scholar
  32. Jones, D. (2006). The representation of female athletes in online images of successive Olympic games. Pacific Journalism Review, 12(1), 108–129.Google Scholar
  33. Jones, D. (2010). Women’s sports coverage: Online images of the 2008 Olympic games. Australian Journalism Review, 32(2), 89–102.Google Scholar
  34. Jones, A., & Greer, J. (2011). You don’t look like an athlete: The effects of feminine appearance on audience perceptions of female athletes and women’s sports. Journal of Sport Behavior, 34, 358–377. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.105.3.409.Google Scholar
  35. Kachgal, T. (2001). Home court disadvantage? Examining the coverage of female athletes on leading sports websites: A pilot study. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Washington DC.Google Scholar
  36. Kane, M. J. (2011). Sex sells sex, not women’s sports. The Nation, 293, 28–29. Retrieved from http://www.thenation.com/article/162390/sex-sells-sex-not-womens-sports.
  37. Kane, M. J. (2013). The better sportswomen get, the more the media ignore them. Communication & Sport, 1, 231–236. doi:10.1177/2167479513484579.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kane, M. J., & Maxwell, H. D. (2011). Expanding the boundaries of sport media research: Using critical theory to explore consumer responses to representations of women’s sports. Journal of Sport Management, 25, 202–216.Google Scholar
  39. Kane, M. J., LaVoi, N. M., & Fink, J. S. (2013). Exploring elite female athletes’ interpretations of sport media images: A window into the construction of social identity and “selling sex” in women’s sports. Communication & Sport, 1, 269–298. doi:10.1177/2167479512473585.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kang, M.-E. (1997). The portrayal of women’s images in magazine advertisements: Goffman’s gender analysis revisited. Sex Roles, 37, 979–996. doi:10.1007/BF02936350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Kennedy, E. (2001). She wants to be a sledgehammer?: Tennis femininities on British television. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 25, 56–72. doi:10.1177/0193723501251005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kian, E. M., & Clavio, G. (2011). A comparison of online media and traditional newspaper coverage of the men’s and women’s U.S. Open tennis tournaments. Journal of Sports Media, 6(1), 55–84. doi:10.1353/jsm.2011.0004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Kian, E. M., Fink, J. S., & Hardin, M. (2011). Examining the impact of journalists’ gender in online and newspaper tennis articles. Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, 20(2), 3–21.Google Scholar
  44. Kim, K., & Sagas, M. (2014). Athletic or sexy? A comparison of female athletes and fashion models in Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues. Gender Issues, 31, 123–141. doi:10.1007/s12147-014-9121-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kim, K., Sagas, M., & Walker, N. A. (2011). Replacing athleticism with sexuality: Athlete models in sports illustrated swimsuit issues. International Journal of Sport Communication, 4(2), 148–162.Google Scholar
  46. King, C. (2007). Media portrayals of male and female athletes. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 42, 187–199. doi:10.1177/1012690207084751.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Kinnick, K. (1998). Gender bias in newspaper profiles of 1996 Olympic athletes: A content analysis of five major dailies. Women’s Studies in Communication, 21, 213–237. doi:10.1080/07491409.1998.10162557.Google Scholar
  48. Kinsey, F. (2011a). Reading photographic portraits of Australian women cyclists in the 1890s: From costume and cycle choices to constructions of feminine identity. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 28, 1121–37. doi:10.1080/09523367.2011.567767.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Kinsey, F. (2011b). Stamina, speed and adventure: Australian women and competitive cycling in the 1890s. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 28, 1375–87. doi:10.1080/09523367.2011.580574.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. 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
  51. Knight, J. L., & Giuliano, T. A. (2003). Blood, sweat, and jeers: The impact of the media’s heterosexist portrayals on perceptions of male and female athletes. Journal of Sport Behavior, 26, 272.Google Scholar
  52. Knoppers, A., & Anthonissen, A. (2008). Gendered managerial discourses in sport organizations: Multiplicity and complexity. Sex Roles, 58, 93–103. doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9324-z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Knoppers, A., & Elling, A. (2004). “We do not engage in promotional journalism”: Discursive strategies used by sport journalists to describe the selection process. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 39, 57–73. doi:10.1177/1012690204040523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Koivula, N. (1999). Gender stereotyping in televised media sport coverage. Sex Roles, 41, 598–604. doi:10.1023/A:1018899522353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Krane, V., Ross, S. R., Miller, M., Rowse, J. L., Ganoe, K., Andrzejczyk, J. A., & Lucas, C. B. (2010). Power and focus: Self-representation of female college athletes. Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise, 2, 175–195. doi:10.1080/19398441.2010.488026.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Krane, V., Ross, S. R., Miller, M., Ganoe, K., Lucas-Carr, C., & Barak, K. S. (2011). “It’s cheesy when they smile”: What girl athletes prefer in images of female college athletes. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 82, 755–768. doi:10.1080/02701367.2011.10599812.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. Lumby, K., Caple, H., & Greenwood, K. (2010). Towards a level playing field: Sport and gender in Australian media, January 2008–July 2009. Canberra: Australian Sports Commission.Google Scholar
  58. Lumpkin, A. (2007). A descriptive analysis of race/ethnicity and sex of individuals appearing on the covers of Sports Illustrated in the 1990s. Physical Educator, 64, 29–37.Google Scholar
  59. Lumpkin, A. (2009). Female representation in feature articles published by Sports Illustrated in the 1990s. Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, 18(2), 38–51.Google Scholar
