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Subject: AEJ 03 AngelinJ WOMAN Broadcasting Gendered Sports Portrayals: The Effects of Watching Such Presentations On Attitudes of the Societal Role of Women
From: Elliott Parker <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:AEJMC Conference Papers <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Wed, 1 Oct 2003 08:42:44 -0400

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Broadcasting Gendered Sports Portrayals:
The Effects of Watching Such Presentations
On Attitudes of the Societal Role of Women

James R. Angelini
Department of Telecommunications
Institute for Communication Research
Indiana University, Bloomington

James R. Angelini
M.A. Student
Dept. of Telecommunications
1229 E. Seventh Street
Indiana University
Bloomington, IN 47405-5501

Tel:  (812) 323-2615
Fax:  (812) 855-7955
E-mail:  [log in to unmask]

Manuscript submitted to the Commission on the Status of Women of the
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication for possible
inclusion in its annual conference, Kansas City, MO, July 31-August 3, 2003

April 1, 2003

        This study examined the effects of viewing televised sports, with either
positive or negative tactics used in commentating or production techniques,
of both male and female sports, on individual opinions on the roles of
women, as gauged on the Attitudes Toward Women Scale.  Exposure to the
positive female sports condition resulted in better attitudes for women's
role in society.  Exposure to the other three conditions did not have an
effect, either positively or negatively, on these beliefs.

Women's sports are becoming increasingly more popular among audiences in
the United States.  Successful coverage of women's sports during such
events as the Olympics has spurred television networks to increase the
amount of women's sports they put on the air .  However, even though there
is an increased amount of women's sports being telecast, sports'
commentating tends to place a gendered spin on women's sports.  Often
times, if the network has a choice, women's sporting events are not shown
in favor of airing men's sports.   When women's sports are featured, there
are differences in both the way the sports' commentators speak about the
female athletes, as compared to the male athletes, as well as differing
production techniques are used in each broadcast.  Though television
networks appear to be accepting of women's increased foray into the sports
world, but then temper it with biased coverage, the question then
arises:  do these gendered portrayals of female athletes have a detrimental
effect on the viewing audience?  Is it possible the viewing of these
negatively portrayed women's sporting events can have a prejudicing effect
on the viewers' overall opinion of women's roles within our society?

