To What Extent Have Gender stereotypes Influenced The Media Portrayal of Women in Sports?

Maria Jemshaid - pse 4U0

Audio Abstract

Gender Stereotypes


Fixed ideas about peoples traits, capabilities and how people should behave, based upon their gender


Examples of Gender Stereotypes/Gender Roles

There are four types of gender stereotypes—personality traits, domestic behaviours, occupation, physical appearance. Gender stereotypes are different for males and females.

Female Gender Stereotypes

Personality Traits = passive, obedient, submissive, innocent

Domestic Behaviours = household chores, taking care of children, cooking meals

Occupations =nurses, secretaries, air hostess

Physical Appearances =small, graceful

Male Gender Stereotypes

Personality Traits = self-confident, aggressive

Domestic Behaviours = household repairs

Occupations = construction workers, engineers, doctors,

Physical Appearances = tall, muscular, broad shoulders

                                                        (Gender Identity, 2014)

Stereotypes of Female Athletes

Many female athletes are perceived as masculine, a tomboy, lesbian

Also perceived as weaker athletes

Media Portrayal Of WOmen in Sports

SPorts media focuses on women's appearance rather than athletic ability

When looking at female sports media representation and males, there is a double standard. When speaking about male athletes the media is more likely to focus on athletic ability and performance. When on the topic of female athletes the media is more often focusing on their appearance non-sport related subjects.

Magazine Features

  • Sports magazines have different coverage on female and male athletes
  • There are less female athletes who make the cover of sports magazines compared to their male counterparts
  • From 2004-2009 (5 years), there have been 5/168 ESPN magazine covers that featured female athletes (Nicole LaVoi, 2009)
  • These athletes are not being portrayed showing their athletic ability, but rather being sexualized
  • Men on the cover of the magazine can be seen showing off their abilities
  • Women on the cover are not being shown this way, but rather being shown overly sexualized with subtitles that have nothing to do with their sport
  • Men usually dressed in athletic attire
ESPN covers featuring female athletes
ESPN covers featuring male athletes

In ESPN magazine, the Candace Parker issue, the article begins by stating “Candace Parker is beautiful. Breathtaking, really, with flawless skin, endless legs and a C cup she is proud of but never flaunts”. This is an example of how female athletes athletic ability is overlooked in the media, and their appearance is showcased instead. Other athletes such as Amy Acuff's ability is also often overlooked, and her appearance is the subject of discussion instead. In 2000, during the pre-olympic media coverage, Amy did not speak about wanting to go home with the gold medal. Instead she spoke about how much she'd like to work with Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Edition, stating that "people get a lot of attention for that." When the media chooses to focus on these athletes appearance rather than athletic performance they are in turn not allowing for women in sport to be taken seriously. Their ability is downplayed compared to mens.

                (Sports| Portrayal of Women in the Media, Andrew Strautman)

Sports Media gives more Broadcast Time to Men's sports than Women's Sports

  • Amount of airtime for female athletics versus male athletics is vastly different
  • Receive 4% of media coverage but make up 40% of athletes
  • A study regarding NBC's 2000 Olympics broadcast was by Tuggle, Huffman and Rosegard (2002). It showed that women who took part in sports that involved "hard physical contact or power" didn't receive much attention
  • Research shows that sports news and highlight shows had minimal coverage of college women's basketball, instead the final score was displayed at the bottom of the screen on the scrolling ticker (Messner and Cooky, 5)
  • Sports media does not effectively represent female athletes in the media

The Centre for Feminist Research at USC did a study on Attendance and Media Coverage of the NBA versus the WNBA. As can be seen, there is far more media coverage for mens basketball than there is for women's. Similarly, there is also a far greater attendance in mens basketball compared to women's.