  60. Lynn, S., Walsdorf, K., Hardin, M., & Hardin, B. (2002). Selling girls short: advertising and gender images in Sports Illustrated For Kids. Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, 11(2), 77–102.Google Scholar
  61. MacKay, S., & Dallaire, C. (2009). Campus newspaper coverage of varsity sports: Getting closer to equitable and sports-related representations of female athletes? International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 44, 25–40. doi:10.1177/1012690208101484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Mason, F., & Rail, G. (2006). The creation of sexual difference in Canadian newspaper photographs of the Pan-american games. Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, 15(1), 28–41.Google Scholar
  63. Messner, M. A. (1988). Sports and male domination: The female athlete as contested ideological terrain. Sociology of Sport Journal, 5, 197–211.Google Scholar
  64. Messner, M. A., Duncan, M. C., & Wachs, F. L. (1990). The gender of audience building: Televised coverage of women’s and men’s NCAA basketball. Sociological Inquiry, 60, 422–439. doi:10.1111/j.1475-682X.1990.tb00125.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Messner, M. A., Duncan, M. C., & Cooky, C. (2003). Silence, sports bras, and wrestling porn: Women in televised sports news and highlights shows. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 27, 38–51. doi:10.1177/0193732502239583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Palmer, F. R., & Leberman, S. I. (2009). Elite athletes as mothers: Managing multiple identities. Sport Management Review, 12, 241–254. doi:10.1016/j.smr.2009.03.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Pedersen, P. M. (2003). Examining stereotypical written and photographic reporting on the sports page: An analysis of newspaper coverage of interscholastic athletics. Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, 12(1), 67–86.Google Scholar
  68. Phillips, M. (1996). An illusory image: A report on the media coverage and portrayal of women’s sport in Australia. Canberra: Australian Sports Commission.Google Scholar
  69. Pirinen, R. M. (1997). The construction of women’s positions in sport: A textual analysis of articles on female athletes in Finnish women’s magazines. Sociology of Sport Journal, 14, 290–301.Google Scholar
  70. Shugart, H. A. (2003). She shoots, she scores: Mediated constructions of contemporary female athletes in coverage of the 1999U.S. U.S. women’s soccer team. Western Journal of Communication, 67, 1–31. doi:10.1080/10570310309374756.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Smallwood, R. R., Brown, N. A., & Billings, A. C. (2014). Female bodies on display: Attitudes regarding female athlete photos in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue and ESPN: The Magazine’s body issue. Journal of Sports Media, 9(1), 1–22. doi:10.1353/jsm.2014.0005.
  72. Smith, L. R. (2011). The less you say: An initial study of gender coverage in sports on twitter. In A. C. Billings (Ed.), Sports media: transformation, integration, consumption (pp. 146–161). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  73. Stevenson, D. (2002). Women, sport, and globalization: Competing discourses of sexuality and nation. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 26, 209–225. doi:10.1177/0193723502262006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Theberge, N., & Birrell, S. (2007). Structural constraints facing women in sport. In J. O’Reilly & S. K. Cahn (Eds.), Women and sports in the United States: A documentary reader (pp. 167–176). Lebanon: Northeastern University Press.Google Scholar
  75. Vincent, J. (2003). Newspaper coverage of female athletes competing in selected sports in the 1996 centennial Olympic games: The more things change the more they stay the same. Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, 12(1), 1–21.Google Scholar
  76. Vincent, J., Imwold, C., Masemann, V., & Johnson, J. T. (2002). A comparison of selected ‘serious’ and ‘popular’ British, Canadian, and United States newspaper coverage of female and male athletes competing in the centennial Olympic games: Did female athletes receive equitable coverage in the “games of the women”? International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 37, 319–335. doi:10.1177/101269020203700312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Vincent, J., Pedersen, P. M., Whisenant, W. A., & Massey, D. (2007). Analysing the print media coverage of professional tennis players: British newspaper narratives about female competitors in the Wimbledon Championships. International Journal of Sport Management and Marketing, 2, 281–300. doi:10.1504/IJSMM.2007.012406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Walton, T. (2005). Pinned by gender construction?: Media representations of girls’ wrestling. Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, 14(2), 52–68.Google Scholar
  79. Weber, J., & Barker-Ruchti, N. (2012). Bending, flirting, floating, flying: A critical analysis of female figures in 1970s gymnastics photographs. Sociology of Sport Journal, 29, 22–41.Google Scholar
  80. Weber, J. D., & Carini, R. M. (2013). Where are the female athletes in sports illustrated? A content analysis of covers (2000–2011). International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 48, 196–203. doi:10.1177/1012690211434230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Wensing, E. H., & Bruce, T. (2003). Bending the rules: Media representations of gender during an international sporting event. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 38, 387–396. doi:10.1177/1012690203384001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Women’s Sports Foundation U.K. (2004). An investigation into coverage of women’s sport on the BBC Sport website: A review of stories from 25 February to 10 March 2004. Women’s Sports Foundation U.K. Retrieved from http://www.ews-online.org/de/menu_2/downloads/docdown-women-sports-and-media-CVGoEw2Gt5gFI
  83. Yu, C.-C. (2009). A content analysis of news coverage of Asian female Olympic athletes. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 44, 283–305. doi:10.1177/1012690209104796.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emma Sherry
    • 1
  • Angela Osborne
    • 1
  • Matthew Nicholson
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Sport and Social ImpactLa Trobe UniversityBundooraAustralia

Personalised recommendations