Television Coverage of Women's Sports
Since the implementation of Title IX in 1972, more girls and young women
are participating in organized sports than ever before.  In 1972, one out
of every twenty-seven female students participated in high school sports;
in 2001, that statistic jumped up to one out of every three .  This
increase in sports participation also occurred at the intercollegiate
level; in 1972, 16.0% of all college athletes were women, while in 2001,
39.1% were women .  With an increase in the overall number of female
athletes, many would expect the media's coverage of women's sporting events
to increase as well.  Unfortunately, until recently this has not been the
case.  Televised sports coverage is dominated by men's sports; 90% of all
sports coverage is of men's sports .  Women's sports receive 5% of media
coverage .  In 1992, for the first time, that number surpassed the total
amount of coverage for sports that feature horses and dogs; coverage of
these sports featuring animals now occupy 3% of the total sports coverage
.  These disparate amounts of time spent on the coverage of women's sports
as compared to men's sports can give the viewing audience the impression
that women's sports lack the level of importance and do not deserved the
same level of respect that is given to men's sports.
        With the success of the coverage of women's team sports in the 1996 Summer
Olympic Games in Atlanta, television networks have begun to understand the
audience appeal of women's sports, and have recently started to carry more
of this type of programming .  CBS increased their coverage of women's
sports at the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan, ABC and ESPN
carried all of the soccer matches of the 1999 Women's World Cup, and NBC,
MSNBC and CNBC broadcast all of the women's events from the 2000 Summer
Olympics in Sydney, Australia .  Also, on the heels of the success of the
female athletes at the 1996 Olympic Games, more professional women's sports
leagues have come into existence:  the Women's National Basketball
Association (WNBA), the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA), the
Women's Pro Softball League (WPSL), and the International Women's Boxing
Federation (IWBF), to name a few .  With this increase in the supply of
women's sports, as well as a perceived increase in the popularity of
women's sports, more television networks have expanded their coverage of
women's sports; NBC, ESPN, ESPN2, and Lifetime Television have all extended
the total amount of women's sports they broadcast .
        The manner in which these sports are presented, however, harkens back to
the same stereotypical ideals that went into perceived 'feminine' sports
being appropriate for girls to participate in while sports perceived to be
'masculine' are not.  Certain sports are believed to be more feminine due
to their emphasis on beauty and overall attractiveness of not just the
participant, but of what the athlete is doing' these sports include
gymnastics and figure skating .  Those athletes that participate in
'masculine' sports are also believed to have personality characteristics
not viewed as apropos for women, but rather for men:  "aggressiveness,
competitive spirit, discipline, and stamina" .  Sports included on this
list are football and wrestling .  These beliefs about what a boy and a
girl's personality traits should be are taught at an early age, and widely
accepted with no actual evidence to their validity .  These stereotyped
ideas are then reinforced, often times through media images, which can lead
to an increased incorporation of these gender roles through unconscious
absorption during television viewing .  These societal reinforced
stereotypes, which are inherent in many facets of everyday life, are often
seen during the presentation of a televised women's sporting event,
particularly when compared to a televised men's sporting event.  These
gendered beliefs of the differences between men and women, and in this
context between 'masculine' and 'feminine' sports, is a construct of social
reality that reinforces societal inequities between genders, such as the
concepts of masculine dominance and feminine inferiority .
        This accepted form of societal sexism is seen immediately by the way
gender is marked in the naming of women's sporting events.  An event such
as the NCAA Basketball Championships is a prime example.  The terms used
during the championship tournament for men's basketball are typically
designated as the 'NCAA Basketball Championship Game' or the 'NCAA Final
Four'.  The exact same tournament, but for the women's basketball teams,
are often labeled as the 'NCAA Women's Basketball Championship Game' or the
'NCAA Women's Final Four' .  This gendered identification of women's sports
happens across the board:  the 'Women's World Cup' versus the 'World Cup'
for soccer and the 'U.S. Open Ladies' Championship' versus the 'U.S. Open
Championship' for tennis, to name a couple .
This verbal gender marking of women's sports gives a definite sense of the
men's games being the norm, while the women's games are considered the
'other'.  This gender labeling occurs on average 25.7 times per sporting
event for female sports, and no times at all for men's sports .  This again
reinforces the idea that these perceived societal differences between the
genders lends itself to an overall hierarchy of the general public, with
men being considered superior to women .
The performance of a particular female athlete is often also gender
marked.  Halbert and Latimer (1994) presented a good example of this in
their analysis of an unusual sporting event:  a tennis match between female
tennis champion Martina Navratilova and male tennis champion Jimmy
Connors.  Connors' performance was often referred to as the standard
("Jimmy Connors' return of serve was considered to be the best in the
game") while Navratilova's performance was seen as the other in comparison
("That's the thing that set her apart in women's tennis for so many year")
.  The identification of Navratilova as being an achiever in the women's
game, while Connors was referred to by his accomplishments in 'the game',
demonstrates how this societal belief in the differences between genders
permeates the sports world, and in turn, overall society.
        When a specific athlete is talked about by the event's commentators,
female athletes are more often referred to by their first name and male
athletes by their surname .  This practice shows a general lack of respect
for the female athletes.  Female athletes called by their first names
demonstrates the need for dominance of men over women .  The use of
surnames in reference to male athletes is seen as sign of respect of the
man both as an athlete and an individual.
Descriptors with demeaning connotations were also often used with female
sports.  Use the terms 'girl' and 'lady' in sports with adult women
participating is demeaning to the participants and disrespectful to their
accomplishments.  It is incredibly rare to hear a male athlete referred to
as a 'boy'.  In the sport of tennis, terms such as 'girl' and 'lady' were
used in 52.7% of the commentating, while only 7.8% of the coverage referred
to the male athletes as 'boys' .  In the match between Martina Navratilova
and Jimmy Connors that was analyzed, Navratilova was verbally marked in
this way seven times, compared to Jimmy Connors' one such comment .
The amount of praise and criticism is much different between male and
female athletes.  Male athletes are more often praised and female athletes
are more often criticized.  This is also seen in the Navratilova-Connors
tennis match.  Connors was praised 70 times and Navratilova was praised 29
times; Connors was criticized 16 times and Navratilova was criticized 41
times .  These types of comments demonstrate a focus on the achievements of
male athletes and the failures of female athletes.
How these athletes are praised is as important as the number of times they
are praised.  Topics a commentator uses to praise a male athlete includes
their athletic skills and their overall dedication, while female athlete's
achievements are more attributed to luck or the guidance of a strong male
influence; female athletes are also compared to their male counterparts
instead of allowing their achievements to stand on their own .  Martina
Navratilova was once praised for her performance with the commentator
saying "She got a bit lucky…she was able to get some pretty good angle on
that" .  Another female professional tennis star, Venus Williams, has had
her achievements described in contrast with that of Pete Sampras, a top
male tennis player .    Also, linguistically, male athletes are described
as stronger and more adept at athletic competition with the use of words
such as 'powerful', 'strong', and 'big' in connection with their
performance .  This sets up female athletes as inferior to male athletes,
with less of a commitment to the sport, whose successes are attributable
more to luck, with a lack of athletic skill.
How athletes are criticized is also interesting to examine.  Male athlete
failures are often attributed to the successes of their opponents, while
female athletes are seen as having a lack of concentration, aggression, and
skill .  Comments made about female athletes include "[She's] just not
ready for this kind of competition"  and "No girl would ever have [got]
that" .  This detraction from female athletes' levels of competitiveness,
and an overall lack of confidence in their skills, again demonstrate the
gendered hierarchy of sports.
The differences between television coverage between male and female sports
occurs graphically as well as verbally.  Colored graphics are used to
differentiate between the men's and the women's sports.  Both tennis and
basketball have in the past used pink on screen graphics for women's
competitions and blue or black on screen graphics for men's competitions .
        Other production techniques also show the differences in how men and
women's sports are broadcast.  In a content analysis by Hallmark and
Armstrong (1999), a closer look was taken at both the men and women's NCAA
Basketball Championship Broadcasts from 1991-1995.  This analysis shows
another area in which gender marking of sports occurs.  The women's events
had more full-screen graphics than men's games, thereby taking the viewer
away from the action of the game more often.  The implication of this being
that the action of the women's game is not as exciting as that of the men's
game, therefore making it more acceptable to interrupt the broadcast with
full screen graphic describing statistics from the game or advertising
future broadcasts .  A higher level of credence is given to this theory due
to the greater number of full-court camera shots broadcast during men's
games than women's games; the implication being that the networks believe
viewers want to see the action of the men's game more than that of the
women's game .  The duration of close-ups, peripheral shots and partial
court shots were longer for women's games than men's games, again taking
parts, or all, the game out of the sight of the viewer .  Of the close-ups
during women's games, they are most often of the team's coach.  It is
interesting to note that most coaches of women's teams are men .  During
these close-ups, the camera is looking toward the coach for explanation of
the team's success of failure, leaving the audience with the notion that
the successes of the female team was only made possible by the efforts of a
man .
        This bias in the coverage of women's sports is obviously not exclusive to
any one particular sport.  Evidence has been gathered of their biased
presentations in a wide array of sports and events:  tennis , basketball ,
golf , and the Olympics .  As other professional women's sports become more
mainstream, with increased media coverage, such as soccer, ice hockey, and
softball, these gender stereotypes will most assuredly come to apply.

