232 Raymond A. Weiss Lecture: An Examination of Female Athletes’ Interpretations of Media Representations—A Window Into the Construction of Dual Identity & “Selling Sex” in Women’s Sports

Wednesday, April 24, 2013: 1:45 PM-3:00 PM
Convention Center: 202AB
Presider: Melinda A. Solmon, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA
Speaker: Mary Jo Kane, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
Scholars have produced a significant body of evidence demonstrating that sportswomen are portrayed in ways that emphasize their femininity/heterosexuality versus their athletic competence and argue that such coverage trivializes women’s sports (Daniels, 2012). Much less research attention has been paid to how such coverage is interpreted by different audiences, including female athletes (Kane & Maxwell, 2011). This study explores how elite female athletes respond to the various ways they are portrayed in sport media outlets. Audience Reception Research—where viewers deconstruct the meaning of a media text and how that meaning impacts feelings toward a particular subject—was used to examine dual identities of female athletes, meaning their on-court athletic identity versus their off-court feminine one. Would these two identities impact how they wished to be represented—as highly skilled athletes, “classy ladies” or both? Thirty-six team and individual sport athletes were interviewed; each was randomly shown photos representing categories of portrayal ranging from on-court competence to off-court sexually provocative images and asked to choose which best represented themselves and their sport, as well as increased interest in and respect for their sport. Findings indicated that in-action competence was the overwhelming choice for “best represents self/sport” and “best increases respect.” However, almost 50% of all respondents picked sexualized images as the way to “best increase interest.” This latter finding reflected participants’ belief that “sex sells” women’s sports, particularly for male audiences. Results were analyzed using critical feminist theory to unpack the role of sport media and its relationship to gender, privilege and power.
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