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.
KeywordsFemale athletes Media portrayal Sports images Review
Compliance with Ethical Standards
This work is a review of literature, therefore no human research ethics approval was required.
- Australian Sports Commission. (2001). Body image and participation in sport. [Canberra]: Australian Sports Commission.Google Scholar
- Barthes, R. (1977). Image, music, text (S. Heath, Trans.). New York: Hill & Wang.Google Scholar
- Bowman, A., & Daniels, D. (1995). A shifting gaze? The changing photographic representation of women athletes. Canadian Woman Studies, 15(4), 84–88.Google Scholar
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- Goffman, E. (1979). Gender advertisements. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
- Grainey, T. F. (2012). Beyond “bend It like Beckham”: The global phenomenon of women’s soccer. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.Google Scholar
- 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
- 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
- Hughson, S., Kilpatrick, A., Paton, M.-A., & Simms, D. (2001). Sexploitation. Ausport. Retrieved from http://fulltext.ausport.gov.au/fulltext/2000/ascweb/sexploitation.asp
- International Olympic Committee. (2014). Women in the Olympic Movement. Lausanne, Switzerland: IOC.Google Scholar
- Jones, D. (2004). Half the story? Olympic women on ABC News Online. Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture & Policy, 110, 132–146.Google Scholar
- Jones, D. (2006). The representation of female athletes in online images of successive Olympic games. Pacific Journalism Review, 12(1), 108–129.Google Scholar
- Jones, D. (2010). Women’s sports coverage: Online images of the 2008 Olympic games. Australian Journalism Review, 32(2), 89–102.Google Scholar
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Messner, M. A. (1988). Sports and male domination: The female athlete as contested ideological terrain. Sociology of Sport Journal, 5, 197–211.Google Scholar
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Walton, T. (2005). Pinned by gender construction?: Media representations of girls’ wrestling. Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, 14(2), 52–68.Google Scholar
- 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
- 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