Theoretical Look at Why It Matters
With an increase in the amount of coverage of women's sports presented on
television, the question that followed was if the gendered portrayals of
women's sports impact societal beliefs of the roles of women.  By framing
female athletes as inferior to their male counterparts, either through
sports commentary or through production methods, can the audience's overall
opinions of women be shaped to follow the same route, with men perceived as
being superior and more important than women?
        Social Cognitive Theory (previously known as Social Learning Theory)
examines many social components that interact and affect each
other:  behavior, cognition, biological influences, and environmental
factors .  In the realm of media and its influence, it is believed that
"mass media operate as transmitters of cultural ideals" .  Modeling, a form
of observational learning within Social Cognitive Theory, provides the
theoretical framework by which an audience member tries to incorporate
behaviors seen on television because of a belief that the behavior is
socially acceptable .
One area that has had much research done within the auspices of Social
Cognitive Theory has been the effect of mediated images about the
body.  Modeling in particular is used to try and explain why so many young
people, girls in particular, are integrating the thin-ideal media
personalities from television into their own idealized body image .  In as
little as 30 minutes, an individual's personal body perception can be
affected by watching television images that put forth an unattainable, yet
ideal, body image .  These studies are demonstrating that individuals are
basing real life societal beliefs on images seen on television, and are
accepting them to be the societal norms.
Cultivation theory is another mass media theory used in the examination of
media effects on beliefs and attitudes.  This theory puts forward the idea
that repeated, long-term viewing of televised messages has an effect on an
individual's views, opinions, and perceived social reality .  The reality
seen projected from television programs is then assumed by the viewer as
how actual reality should be .  Cultivation theory can be used to explain
the media's impact on an individual's unrealistic societal beliefs, which
may also lead to impractical attitudes about the reality of society .
        Cultivation Theory has also been firmly ensconced within the literature of
mediated effects on an individual's body image.  Scholars have theorized
that repeated viewing over long periods of time of television images of
unhealthy body ideals can have an effect on an individual's own opinions on
their ideal body size .  These effects of television on individual
unrealistic body image beliefs have also been examined with the notion that
they may lead to eating disorder symptomatology .
A definite correlation is shown between media images and how they affect
individual body image.  Use of both Social Cognitive Theory and Cultivation
Theory are farther reaching than just this area.  Other areas in which
these theories have been used include the media's impact on beliefs about
the level of societal violence , the acceptance of violent and other
inappropriate behaviors as the societal norm , beliefs about alcohol
consumption , attitudes about interpersonal relationships ,  and the
perceived importance of materialism and shopping within today's society .
This leads to the overarching question that this researcher faced:  can
these theories be applicable to the methods utilized by television networks
in their presentation of women's sports?  The disparate methods used in
presenting women's and men's sports on television are bound to garner a
belief among the audience that female athletes are inferior to, and
therefore deserving of less respect than, their male counterparts.  If
short exposures to body image portrayals can help in the development of
negative body image ideals, the possibility is there that short exposures
to women's sports will generate biased opinions of the roles of
women.  Also, exposure to positive representations of women in sports may
lead to a more equitable belief of the societal roles of women and
men.  This leads to the following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1:  Exposure to positive portrayals of women in sports will lead
to a greater belief in the societal equality of women with men.

