Name: Sam Turner
Student Number: n8280045
Tutor: Katie Page

Running like a Girl: How Equitable is the Playing Field when it comes to Women in Sport?


Cultural Artefact

Have a look in every Australian sport lover’s personal magazine stack and you are bound to find an Alpha magazine, jam packed with news, sporting tips, previews, results and women. This issue from February 2009 is not a lot different from any of the other 50+ issues the magazine produced before it was taken off the shelves in March 2011. Even though the magazine proved to be the best selling men’s magazine in Australian publishing history, it struggled in a market spiralling from the pressure created by a world forcefully being taken over by technology. The headline story is of course men’s cycling legend Lance Armstrong. This however, only slighting draws your eye away from Ana Ivanovic, the good-looking international tennis player and in the top right corner a caption “Very Fine Legs! Beach Cricket Anyone?” and picture of member of a ‘XXXX Angels’ beach cricket cheerleaders.

Public Health Issue

Women’s participation in sport has a long history. It is a history marked by disagreement and discrimination but also one crowded with major accomplishments by female competitors and significant advances for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Women are constantly judged when it comes to their involvement not only on the field but off it as well. Forms of media such as magazines, TV and newspapers constantly depict the standard view of women who play sport as being one that still should fit the pressures of body image and the stereotypes of modern society. This leaves women to constantly battle for respect and acceptance when it comes to participation in sport, even at a young age. It’s of a young age at when these social ideologies are presented and young women begin to conform. From then on, sport is a male-dominant community to which women are rarely given publicity. Typically when they are publicised it’s in men’s sporting magazines where more often that not the only way to attract readers is to be presented in a bikini or sexy attire.

Literature Review

In modern society, media and stereotypes still evidently shape our views on women’s involvement in sport. It is no doubt that today, women still constantly fight to earn respect in sporting culture. A respect that may never come, based on overall opinions and views that have been shaped since we were born.

Growing up, my kids go to co-educational primary schools. A study constructed by Clark and Paechter (2007), focuses on the involvement of boys and girls aged 10 to 11 in playground football from primary schools in London. Boys and girls were found to draw on gender constructions that impacted variously on their involvement in break-time football. The study overlooked that from a young age, the performance of masculinity was a key opportunity for boys to prove their knowledge and expertise in the sport. Straight away, females were put at a disadvantage with participation and associations between humility, restraint, niceness and femininity also had a negative impact on girls’ involvement. This saw boys dominating the game with entrenched gender zones of play that granted the boys automatic rights to the football and girls only marginal tenancy. Prohibitions around desire and determination proved especially damaging to girls’ attempts at ownership and assertiveness with the game (Clark, S. and Paechter, C. 2007).

This demonstrates that these stereotypes and views of women in sport are starting at a young age. But humans weren’t born to believe that women aren’t equal, so just how young are these ideologies forming and at what stages do women abide to these cultural norms? With the use of the American Add Health Survey, Zipp (2010) gathered information from high school and middle school students from throughout the United States to uncover results on the difference in involvement ratio of male and female teenage sport participants. In terms of the sex of participants, results from this study saw that there were few differences in the degree and type of sports participated in. However, a somewhat larger difference as the adolescents moved from middle to high school. It could be said that these results as well as those of Clark and Paecher (2007), that female sexism in sport is starting from around this transition period. With adolescent girls becoming more socially interactive and conscious at this age, it is no wonder we see higher drop out rates of women participation levels in sport due to the growing pressure on them to abide by social norms (Zipp, J. 2010).

Those who continue to battle against these ideologies relate more to Harris (2005) who shows insight into the experiences of female football players at a college level. Findings and aims from this article were based upon results from female college students in the south of England who were interviewed on their experiences when involved in football on numerous levels. The principle in particular was how the women themselves interpret and define their involvement in the sport. The highlighted struggles were of the heterosexual women who were faced with constantly having to explain their participation in a traditionally male dominant activity. Given the strong perceived association with lesbianism (Caudwell, J. 1999, 2002), a number of players found that they had had to make explicit their own sexuality and some embarked on a process of identity management. This finding definitely highlights an area where female participation in football directly relates to a specific group who get branded automatically by society (Harris, J. 2005).

