College Students' Attitudes Toward the Sexualization of Professional Women Athletes

The present research examines whether tawdry sexualizations of women basketball players influence perceptions about the athletes' gender role orientation and their athletic ability. Two experiments examined how tawdry media sexualizations of high and low status women athletes influence the perceived gender-role orientation of athletes. In addition, we examined whether gender stereotyping, perceptions of athlete sexuality, and general attitudes toward the athlete were influenced by tawdry depictions. In each study, college students read one of four bogus newspaper articles that described a professional woman basketball player and they completed several measures. The articles depicted the athlete in a tawdry sexualized manner or a non-sexualized manner. In addition, athlete status was manipulated by either describing the athlete as excelling in her athletic career or struggling in it. In both studies we found that the tawdrily sexualized athlete was more likely to be perceived as having a feminine gender-role orientation, feminine-stereotypic characteristics, and to be heterosexual than was the non-sexualized athlete. In addition, when the athlete was depicted in tawdry sexualized manner, participants disapproved more of the high status athlete, and believed she had less athletic ability than the low status athlete. These findings are examined in relation to tawdry depictions of women athletes.






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Publication: Journal of Sport Behavior
Author: Harrison, Lisa A
Date published: December 1, 2010

Historically, girls and women in our culture have been underrepresented in sports (Fink & Kensicki, 2002; Tuggle, Huffman, & Rosengard, 2002) and actively discouraged from participating in athletic games that are stereotypically perceived as "unladylike". Although, girls and boys are equally likely to be interested in sports, this changes during adolescence. Whereas boys learn that sports are a way that they can display their masculinity, young girls often learned that participation in athletics is associated with being a tomboy or a lesbian (Cahn, 2003; Nelson, 1994). Thus, adolescent girls are much more likely than adolescent boys to stop playing sports in an organized and competitive manner, in part due to their anxiety that participation in sports may lead others to perceive them negatively (Eccles, Barber, & Jozefowicz, 1999). This is problematic inasmuch research suggests that girls involvement in sports is positively related to greater success in school (White, 1997), higher self-esteem, and a more positive self-image (Miller & Levy, 1996).

Fortunately, the passage of Title IX of the Educational Amendment of 1972, which prohibits discrimination against women and girls in federally funded educational programs such as athletic programs, has had a positive effect on girls' participation in sports (Parsons & Betz, 2001). For example, since the passage of Title IX there was been an 847% increase in girls' participation in high school varsity sports (National Coalition for Girls and Women in Education, 2002). In addition, there are increasing opportunities for women in the United States to have professional careers in previously male-dominated sports, such as basketball. The Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) was established in 1 997, which has grown to include thirteen basketball teams. Although still in its infancy, and recently forced to shut down two franchises, the WNBA shows overall signs of healthy growth. For example, in 2008 a new franchise opened in Atlanta and there was an increase in game attendance for most of the league's teams. In addition, there was a 19% increase in TV ratings and viewership, which suggests that the league is becoming more sustainable as time passes (Orender, 2009; Women's National Basketball Association, 2008).

Although great strides have been taken to legitimize girl's and women's participation in sports, Knight and Giuliano (2003) suggest that there is still an "image problem" in women's sports in which being athletic is perceived as an violation of traditional gender role norms and an indication of homosexuality. One way to counter this "image problem" is to emphasize women athletes' feminine characteristics, their sexuality, and to highlight their heterosexuality. Portraying women athletes in such a way subtly supports the notion that women athletes do not deviate from traditional feminine gender roles in regard to their looks, personality, and sexuality. Supposedly, this should lead to greater social approval of and support for women's sports. However, this notion is questionable, because stereotyping research strongly indicates that the activation of gender stereotypes often have a generally negative impact on social judgments (Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswick, Levinson, & Sanford, 1950; Allport, 1954; Dollard, Doob, Miller, Mower, & Sears, 1939; Harrison & Lynch, 2005; Oakes, Haslam, & Turner, 1994; Sherif, 1967). Likewise, media portrayals of women that focus upon their beauty, sexuality, and femininity help to strengthen and maintain gender stereotypes and negatively impact the socialization of young girls and women in our culture (Bryant & Zillman, 2002; Van Evra,2004).

