How Media Portray Female in Sports


When it comes to how men and women assume their various gender roles, social structures have a significant effect. Stereotypes are at the heart of these gender functions. In the Western world, for example, the media portrays males as powerful, self-assured, and athletic, while the same media portrays women as discreet, submissive, and visually pleasing. An intriguing point of view is that, while society requires conformance to the enforced gender order, any minor deviation results in labels like lesbian. Martin & McDonald asserts that women that are actively engaged in basketball or different kind of sports get labeled as bitches or lesbians (p. 84). Although conventional gender typecasts have persisted for hundreds of years, they have also been fought ruthlessly by feminist movements that seek to advocate for the plight of women on all fronts. This is true for sports and physical activities. Conventional gender typecasts in this area have been reviewed and analyzed substantively. Although the exemplary growth and development of female athletes have been promising, the media still perpetuates the bias through the everyday exposure. This trend may continue on the long if the media do not change its approach. Schnall affirms that women, on the other hand, have the prerogative to stand up to these diversionary tactics that paint women as inferior to men (p. 12). The irony is that while the analysis of various sports events is centered on the equality between male and female, the media keeps driving the wedge that enhances bias. This paper evaluates the role of media and how it shapes the plight of women in sports.

The Role Played by Media to Enhance Gender Stereotypes

Human beings are shelled with gender stereotypes in their very existence, courtesy of mass media and print. As soon as the baby’s sex become public knowledge, their dress conforms to a certain color, in most cases, girls are dressed in pink while boys in blue. Moreover, the media promulgates trucks and guns as gifts for boys. This is purely meant to summon the strength and aggression in a boy child. On the other hand, girls get presents in the form of dolls and kitchenware to appeal to the feminity of the girl child. From this early childhood case-scenario, gender stereotypes are implanted in children. A male child, for instance, is required to exhibit particular attributes and traits that appeal to masculinity. At the same time, women are held answerable for being feminine. The reality is that women face a lot of bias and stereotyping in sports because of how the media represents women. Moreover, how the media represent women conforms to social constructs that have been crafted by the patriarchal social order, where women should not be heard but rather be seen. While this issue of media stereotyping can be complex overcome, women have the necessary tools at their disposal to turn around these views by standing up for their rights. Even though not all women athletes prefer to be characterized as either masculine or feminine, mass media has been the harbinger that creates these two extremes. In reality, the media has been selective in representing women; the highlight has been about devaluing them as opposed to showing the better side of their lives. Regardless of the small number of women taking part in active sports, the media has been selective in the coverage accorded to the minority group of women in sports. In any case, the media has pushed women into a stereotype cocoon that would allow them to gain recognition that stems from their physical appeal. According to Arend, in 1999 World Cup, for instance, the US national team for women was subjected to this type of discrimination (p. 14). Brandi Chastain delivered the victory to the US after scoring the last penalty, overwhelmed by the victory, she ruptured her shirt. While this was a defining juncture for women athletes, her bra appeared on the magazine top cover. The opportunistic sexual gimmick of using Chastain’s image in marketing demonstrates just how media aggravates the perception of women as mere objects. Instead of celebrating women progress in a style, corporate organizations with the appetite for profits at the expense of morality were at it again. To have a popular magazine that displays the slanted significance of appearance validates this fallacy to a broad, countrywide audience. Most women athletes appear on various magazines wearing normal clothes while performing their daily chores. Arend contends that in 2009 for instance, Candace Parker, who plays professional basketball with WNBA, appeared in ESPN magazine. In this image, she was holding D-shaped belly (p. 11). While a successful athlete can communicate different information, the media representation of Parkers confirms the social constructs that seek to sexualize women in sports. Furthermore, the height of gender discrimination is also evident, especially when female athletes are featured as sexual objects and not as skilled athletes. Media coverage is, for instance, more concerned with the aspect of beauty or sexual appeal when highlighting them. Sports Illustrate is, for instance, known for their swimsuit in which women become sex objects, and professional athletes feature here as well. According to Arend, Nike features professional athletes explicitly year in year out (p. 1). In most cases, their physique is presented in a manner likely to suggest sexual overtones.

