Images of Women in Sport and Media: A Critical Look at Recurring Themes from 1920 to the Present

Date of Completion


Document Type

Open Access Capstone

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Delores B. Gallo


This review of women in sport literature offers an historical summary from the 1920's through the present, focusing on the relationship between women in sport and the media. It identifies recurring patterns of progress and change as well as reversions and backlashes against females, who have opted to pursue sport. This examination focuses on sport, gender and media as social and cultural constructs created through institutionalized hierarchy rather than naturally occurring responses or differences. Images of women in sport are examined as these perceptions manifest in their reflection of and creation by mediated culture. Because media's messages permeate our lives and have become virtually inescapable, their impact has become increasingly powerful. Media is no longer only a reflector of life and culture. It has become an interpreter and transformer of information and in effect, a manufacturer of values, ideals, and lifestyle. In the discussion of these concepts, the paper draws upon the work of sport sociologists, Susan Cahn, Susan Birrell, Cheryl Cole, critical thinker, George Sage, and cultural studies scholar, bell hooks. Identifying and deconstructing stereotypes that have plagued women in sport for decades and continue to diminish women's achievements will counter these idealized and mediated images. The authors included in this review are feminism and sport scholars, Mary Jo Kane, Nancy Theberge, Boutilier and SanGiovanni, and Zimmerman. I argue that gender, images of women, and feminine ideals are socially created constructs, formed in the context of power relationships between men and women. Looking at women in sport through a socio-cultural constructionist lens is necessary: to achieve deeper meaning from seemingly superficial images, to evaluate the impact media depictions have on self and others, to see beyond the temporary, decontextualized image allowing history and personal experience to form real context, and to deconstruct, reinterpret, and rebuild media images and messages so that truth and myth become more decipherable. This paper traces the influence of sexism, homophobia, and legal mandates on the education and progress of women athletes. These purposes are key means to returning responsibility, control, and informed decision making ability back to the individual, whose image has been mediated to the point of distortion. Such a reinterpretation of socio-culturally constructed images of women in sport is important in establishing more truthful and human representations of women's selves and their lives.


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