Recent research specifically examined how representations of athletes that highlight athletes' heterosexuality influence judgments of them (Knight & Giuliano, 2003). College students were presented with a hypothetical newspaper article about an Olympic athlete. The newspaper articles manipulated athletes' gender and sexual orientation (clearly heterosexual or with an ambiguous sexuality). The research found that women athletes who were clearly heterosexual were more likely to be perceived as similar to the ideal woman, to be physically attractive, and to be more respectable than were women athletes with an ambiguous sexual orientation. Thus, this study suggests that heterosexual portrayals of women athletes may positively influence some judgments.

However, does the sexualization of women athletes also positively influence judgments about athletic ability? Knight and Giuliano (2002) also examined this notion by presenting college students with a bogus newspaper article about an athlete, that either focused upon the athlete's physical attractiveness or athleticism. The research found that a women athlete who was described in terms of her physical attractiveness were perceived as less talented, less aggressive, and less heroic than a women athlete who was described in terms of her athleticism. Furthermore, participants liked the article that focused on an athlete's athleticism more than they liked the article that focused upon physical attractiveness. This research suggests that women athletes who are represented in terms of their femininity rather than their athleticism are perceived negatively on some dimensions. Nonetheless, the practice of sexualizing women athletes continues to thrive within the mainstream media, especially in regard to professional women's sports.

As women's professional athletics become more mainstream and profitable there is an increasing amount of marketing of specific sports and its teams. Obviously, in order for any professional sport to succeed there needs to be a stable fan base to produce revenue. A common way of attracting fans is to use media exposure to display the sex appeal of the players. There is an abundance of evidence that suggests that the mainstream media consistently presents many women athletes in a manner that emphasizes their physical attractiveness, femininity and heterosexuality (Bishop, 2003; Hardin, Lynn, & Walsdorf, 2005; Salwen & Wood, 1 994). A casual inspection of mainstream literatures uncovers multiple examples of such depictions of women athletes. Case in point is the media's depiction of the 1999 United States women's soccer team, which won the World Cup. For example, Mia Hamm, a star player, was named as one of People Weekly 's 5 Most Beautiful people and was often described in other publications as a "glamour girl" (Saportio, 1 999). People Weekly also described Brandi Chastain, another star player, as a "blonde and buff . . . California girl" (Tresniowski, Baker, Scheff-Cahan, & Caruso, 1990. p. 54). During an interview with Brandi Chastain for the Richmond Times Dispatch the reporter stated that "seven husky guys working nearby immediately dropped their socket wrenches, screw drives and calipers, and begged her to given them a seminar on corner kicks" (Lipper, 2000, p. Cl). Sports Illustrated reported that "Well, the revolution is here, and it has bright-red toenails ... just look at the players! They've got ponytails! ... They've got (gulp) curves!" (p. 100) These types of depictions of athletes also extend to WNBA players. For example, Sue Bird, the star point guard of the Seattle Storm, posed for Dime magazine looking "all sexy and come-hithery in high heels and an Alien Iverson jersey" (Levesque.2003).

There is also empirical support for the notion mat women athletes at the college level are regularly presented in a manner that highlights their sexuality and femininity (Messner, Duncan, & Jensen, 1993; Shugart, 2003; Thefaerge, 1991). An example of such research is a content analysis of the 2000 men's and women's NCAA Final Four basketball tournament games that focused upon differences in broadcast commentary (Billings, Halone, & Denham, 2002). The research found that although male athletes were primarily discussed in terms of their physical athleticism, women athletes were not. During broadcasts of the women's tournament games the women athletes were primarily discussed in terms of their looks and appearance, personality characteristics, personal background, and whether they were having a good game. Likewise, a similar content analysis of the newspaper coverage of the 1996 Olympic Games found that women athletes were likely to be portrayed in terms of their marital status, attractiveness, and emotionality (Kinnick, 1998).