Sensitivity of women to issues of gender in sports

The media view sports with regard to “genderedness. Schmalz & Kersetter allege that while men are encouraged to take part in competitive and aggressive team sports, women are driven by individual and aesthetically pleasant physical activities like swimming, and gymnastics (537). Categorizing sports on the basis of femininity and masculinity makes women recognize the physical barriers the media places on them (McClung & Blinde 120). For this reason, women may be unwilling to break away from media gender stereotypes. According to past studies, children are conscious of gender issues in sports. A study by Schmalz & Kersetter demonstrates that participation in sports is perceived as common among girls and boys. In addition, the study illustrated that restrain their behavior while they participate in sports to meet social norms of acceptable conduct. Again, sport is a neutral activity with participation from both sexes and children are influenced by gender stereotypes in sports (Schmalz & Kersetter 550-52). Based on these findings, it is clear that women participation in sports has a long history, but gender stereotypes in sports are as prevalent as it can be. Furthermore, in sports, women take the second place after men. Although the aspect of women in the sporting industry appears cosmetic, the society views women in sports as masculine or, lesbians (McClung and Blinde 121). Of course, this demonstrates that gender stereotypes are persistent in sports. However, the authors state that women in sports are beginning to gain some recognition in the media. This is due to a high number of women in sports; improvement of women sporting activities; and disconnect from feminism and gender aspects. Obviously, this depicts that women experience and involvement in sports is largely influenced by gender typecasts. Much as the media recognizes gender typecasting in sports, conventional gender stereotypes among women is considerably persistent. Trolan shows that across the world, women athletes are given the second position; this perpetuates the issue of sports from a masculine point of reference (p. 220). This is basically gender inequality that can be associated with the patriarchal element of sports as well as media. Nonetheless, this can be challenged by motivating women and girls to participate not only in sports but also physical activities in various levels including coaches, volunteers, sports official among others. Besides, they should be encouraged to face conventional women stereotypes. When it comes to the sexualization of female athletes, the media takes the center stage. A woman who takes part in sports, the media views her with disapproval. A successful women athlete is considered a contradiction of women approved gender responsibilities. As a result, women are required to overcompensate for manliness as athletes. According to Yu, women athletes are confronted with balancing between societal norms of femininity and the sporting needs are increasingly challenging to overcome this narrowed view (p. 285). In any case, the media highlights the physical features of female athletes rather their abilities that demonstrate their performance in sports. For example, print media has for a long time concentrated on female athletes’ body shape, hair, and makeup but rarely focuses on similar issues for men. Hence, with reference to physical features of female athletes portrays gender inequality in the media sector.

Suggestions to increase women involvement in sports

Based on the analysis of women typecasting and involvement in sports in the last decades, females and girls are confronting media stereotypes while making progress in sports across the world. According to the Canadian Association for Advancement of Women and Sport (CAAWS), a number of sports institutions have adopted approaches to recruiting women in sports around the globe (11). In particular, the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association funds girl’s camps, provided that they have a woman coach. This move is to increase participation of women in sports to match that of male athletes. Additionally, these attempts will help women to make headways in the sports sector. While the media view women athletes’ as masculine, this should not stop them from participating in sports.


For a long period, the mass media has portrayed women different from men. This is true in sports where men are associated with masculinity, while women are relegated to mere objects or a means to an end. However, in the last few decades, for instance, women have confronted this negative publicity accorded to them by the media. They have been bold enough in attacking not just the narrowed view, but also the negative representation that uses their appearance for marketing reasons. For this reason, conventional stereotypes for women participation in sports has gradually been changing and developing. This pattern is likely to change if women and girls stop following societal norms. Though this may take sometimes, women can break free from media typecasts. This analysis has also demonstrated media plays an important function when it comes to the development of female athletes. In general, the progress of women in sports has been hindered by the media that has promoted sexualization, masculinity, gender stereotypes, and trivialization of women in sports and success in the society.

Works Cited

Arend, Kara M. Female Athletes and Women's Sports: A Textual Analysis of Nike's Women- Directed Advertisements. Diss. Bowling Green State University, 2015.

Jones, Amy, and Jennifer Greer. "You don’t look like an athlete: The effects of feminine appearance on audience perceptions of female athletes and women’s sports." Journal of Sport Behavior 34.4 (2011): 358-377

Martin, Adam, and Mary G. McDonald. "Covering women’s sport? an analysis of sports illustrated covers from 1987–2009 and ESPN The magazine covers from 1998–2009." Graduate Journal of Sport, Exercise & Physical Education Research 1 (2012): 81-97.

Schmalz, Dorothy L., and Deborah L. Kerstetter. "Girlie girls and manly men: Chidren's stigma consciousness of gender in sports and physical activities." Journal of Leisure Research 38.4 (2006): 536.

Schnall, Marianne. “Controversial Hillary Cover of TIME Illuminates Sexism in the Media.” The Huffington Post. The Huffington Pos t, 20 January 2014, Web, 31 August 2015.

Trolan, Eoin J. "The impact of the media on gender inequality within sport." Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences 91 (2013): 215-227.

Yu, Chia-Chen. "A content analysis of news coverage of Asian female Olympic athletes." International Review for the Sociology of Sport 44.2-3 (2009): 283-305.

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