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She Needs to See it to be it: The Importance of Same-Gender Athletic Role Models

Abstract

In four studies, we examined the importance of gender-matched athletic role models for women. Although both women and men may benefit most from exposure to high profile athletes in their own sport, women may have fewer motivating role models available to them. When asked to nominate examples of athletes, women were less likely than men to list same-gender examples (Study 1) and athletes from their own sport (Studies 1 and 2 with 183 and 382 MTurk workers, respectively); even high-performing female athletes were less likely to nominate a same-gender role model than their male peers (Study 3 with 110 varsity athletes and 126 recreational college athletes). Women were nevertheless significantly more motivated by the same-gender and sport-matched examples (Studies 1–2). We demonstrate that same-gender role models are particularly valuable for women because they provide evidence that success is attainable, better represent a possible future self, and counteract negative gender stereotypes (Study 4 with 508 MTurk workers). Thus, although they derive special benefit from exposure to female athletic superstars, women are less likely than men to find such role models in their own sport of interest and, consequently, may be at a disadvantage relative to men. The present research illustrates the practical value of role models for women, with important implications for media and educational programming.

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Acknowledgements

Claire Midgley, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto; Gabriela DeBues-Stafford, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto; Penelope Lockwood, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto; Sabrina Thai, Department of Psychology, Brock University.

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We confirm that any aspect of the work covered in this manuscript involving human patients has been conducted with the ethical approval of all relevant bodies. Accordingly, all participants gave informed consent before participation in the study and upon completion of the study were given information about how to withdraw their data if they wished to do so.

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Furthermore, we confirm that there are no known conflicts of interest associated with this publication and there has been no significant financial support for this work that could have influenced its outcome. The research was entirely funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Fund #: 493152), which had no role in the study design, data collection, analyses, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

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Midgley, C., DeBues-Stafford, G., Lockwood, P. et al. She Needs to See it to be it: The Importance of Same-Gender Athletic Role Models. Sex Roles 85, 142–160 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-020-01209-y

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Keywords

  • Women
  • Gender
  • Gender gap
  • Role models
  • Athletes
  • Sports
  • Sport psychology
  • Stereotyping
  • Sex role stereotyping
  • Social comparison