                                    (Take back the Sports Page?, Sommers, C)

Influence of gender stereotypes on female sports media portrayal

Gender Stereotypes have impacted the sports media portrayal of female athletes to a great extent.
  • Gender stereotypes play a huge role in how women in sports are portrayed. It has a huge influence on their representation
  • Media is still trying to present a traditional expectations of masculinity and femininity
  • There is still the idea that some sports are "masculine", only appropriate for men to play and some sports are "feminine", only appropriate for women to play
  • "Masculine" sports include = hockey, football, rugby
  • "Feminine" sports include = figure skating, gymnastics
  • Men are seen as tough and aggressive, whereas women are being sexualized
  • They are still downplaying the athletic ability of females and showing them as less superior athletes than males
  • Media is quick to step back from women who do not fit the traditional female picture
  • Even female athletes such as Amy Acuff, know that they will not get a lot of recognition from their athletics, but rather if they pose for swimsuit magazine covers

What is the meaning & Importance of these findings

These findings show that a lot of gender bias exists in the media today that influences the way the female athletes are represented. Though, there have been many steps taken in making athletics equal for men and women there is still a long way to go. This is important to know because it allows us to be educated on such topics and allows for us to seek a solution to this. Female athletes skill and ability should be focused on rather than their appearance in sports media.


Some potential stakeholders include:

  • Sports media journalists and commentators
  • Women's rights activists
  • Researchers
  • Government - educating children on these topics since childhood
  • TV networks which broadcast women's sports
  • The public

Alternative Explanations for the Findings

Some alternative explanations for the findings could be that is there is not enough interest in women's sports as men's sports, which is the reason they receive less broadcast time.

Counter-argument: In the United States, there used to be less interest in female athletics because schools did not fund female athletics as much. In 1972, the IX bill was passed which allowed for sports played in education programs to receive equal funding from the government and not be discriminated against on the basis of gender. Since then there has been an increase in the number of female athletes playing sports in school programs. In 1971, college sports had only 30, 000 female participants, in 2009 this grew to 182, 000. Furthermore, the number of female's taking part in high school sports went from 295, 000 to 3.2 million today. There is a lot of interest in female sports, and since females make up about 40% of all athletes, they deserve more broadcast time and un-biased commentaries.

                                                         (M. Flannery, 2011)

My position on the issue

My position on the issue has stayed the same throughout this project. I believe that women should receive all the same opportunities as men when it comes to athletics. Its time for a change in how we see female athletes. In terms of the gender biased portrayal of female athletes, the media should shift away from using gender stereotypes to depict them. There should be more of a focus on their athletic ability and skill rather than what they look like.

Suggestions for future research

Sub themes that are worth looking into are the types of gender bias and stereotypes that there used to depict males and females. This provided a basis of what kinds of gender bias will be prominent in the media portrayal of the athletes. Some other research questions that led to my research is how has the media portrayal of women in sport had an impact on young girls looking to pursue athletics?

Studies Limitations + Problems Encountered

This study does not look into the effects these media portrayals have on society.  Also it primarily looked at the issue from the side of gender stereotypes have had a huge influence on media portrayal of female athletes, and not much from the other point of view. Furthermore, some problems I encountered when researching was finding credible sources with accurate and non-biased information. Many articles I read had some type of bias in them, and it took a while to find ones without any.



Flannery, M. (2011, November 1). Despite Title IX, Inequity in Girls' and Women's Sports Persists - NEA Today. Retrieved June 14, 2015, from

Gender Identity | Stereotypical Masculine & Feminine Traits. (n.d.). Retrieved June 14, 2015, from

Koivula, N. (1999, October 1). Gender Stereotyping in Televised Media Sport Coverage. Retrieved June 14, 2015, from

Lopiano, D. (n.d.). Sports Management Resources. Retrieved June 15, 2015, from

LaVoi, Ph.D., N. (n.d.). The "success" of Twitter in promoting women's sports: 'Show me the money!' Retrieved June 15, 2015, from

Masculinity and Gender Roles in Sports. (n.d.). Retrieved June 14, 2015, from http://masculinityandgenderrolesinsports.blogspot...

Schonberger, J. (n.d.). On The Issues Magazine The Progressive Woman's Magazine Spring 2012: Olympics' Coverage Still Shortchanges Female Athletes by Jane Schonberger. Retrieved June 14, 2015, from

Sommers, C. (n.d.). Take Back the Sports Page? - AEI. Retrieved June 14, 2015, from

Strautman, A. (2011, May 12). Sports | Portrayal of Women in the Media. Retrieved June 14, 2015, from

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