Hypothesis 2:  Exposure to negative portrayals of women in sports will lead
to a greater belief in the societal inequality (inferiority) of women to men.

Hypothesis 3:  Exposure to men's sports (either positive or negative
portrayals) will lead to a greater belief in the societal inequality
(inferiority) of women to men.

The experiment was of a between subjects design, with each group being
exposed to one experimental condition:  positive women's sports, negative
women's sports, positive men's sports, negative women's sports, and a
neutral condition (horseracing with no gendered identifiers).  This
experiment was run in groups ranging from five subjects to twenty
subjects.  Each group was randomly assigned a condition through the use of
a computerized random number selector.
        Prior to viewing the stimulus, subjects answered the following
questionnaires, packaged into one questionnaire in order to minimize
subject fatigue:  the Leisure Attitude and Engagement Scale , the Old
School [Sports] Scale , the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale , a
scale to assess media use , questions to gauge past sports participation ,
and basic demographic questions.
        Following the viewing of each clip, subjects were asked to measure the
clip's perceived pleasure, arousal, and dominance associated with the clip
on the Self-Assessment Mannequin .  Subjects were also asked to rate each
clip on a semantic differential in order to gauge their overall thoughts
and impressions of the clip.
        After the viewing of all the clips, subjects were asked to complete a
final questionnaire (again packaged as one questionnaire) which consisted
of a perceived realism scale , the Attitudes Toward Women Scale , and a
thought listing task .

        Six sports clips were used within each condition.  Each experimental
condition viewed clips recorded from network and cable network sports
coverage on CBS, ESPN, ESPN2, and Fox Sports.  The sports used for all
experimental conditions were basketball, tennis, triathlon, gymnastics, the
World's Strongest Man/Woman competition, and horseracing (in an effort to
control for any unwanted effects).  All four experimental conditions viewed
the sports in the same order in an effort to minimize environmental
differences.  The fifth condition, the control/horseracing condition,
watched six clips recorded from ESPN's Wire to Wire, with care taken by the
experimenter to ensure the clips lacked any gendered language.

        Subjects were recruited from two sections of a large, undergraduate
telecommunications class at Indiana University.  Participants were given
extra credit in this course in exchange for their participation.  The
average age of the subjects was 19.90.  Of the 103 total subjects, 48.5%
were male and 51.5% were female.  Out of all subjects, 93.2% had
participated in an organized sports activity (either through a school or
youth league) for three seasons or more, while only 6.8% had either not
participated or only participated in one or two total seasons within their
Subjects were randomly assigned to the following five conditions using a
computerized random number selector:  positive women's sports (n=18),
negative women's sports (n=25), positive men's sports (n=19), negative
men's sports (n=17), and control/horseracing (n=24).

