Masculinity and femininity are known to be traits that describe the behavioral qualities of an individual. Gender stereotypes are the preconceived notions society builds about certain things, views, or people. The majority of these conceptions come from popular culture and media. Some examples include the ‘dumb blonde’ and the ‘all-star quarterback’. Gender stereotypes can be a powerful thing, as they have been known to influence judgment, opinion, and behavior.
In regards to sports, masculinity is usually associated with strength, speed, muscle mass, aggressiveness, risk-taking and self-confidence. In contrast, femininity is oftentimes related to the poverty of athleticism as it relates to power, speed and strength as well as the ability to score. These stereotypical roles are embedded into society through media representation in television shows or movies that often serve an exaggerated point of view for entertainment purposes.
Sport participants may be directly affected by gender stereotypes because these conceptions revolve around power, authority, dominance, aggression, confidence and strength. Gender stereotypes may have a direct influence on the way a sport participant is treated by others. In this regard, gender stereotypes usually cast men as dominant owners of space and women as objects that take up little to no space. Gender-based stereotypes can be found in most popular sports from male-dominated sports such as football, soccer, ice hockey or rugby which often display male athletes with a rippling physique, jocks or tough guys who can dominate their opponents through skill or brute force.
In contrast, the female counterparts are portrayed as slim-waisted and petite where they appear helpless without rescue from a strong manly figure. Gender roles also affect spectatorship placing men firmly at the center of attention for sporting events even though women and children make up half of the sports viewing public (Hargreaves, 1994). Gender stereotypes lead to a socialization process that maintain traditional views on masculinity and femininity.
Gender stereotypes in sports have been a topic of discussion for decades. Gender is a term used to describe the socially constructed characteristics of women and men – something that is neither inherently biological nor psychological, but rather learned through socialization. Gender stereotypes are defined as “a set of attributes and behaviors thought to be typical of individuals possessing each gender” (Eagly & Steffen, 1986).
In this way, gender stereotypes stem from the traditional social norms associated with sex-segregated sporting activities. Gender Stereotyping takes place when these cognitive shortcuts are applied to an individual despite obvious contradictions (Beasley & Standley, 2002; Messner et al. , 2000; 2001; Moller & Chiari, 2010) For example: tennis players with long hair are often considered “unprofessional. ” Gender stereotypical thinking allows us to assume physical, mental, and social characteristics for women and men in sports.
However, when considering the specific context in which sport activities take place in today’s society, it becomes clear that Gender Stereotyping in sports limits both male and female athletes. However, Gender Stereotyping in sports does not make much sense when considering the original purpose of athletic performances. Athletic competitions stemmed from early human history as a way for groups to prove their superior strength or speed compared to other tribes or villages (Eitzen & Sage, 2009).
The competitive nature of sport contests provides an outlet for individuals to demonstrate their abilities without engaging in violence against other tribe members (Eitzen & Sage, 2009). Nowadays, Gender Stereotyping is one of the most common and limiting social norms. Gender Stereotypes in sports exist as a product of such stereotypical thinking (Eagly & Steffen, 1986; Moller & Chiari, 2010; Schippers et al. , 2008). Gender stereotypes emerge from our tendency to simplify what we observe by attaching labels that often come with preconceived notions (Moller & Chiari, 2010).
Gender Stereotyping in sports is a form of this simplification. The first official Olympic Games held in 1896 did not include any female athletes (Eitzen & Sage, 2009; Mosse, 1966; United States Olympic Committee [USOC], 2012). Gender Stereotyping in sports has been around for centuries, with men being the sole participants in most athletic competitions. However, Gender Stereotyping in sports became more prevalent when women began to enter into athletics beginning at the turn of the twentieth century (Eitzen & Sage, 2009).
Gender stereotypes that attempted to distinguish and classify women and men as distinct groups were used to support this separation (Beasley & Standley, 2002; West & Zimmerman, 1987). Gender differences seemed apparent and were often cited as a reason for prohibiting women from participating in sport activities (Eitzen & Sage, 2009). For example: many people believed that women’s reproductive organs would be damaged if she was exposed to activity such as sport (Eagly & Steffen, 1986; Moller & Chiari, 2010).
Gender Stereotyping in sports has existed for so long that it is now deeply rooted within society’s view of gender and physical activity. It was not until the 1950s when women began to compete in major sporting arenas such as golf and tennis (Eitzen & Sage, 2009); however Gender Stereotyping was still prominent throughout the 1960s and 1970s (Beasley & Standley, 2002). Gender stereotypic thinking operated on many levels – from media reports to medical research – reinforcing traditional stereotypes to maintain the separation of men and women in sport activities (Moller & Chiari, 2010).
In 1966, Los Angeles Olympics Organizing Committee President, Avery Brundage, stated that the committee would not allow women to participate in any of the Olympic Games events until “they [women] were actually able to prove they could qualify. ” Gender Stereotyping in sports continued when Arnold Schwarzenegger won Mr. Olympia for five years in a row between 1970-1975 despite numerous male competitors who were more muscular than him (Blank & Visvader, 2013). Gender stereotypes have even been found in children’s toys and activities that encourage different sports depending on whether one is male or female (Moller & Chiari, 2010).
It was not until the 1990s when Gender Stereotypes began to decline because of Title IX being established in 1972 by the US Department of Health Education and Welfare requiring gender equity for boys and girls in all educational programs receiving federal assistance (Eitzen & Sage, 2009). Gender Stereotypes still exist today, but Gender Discrimination in sports has been eliminated by Title IX due to it being illegal. Gender Discrimination in sports occurs when an individual is denied the same employment opportunity or access to a benefit of employment on the basis of their sex (Shook, 2013).
Gender Discrimination in sports serves as a way to deny female athletes equal opportunities that male athletes receive. Gender Stereotyping is possible without explicit Gender Discrimination; however Gender Discrimination makes Gender Stereotyping more difficult to accomplish because it forces individuals who do not agree with Gender Stereotypes to confront them so they can change them (Blank & Visvader, 2013). Gender Stereotypes in sports have declined over the past few decades but Gender Discrimination still occurs today.
Media is a huge contributor to Gender Stereotyping in sports because they portray men and women as very different from one another (Moller & Chiari, 2010). Media does not only show men and women as two separate groups, but each gender has been categorized as one of two categories: masculine or feminine (Eagly & Steffen, 1986; Moller & Chiari, 2010). The media often shows contrasting images of men and women participating in sport activities with men being portrayed as more dominant than woman.