Present Research

Considering the above research, it is likely that portraying professional women athletes as feminine and sexual generates positive judgments about their general femininity. What is not clear is how whether tawdry depictions of women athletes influence judgments of femininity and heterosexuality and whether tawdry representations concurrently harm perceptions concerning athletic ability. In addition, there is no research that we are aware ofthat specifically examines whether athlete status interacts with tawdry depictions to influence judgments of women athletes. Some research suggests that people with high status are judged more harshly than are people with low status when they engage in undesirable behaviors (Kanekar, Dhir, Franco, & Sindhaker, 1993). Other research suggests that status does not influence judgments of people unfavorable behavior (Bray, et al., 1 978; Gouran & Andres, 1 984) or that it protects against negative judgments (Morill, Snyderman, & Dawson, 1997). Because much of the media coverage of athletes focuses upon premiere players rather than average players it would be useful to examine whether the tawdry sexualization of high and low status athletes differentially influences judgments of the athletes.

The present research extends the literature by examining the influence of tawdry sexualizations of women athletes on judgments about their femininity and athleticism, as well as general attitudes toward the athletes. We argue that tawdry sexualizations of women athletes are likely to lead to them being perceived as stereotypically feminine and but also as less athletic. In addition, we will determine whether athlete status influenced these perceptions. Specifically, in two experiments we examined whether tawdry sexualized depictions of athletes interact with athlete status to influence judgments concerning the athlete. In each experiment, participants read an article that described a female professional basketball player who was described as a high or low status athlete. In addition, the athlete was presented in a tawdry sexualized manner or a non-sexualized manner. In Experiment 1 , the athlete was verbally sexualized inasmuch as she engaged in sexually flirtatious conversation with a man. In Experiment 2, the athlete was visually sexualized inasmuch as she was described as having posed nude for a national magazine. In both studies, participants completed measures that assessed their perceptions about the athletes' femininity, gender-stereotypic characteristics, sexuality, as well as measures of their general attitudes toward the athlete. Two experiments were conducted in order to determine whether there are consistencies in how tawdry representations (verbal and visual) influence judgments of women athletes. Consistencies will give us greater confidence in the reliability and validity of our findings. Also, this allowed us to explore whether different forms of sexualized depictions would similarly influence low and high status athletes. Although we had no specific hypothesis for how athlete status would influence judgments of women athletes, we had four general predictions concerning the sexualized depictions of women athletes.

Hypothesis 1. We predicted that tawdry sexualizations of women athletes would influence the perceived gender role orientation of the athlete. Specifically, we anticipated that sexualized athletes would be perceived as higher in expressiveness than their non-sexualized counterparts.

Hypothesis 2. We predicted that in comparison to non-sexualized athletes, women athletes who are depicted in a tawdry manner would be more likely to be perceived as having feminine-stereotypic characteristics. Likewise, they would be less likely to be perceived as having masculine-stereotypic characteristics.

Hypothesis 3. We predicted that tawdry sexualizations of athletes would increase the likelihood they would be perceived as heterosexual.

Hypothesis 4. We predicted that toward tawdry sexualizations of athletes would lead to more negative general attitudes toward the athlete.

Experiment 1

Method

Participants

Participants were 85 students from a northern California university, who volunteered to participate in order to fulfill a research assignment for their undergraduate psychology courses. There were 85 participants (64 women, 21 men, M age = 20.80 years, SD = 4.29 years.) The samp Ie contained 44 European American, 6 African American, 19 Asian American, 12 Hispanic, 2 Arab American, 1 Jew, and 1 race unspecified participant. Participants were randomly assigned to the 2 (depiction of athlete: sexualized vs. non-sexualized) ? 2 (athlete status: high status athlete vs. low status athlete) between-participants design.