It is important to note that it is not only those who participate in playing sport that get ridiculed. Female commentators, news reporters and journalists are among these involved with the sport who often battle conflicting identities between their profession and sex. Hardin and Shain (2007) based an article from Critical Studies in Media Communication on interviews with females working as sports journalists, who reported to constantly have to battle with tensions of there gender. They fell along a spectrum of resistance to traditional values in sports and journalism, providing evidence of cracks in hegemonic notions of what it means to be a woman covering sports. These factors reported that these tensions could encourage women to leave the profession in search of other careers that involved less cognitive and emotional dissonance. Findings also saw that this is leading to female journalists ‘getting in the door’ perhaps easier than ever before. However, once hired the emphasis is made on their inferiority in relation to not only sport but also other forms of major journalism within a department (Hardin, M. & Shain, S. 2007).

Cultural and Social Analysis

The key issue of women involved in sport has always been the constant struggle in which women are still fighting today for respect in sporting culture. Most studies that interview women report to be constantly comparing themselves to men in the sporting arena. This comparing is not in a sense of results or achievements, but that of respect from the broader social community (Guillet, E., Sarrazin,P., Fontayne, P., & Brustad, R. 2006). This accounts for all forms of involvement in sporting activity whether they be participation, adjudication or reporting.

It seems as though women are put into classified groups even at a young age when it comes to involvement in sport. Where social acceptance and mainstream ideologies are ingrained from as young as eight years old (Clark, S. and Paechter, C. 2007). The Marxist theory of dominant ideology is the set of common values and beliefs shared by most people in a modern society. This frames how the majority of people think in regard to a range of topics (Greene, R. 2009). “The dominant ideology is the ideology of the dominant class” (Marx, K. 1985). Marxism is primarily used when referring to capitalism or Bourgeoisie. But it is difficult not to see the relationship the theory has in regard to women in sport and that battle of trying to attain respect from a male dominant culture.

Marx theorised that in most cases to receive respect from another party you had to be dominant. Members of every class construct their own understanding of the society based on personal experience. In this case, from a young age children grow up to experience women as non-dominant in sporting society. Therefore, this ideology is then challenged when one is to go against the norm of society. For instance when one woman wants to join a mixed football team she is overthrown by a progressive force of men who already hold precedence of that sport. She then has to prove herself, often in another setting sometimes still not by enough to get accepted into the team based on possible politics or selfishness.

More often than not, the consequences of these ideologies are that the majority of women who don't succeed in sport give up. They no longer participate which leave the ones who still partake in the activity to fight a battle with the same amount of power as they started. This is insufficient and a domino effect. This is why it is important we have media and foundations such as Women Talk Sports (WTS) and Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF) to encourage women to actively participate and promote their gender in sport. This makes the minority group of women involved in sport larger and therefore more powerful, united in a society that in affect marginalises the views of what is the social norm in regard to involvement and participation.

Artefact Analysis and Reflection

This artefact symbolises the current views on women participating in sport. Its magazine articles like this, which depict women for their looks and sex appeal rather than possible talent.

But is this a bad thing? For one, they are getting publicity with this particular issue of Alpha Men's Magazine which in hindsight is promoting the Australian Open women tennis players. It’s how the players are portrayed which gets feminists and women sport affiliates fuming. The phrase “Aussie Open Hotties” instantly draws readers to look at the sexiness of the players, where Elena Dementieva poses wet in a beach dress and the Williams sisters in bikinis, some would ask what this has to do with tennis? No doubt the players are happy for themselves to be posing like this in the magazine as they have agreed to this kind of shoot. But it comes back to us observing that with an audience dominated by male readers, they please the reader more by posting such pictures which men are more likely to turn to. If this attracts more viewers to the sport it can be seen as a success, however the reason why people watch the sport is still up for debate. Majority of female athletes would rather be recognised for their talent than sex appeal. Articles like this which attract the reader with sexy photos, but to be fair emphasise achievements made by the players, promote the fact that female sport is still an unequitable playing field.

Learning Engagement and Reflection

I Didn’t Know Modelling was a Female Sport? – Women in Sport Over Time
Excellent. Very Insightful Read.