The score on the Attitude Toward Women Scale (the dependent measure) was
analyzed as a function of the processing condition and social
desirability.  Experimental condition was handled as a class variable.  The
control variable for the analysis was the subject's gender (dummy coded as
1=male, 2=female).
Expectations were that the exposure to a specific experimental condition
would be related to the individual's opinions on the societal roles of
women.  To evaluate the extent to which this occurred, multiple regression
analyses were performed for each experimental condition.  However, the
expected results, as predicted by the hypotheses, were not always what was
demonstrated in the statistical results.  When contrasted against the other
experimental conditions, the positive woman sports condition had a
significant effect on subject's beliefs on the societal role of women,
through their scores on the Attitude Toward Women Scale (p=.033).  This
statistic upholds the claim made in Hypothesis One.  This statistical
analysis shows a significant relationship between the viewing of sports
that feature female athletes positively, both with verbal commentary and
visual production techniques, and a heightened belief of equal social
status for both men and women.
Examination of the other experimental conditions did not lead to the same,
expected conclusions.  Analysis of the negative female sports condition, as
contrasted against the other experimental condition, did not have a
significant relationship with the subject's subsequent beliefs on the
societal role of women (p>.05).  The same holds true when examining, under
the same statistical tests, both the positive and negative male sports
conditions.  This refutes the original assertions of Hypothesis Two and
Hypothesis Three.  While none of these three conditions demonstrated a
statistically significant relationship between the viewing of sports clips
and an increased belief in the societal inferiority of women, these three
conditions actually did not show any change (as compared to the control
While the analysis of data does demonstrate a significant relationship
between the viewing of the positive female sports clips and positive
attitudes toward women, it is worth noting that the other experimental
conditions did not detract from these attitudes.  The subject's scores on
the Attitude Toward Women Scale in the negative women, positive men, and
negative men sports conditions did not drastically deviate from the results
of the control/horseracing group.

This study begins to explore the possible societal effects the viewing of
sports utilizing gendered language and production effects can have on
attitudes and beliefs about the roles of women.  As expected, the positive
portrayals of female athletes in televised sports allowed for more positive
and equitable opinions to be formed by an individual on the status and
roles of women in society.  Not expected, however, was that the negative
portrayals of female athletes, as well as both the negative and positive
portrayals of male athletes, did not have an effect on individual's
opinions of women's roles in society.  Exposure to clips from these
conditions appeared to have virtually no effect on subject's opinions in
this area.  This brings forth an interesting result:  positive
representations of women in sports induced more positive opinions on women,
while negative presentations of women, as well as all portrayals of men,
did not have the hypothesized negative effect on these same attitudes.
Though these results reflect a positive move toward (even though possibly a
slight one) further acceptance of women in social arenas not previously
considered acceptable (i.e. sports).  More positive portrayals of female
athletes are bound to increase this acceptance of women as societal equals
to males.  Research such as this should continue, particularly considering
the relatively, statistically small n used (103 subjects for five
conditions) for a between subjects design.  By increasing the size of the
subject pool, and randomly assigning them to each condition, some of the
differences originally expected within the negative women, positive men,
and negative men may be fleshed out even further.  Therefore, increasing
the power for each experimental condition could increase the hypothesized
effects of each condition.
Further ramifications of the effect of positive and negative portrayals of
female athletes can be examined.  Not just their impact on attitudes and
beliefs on the societal roles of women seems to be the solely important
effect.  Testing their effect on preteens and teenagers may help to
understand why fewer girls than boys participate in organized sport, even
though studies have shown that such participation can be beneficial in the
development, both socially and academically, of young women .  Further
experimentation may also examine the effects of viewing positive and
negative portrayals of female athletes under a narrower scope than societal
roles of women; opinions on individual's beliefs on the acceptability and
popularity (or lack thereof) of females participating in sports, or in
other areas perceived as primarily masculine domains.  Another possible
area to examine is the effect of negative portrayals of male athletes
(which occur infrequently, but do exist); examination of the effects of
such portrayals on the societal emasculation of men may be intriguing to
It appears that further experimentation and examination of the effects of
watching positive and negative portrayals of athletes, both male and
female, can have an additional impact on the perceptions of the role of men
and women within various arenas of everyday society.


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