Materials

Bogus Newspaper Articles. Participants reviewed one of four bogus newspaper articles describing Sue Bird, a professional basketball player for the Women's National Basketball Association. Each newspaper included the same black-and-white headshot of Sue Bird. Athlete status was manipulated by describing the athlete as either excelling during her professional basketball career (high status) or as struggling in her career (low status). In addition, the article described the athlete's recent appearance as a guest on a local radio show in which she made a bet with the radio host concerning her performance on the basketball court. The bet concerned her assist-to-turnover ratio. In the tawdry sexualization condition the athlete agreed that if she lost the bet she would let the radio hose spank her on air while say "Harder, Daddy, harder," (Gillespie, 2003). In the non-sexualized condition the athlete agreed to donate the price of a WNBA season ticket to a local charity if she lost the bet. The bogus article describing the spanking depiction is based upon an actual incident involving Sue Bird in 2004.

Expressiveness and instrumentality. The 16-item Personal Attributes Questionnaire (Spence, Helmreich, & Stapp, 1974) was used to measure the perceived gender role orientation of the athlete. The PAQ contains 16 bipolar items that measure expressiveness, which is characteristic of the feminine gender role, and instrumentality, which is characteristic of the masculine gender role. Scores for the expressiveness items were combined to form an Expressiveness Index. The internal reliability for the Expressiveness Index was acceptable (Cronbach's alpha = .70). Likewise, scores for the instrumentality items were combined to form an Instrumentality Index, and the internal reliability was acceptable (Cronbach's alpha = .70). Higher scores on each index indicate higher expressiveness and instrumentality.

Gender-stereotypic characteristics. A measure of perceived gender-stereotypic dimensions (Diekman & Eagly, 2000) was used to assess whether athletes were stereotyped in terms of feminine or masculine characteristics. On a 7-point scale Likert-type scale, participants indicated the likelihood that the athlete possessed each of 48 characteristics. Items were combined to obtain eight gender-stereotypic dimensions. These dimensions represent the positive personality, negative personality, cognitive, and physical components of the male and female stereotypes. The internal reliabilities for the Positive Feminine Personality Dimension (α = .80), the Negative Feminine Personality Dimension (α = .84), the Feminine Physical Dimension (α = .72), and the Feminine Cognitive Dimension (α = .73) were acceptable. In addition, the internal reliabilities for the Negative Masculine Personality Dimension (α = .70), the Masculine Physical Dimension (α = .82), and the Masculine Cognitive Dimension (α = .71) were acceptable. However, the internal reliability for the Positive Masculine Personality Dimension (α = .54) was unacceptable and was not used in the analyses. Higher scores on each index indicate greater agreement that the athlete matches the gender stereotype.

Attitude Questionnaire. Participants also completed seventeen Likert-type items concerning their attitudes toward the athlete described in the newspaper article. One of these items measured whether participants perceived the athlete to be homosexual. In addition, sixteen of the items were combined to form three attitudinal indices. The Approval Index measured whether participants liked and admired the athlete. The Athletic Ability Index measured participants' judgments concerning the athlete's basketball ability. The Impact on Attendance Index measured participants' judgments concerning whether the athlete would favorably impact attendance at WNBA basketball games. Participants indicated their response to all items on a seven point rating scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). The internal reliabilities for each of the indices were acceptable (Cronbach's alpha ? .75). Higher scores on each index indicate more of the attribute. The items are displayed in Appendix A.

Results

Perceived Gender Role Orientation of Women Athletes

Hypothesis 1 predicted that the tawdry sexualization of women athletes would influence their perceived gender role orientation. However, we had no clear hypotheses for athlete status. We examined these factors by conducing factorial analyses on the Expressiveness and Instrumentality indices.

Expressiveness. We found the expected main effect for type of depiction on the Expressiveness Index, F(1, 81) = 5.67, p = .02, MSE = .46, η^sup 2^ = .07. Participants perceived the sexualized athlete (M = 5.48) as having greater expressiveness than the non-sexualized athlete (M = 5.12).There was also main effect for athlete status on the Expressiveness Index, F (1, 81) = 6.34, p = .0 1 , MSE = .46, η^sup 2^ = .07. Participants perceived the high status athlete (M= 5 .49) as having greater expressiveness than the low status athlete (M= 5.11).