This is very well written. Brilliant use of references and literature to prove your point and insight into the history of this constant battle women have to rights and respect in sport. It is like you say, interesting how much change (or lack of) there has been with this issue not just over the past 10 but 50 years. I totally agree that it's important to recognise the more publicity women are getting surrounding sport, but we definitely need to realise if it is based on the right reasons. Just coming out of school myself it's weird to think that pre-TitleIX children and teenagers were brought up in school to believe and conform to females being inferior in sport.

It is good to see the differences made and the government giving money, but you're totally right about where that money should be spent. Instead of resources i absolutely agree that the only way we can change a society's view on the public issue is through the media. Well done chloe, I found this report very interesting.

'Ooh La La, Did you see that'- How equitable is the playing field when it comes to women's sport
A Great Review.

You had some very interesting points Andrew. I found particularly interesting the referenced used and strong points you made in regards to roles models of children and media. When you said 8.4% of girls had sport stars as role models, honestly i wasn't surprised. When you're a child you make choices from whats put in front of you. There is too much other garbage on TV which attracts teenagers more than sport does. The link you made with role models and physical activity levels is entirely spot on. Do you ever see Paris Hilton of Kim Kardashian playing sport? No because they are so focused on their image so much that even pictures whilst exercising in a personal gym may come out and be seen as damaging to their brand.

It is interesting you mentioned the cycle. I totally agree that with low funding, poor infrastructure and low levels of interest from the public, you are going to see something fail. With these variables it is no wonder the media isn't interested in reporting. But what if we switched this? I think the only way women are going to have any kind of equality in the sporting environment is if the media change it's habits. Because lets face it, publicity and media control mainstreams societies ideologies. You direct media toward womens sport, you're going to get a cycle. More media, higher levels of interest from the public. Higher levels of interest from the public, more suitable infrastructure and higher funding.

Excellent use of resources Andrew. An interesting read indeed.

Reference List

Bertozzi, E. (2008). ‘You Play Like a Girl!’: Cross-Gender competition and the Uneven Playing Field. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 14: 473. Doi: 10.1177/1354856508094667

Caudwell, J. (1999). Women’s football in the United Kingdom: Theorizing gender and unpacking the butch lesbian image. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 23, 390- 402.

Caudwell, J. (2002). Women’s experiences of sexuality within football contexts: A par- ticular and located footballing epistemology. Football Studies, 5, 24-45.

Clark, S. and Paechter, C. ‘Why can’t girls play football?’ Gender dynamics and the playground. Sport, Education and Society, 12:3, 261-276. Doi: 10.1080/13573320701464085

Eccles, J. S., Adler, T. F., Futterman, R., Goff, S. B., Kaczala, C. M., Meece, J. L., et al. (1983). Expectancies, values, and academic behaviors. In J. T. Spence (Ed.), Achievement and achievement motivation (pp. 75–146). San Francisco: Freeman.

Elliott, D. and Sander, L. (2011). Why Females Don’t Do Sport Degrees. Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism Education, 10:1, 85 – 98. Doi:10.3794/johlste.101.330

Greene, R. (2009). Marxist Theory, Encyclopaedia of Communication Theory. SAGE Publications. Retrieved from

Guillet, E. Sarrazin, P. Fontayne, P. and Brustad, R. (2006). Understanding Female Sport Attrition in a Stereotypical Male Sport Within the Framework of Eccles’s Expenctancy. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30: 358. Doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.2006.00311.x

Hardin, M. and Shain, S. (2007). “Feeling Much Smaller Than You Know You Are”: The Fragmented Professional Identity of Female Sports Journalists. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 23:4, 332-338. Doi: 10.1080/07393180600933147

Harris, J. (2005). The Image Problem in Women’s Football. Journal of Sport & Social Issues. 29: 184. Doi: 10.1177/0193723504273120

Pomerantz, S. Currie, D. & Kelly, D. (2004). Sk8er Girls: Skateboards, girlhood and feminism in motion. Women’s Studies International Forum, 27, 547-557. Doi: 10.1016/j.wsif.2004.09.009

Women Talk Sports. (n.d.) News and opinion from the best women sports blogs. Retrieved from

Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation. (n.d) Retrieved from

Zipp, J. (2010) Sport and Sexuality: Athletic Participation by Sexual Minority and Sexual Majority Adolescents in the United States. Sex Roles, 64:19-31. Doi: 10.1007/s11199-010-9865-4