Sports become stereotyped as gender-neutral, feminine, or masculine based on conceptions regarding gender, gender differences, and beliefs about the appropriateness of participation due to gender (Colley et al., 1987; Csizma, Wittig, & Schurr, 1988; Koivula, 1995; Matteo, 1986). Sports labeled as feminine seem to be those that allow women participants to act in accordance with the stereotyped expectations of femininity (such as being graceful and nonagressive) and that provide for beauty and aesthetic pleasure (based on largely male standards). A sport is labeled as masculine if it involves the following: 1) attempts to physically overpower the opponent(s) by bodily contact; 2) a direct use of bodily force to a heavy object; 3) a projection of the body into or through space over distance; and 4) face-to-face competition in situations in which bodily contact may occur. These characteristics are believed to be appropriate expressions of masculine attributes such as aggressiveness, effectiveness, and power (Metheny, 1965; Koivula, 2001).
In a recent study, 403 participants were first asked to answer a short questionnaire regarding their gender, age, and physical exercise habits. They then completed a questionnaire regarding perceived characteristics of a sport. In this latter questionnaire, the respondent was asked to rate to what degree the descriptor is characteristic of the sport or those practicing the sport using a seven-point scale from 1 (“Not at all characteristic of the sport/sport participant”) to 7 (“Very much characteristic of the sport/sport participant”). For each participant, the sport to be rated was randomly selected out of 41 different sports, 19 of which had been previously labeled gender-neutral, 7 of which had been labeled feminine, and 15 of which had been labeled masculine. (The 41 sports were gender-labeled according to categorizations made in a previous study on gender-labeling of sports based on a Swedish sample (Koivula, 1995)) (Koivula, 2001).
Principal component analysis performed on the second questionnaire resulted in twelve factor-based scales: 1) Aesthetics and Femininity; 2) Danger/Risk and Violence; 3) Team Spirit; 4) Fair Play and Morals; 5) Speed; 6) Advanced Skills and Precision; 7) Commercialism; 8) Strength and Endurance; 9) Equipment; 10) Masculinity; 11) Excitement and Challenge; and 12) Cognitive Efficiency. All sports labeled as feminine scored high on scale one, Aesthetics and Femininity. Attributes such as “aesthetical”, “beauty”, “graceful”, and “sexy” loaded on the same factor as “feminine” and “womanly”. In contrast, the sports labeled as masculine scored high in Danger/Risk and Violence, Team Spirit, Speed, Strength and Endurance, and Masculinity (Koivula, 2001).
This study reveals much about the attitudes that persist in society today regarding sport and gender. Early on, sport was created to serve men, evolving as a celebration of maleness, valuing strength, power, and competition. It...