Instrumentality. We found a main effect for athlete status on the Instrumentality Index, F(1 , 81) = 5.27, p = .02, MSE = .21, η^sup 2^ = .06. Participants perceived the high status athlete (M= 4.42) as having greater instrumentality than the low status athlete (M = 4. 1 8).

Perceived Gender-Stereotypic Characteristics of Women Athletes

Hypothesis 2 predicted that the tawdry sexualization of women athletes would increase perceptions of the athlete as having feminine-stereotypic characteristics and decrease perceptions of them as having masculine-stereotypic characteristics. We examined this by analyzing the gender-stereotypic dimensions.

Feminine-Stereotypic Dimensions. As predicted, participants were more likely to perceive the sexualized athlete in terms of feminine stereotypes than they did the non-sexualized athlete. The data revealed that the sexualized athlete was more likely than the non-sexualized athlete to be stereotyped as having positive feminine personality characteristics, F (1, 81) = 26.95,p < .00 1 , MSE = .68, η^sup 2^ = .25; negative feminine personality characteristics, F ( 1 , 8 1 ) = I7.93,p < .001, MSE= .66, η^sup 2^= .18; feminine cognitive characteristics, F(1, 81) = 19.29, p < .001, MSE= .42, η^sup 2^ = .19; and feminine physical characteristics, F(1, 81) = 19.97, p < .001, MSE= .48, η^sup 2^ = .20. Athlete status did not significantly influence these variables, ps > .09. See Table 1 for the means of the feminine-stereotypic characteristics for the sexualized and non-sexualized athletes.

Masculine-stereotypic dimensions. We conducted factorial ANOVAs conducted on three of the masculine-stereoytypic dimensions (negative personality, cognitive, physical). Type of depiction did not significantly influence the masculine-stereotypic dimensions; ps > .05 (see Table 1). The only significant finding was a main effect for athlete status on the negative masculine personality dimension, F(1, 81) = 5.75, p = .01, MSE = 2.80, η^sup 2^ = .07. Participants thought the high status athlete (M= 4.86) had fewer negative masculine personality characteristics than did the low status athlete (M= 4.43).

Athletes' Sexuality

Hypothesis 3 predicted that the tawdry sexualization of athletes would increase the likelihood that they would be perceived to be heterosexual. In order to examine this we conducted a factorial ANO VA on the item measuring the perceived likelihood that the athlete was homosexual. As expected we found a main effect for type of depiction, F (1, 81) = 15.68, p = .003 , MSE = 1 .59, η^sup 2^ = . 1 6. Participants thought it was less likely that the sexualized athlete (M= 4.40) was homosexual than the non-sexualized athlete (M= 5.51).

Attitudes Toward Women Athletes

Hypothesis 4 predicted that attitudes toward tawdrily sexualized athletes would be more negative than attitudes toward non-sexualized athletes. We had no specific predictions regarding the influence of athlete status. We examined attitudes toward the athlete by conducting factorial ANOVAs on the three indices of the attitude questionnaire (Approval Index, Athletic Ability Index, and the Impact on Attendance Index).

Approval Index. As expected, there was a main effect for type of depiction on the Approval Index, F(1, 81) =24.98, p < .001, MSE= .95, η^sup 2^= .24. Participants approved less of the sexualized athlete (M= 4.12) than they approved of the non-sexualized athlete (M= 5.20). However, this effect is qualified by an interaction of type of depiction and athlete status, F(1, 81) = 12.11, p = . 001, MSE=. 95, η^sup 2^ = . 13. There was less approval ofthe high status athlete who was depicted in a sexualized manner than her low status counterpart, F(1 , 84) = 38.35, p < .001, MSE = .95. However, participants approved more ofthe high status athlete than they approved ofthe low status athlete when she was not depicted in a sexualized manner, F (1, 84) = 6.02, p = .01, MSE= 1.37. See Figure 1.

Athletic Ability Index. As expected, there was a main effect for type of depiction on the Athletic Ability Index, F (1, 84) = 9. 12, p = .003, MSE = .50, η^sup 2^ = .10. Participants perceived that the sexualized athlete (M= 5.20) had less athletic ability than the non-sexualized athlete (M= 5.68). In addition, there was a main effect for athlete status, F (1, 81)= 34.97, p < .001, MSE = .50, η^sup 2^ = .30. Participants perceived the high status athlete (M= 5.91) as having greater athletic ability than the low status athlete (M= 4.97).

Impact on Attendance Index. As expected, there was also a main effect for type of depiction on the Impact on Attendance Index, F(1, 84) = 14.17, p < .001, MSE= .53, η^sup 2^ = .15. Participants believed that the sexualized athlete (M = 3.91) would be less likely to positively influence fan attendance to WNBA basketball games than would the non-sexualized athlete (M= 4.52). However, this effect is qualified by an interaction of type of depiction and athlete status, F(1, 84) = 5. 10, p = .02, MSE = .53, η^sup 2^ = .06. Participants believed that the high status athlete (M= 3.78) would be less likely to positively influence fan attendance when she was sexualized (M= 3.78) rather than when she was not sexualized (M= 4.76). Type of depiction did not significantly influence the low status athlete's perceived impact on attendance, F = .96, p = .33, MSE = .67. See Figure 2.

Discussion

Overall, Experiment 1 supports the notion that tawdry sexualizations of women athletes lead to their being perceived as feminine, gender-stereotypic, and heterosexual. However, it also suggests that such depictions concurrently negatively influence general attitudes toward women athletes. In order to add experimental realism to this research the methodology we used in Experiment 1 was based upon a real event in which a WNBA basketball player made a sexually provocative bet during a radio interview. We continued this practice in Experiment 2, which is a conceptual replication of Experiment 1 . Similar to Experiment 1 , the methodology in Experiment 2 was based upon a real event in which a WNBA basketball player posed nude for a national magazine. If Experiments 1 and 2 yield consistent findings they will provide further evidence for the effects of tawdry sexualizations on women athletes.

Experiment 2

Method

Participants

Participants were 95 students from a northern California university, who volunteered to participate in order to fulfill a research assignment for their undergraduate psychology courses.

Nine participants were eliminated because they failed to complete all of the dependent variable measures. Thus, there were 86 participants (70 women, 1 6 men, Mage = 20.954 years, SD = 2.96 years.) The sample contained 46 European American, 9 African American, 1 1 Asian American, 16 Hispanic, 1 Arab American, and 3 race unspecified participants. Participants were randomly assigned to the 2 (depiction of athlete: sexualized vs. non-sexualized) x 2 (athlete status: high status athlete vs. low status athlete) between-participants design.

Materials

Bogus Newspaper Articles. Participants reviewed one of four bogus newspaper articles describing Lauren Jackson, a professional basketball player for the Women's National Basketball Association. Each newspaper included the same black-and-white depiction of Lauren Jackson in her team uniform. The athlete was either described as a high status athlete who had excelled during her professional career or as a low status athlete who has struggled to perform at a high level. In addition, the article indicated that the athlete had recently posed for a national magazine. The athlete was either described as having posed nude or as having posed in her uniform for a national sports magazine. In 2004 Lauren Jackson's 2004 did pose nude for an Australian sports magazine (Evans, 2004).

Dependent Measures. The same measures used in Experiment 1 were also used in Experiment 2 to measure perceived Expressiveness and Instrumentality of the athlete, the eight gender-stereotypic dimensions, and Attitudes toward the Athlete. The internal reliability for the Instrumentality Index was unacceptable, (Cronbach's alpha = .61) and was not used in the analyses. The reliabilities of the other indices were acceptable, (Cronbach's alphas ≤. 71).

Results

As in Study 1, factorial ANOVAs were conducted on all of the dependent variable measures.

Perceived Gender Role Orientation of Women Athletes

Expressiveness. As predicted in Hypothesis 1, participants perceived the sexualized athlete (Af= 4.90) as higher in expressiveness than the non-sexualized athlete (M= 4.33), F ( 1 , 82) = 1 1 . 15, /7 = .001 , MSE= .59, η^sup 2^ = . 12. Participants also perceived the high status athlete (M = 4.82) as having greater expressiveness than the low status athlete (M = 4.4 1 ), F ( 1 , 82) = 5 .94, p=. 01,MSE=. 59,η^sup 2^ = .07.

Perceived Gender-Stereotypic Characteristics of Women Athletes

Feminine-Stereotypic Dimensions. As predicted in Hypothesis 2, participants were more likely to perceive the tawdrily sexualized athlete in terms of feminine stereotypes than they did the non-sexualized athlete. The data revealed that the sexualized athlete was more likely than the non-sexualized athlete to be stereotyped as having positive feminine personality characteristics, F(I1 82) = 8.93,; p = .004, MSE= .44, η^sup 2^ = .10; negative feminine personality characteristics, F(1, 82) = 5.82, p = .01,MSE = .92, η^sup 2^ = .07; feminine cognitive characteristics, F(1, 82) = 18.52, p <. 001, AiSE=. 52, ?2=. 18, and feminine physical characteristics;F(l,82)=4.73,p= .03, MSE = 1 . 1 0, η^sup 2^ = .06. Athlete status did not significantly influence these variables, ps>.09. See Table 1 for the means of the feminine-stereotypic characteristics for the sexualized and non-sexualized athletes.

Masculine-Stereotypic Dimensions. Type of depiction did not significantly influence masculine-stereotypic characteristics; pj > .05 (see Table 1). However, participants rated the high status athlete (M= 6.05) as more likely to have positive masculine personality characteristics than the low status athlete (Af= 5.54), F(1, 82) = 1 1.48,^ = .001, MSE= .47, η^sup 2^ = .12.

There was also an interaction of type of depiction and athlete status on the negative masculine personality dimension, F ( 1 , 82) = 6.67, p = .0 1 , AfSE = .88, η^sup 2^ = .07. When the athlete was tawdrily sexualized, participants perceived the higher status athlete (Af= 3.25) as having fewer negative masculine personality characteristics than the lower status athlete (M= 3 .86), F (1, 84) = 4.33, p = .04, AfSE = .93. However, when the athlete was not sexualized there were no significant differences between perceptions of the higher status athlete (Af= 3.82) and the lower status athlete (Af = 3.35) on this measure, F (1 , 84) = 2.70, ? = . 10, AiSE = .93.

We also found an interaction of type of depiction and athlete status on the masculine physical dimension, F(1, 82) = 1 1.36,p = .001, AiSE= .63, η^sup 2^ = . 12. When the athlete was not sexualized, participants were more likely to perceive the higher status athlete (Af = 5.42) as having more masculine physical characteristics than her lower status counterpart (Af= 4.6 1 ), F (1, 84) = 9.58, ? = .003, AfSE = .71. However, when the athlete was sexualized there were no significant differences in judgments of the higher status athlete (Af= 5.28) and the lower status athlete (Af = 4.6 1 ) on this measure, F ( 1 , 84) = 2.27, p = . 1 3, AfSE = .70.

Athletes ' Sexuality

As predicted in Hypothesis 3, we found that the athlete who had been sexualized in a tawdry manner (M= 4.86) was less likely to be perceived as homosexual than the non-sexualized athlete (Af =5.57), F(1, 82)= 6.75,p=. 01, MSE= 1.55, η^sup 2^= .76. We also found that the low status athlete (M = 4.92) was less likely to be perceived as homosexual than the high status athlete (M= 5.50), F(1, 82) =4.46, p= .03, MSE= 1.55, η^sup 2^ = .05.

Attitudes Toward Women Athletes

Hypothesis 4 was supported inasmuch as tawdry sexualizations of women athletes led to more negative general attitudes.

Approval Index. Participants approved less of the sexualized athlete (M= 4.86) than they approved of the non-sexualized athlete (M= 5.57), F( 1 , 82) = 6.75,/? = .0 1 , MSE = 1 .55, η^sup 2^ = .08. In addition, participants approved less of the low status athlete (M= 4.92) than they approved of the high status athlete (M= 5.50), F(1, 82) = 4.46, ? = .03, MSE= 1.55, η^sup 2^= .05.

Athletic Ability Index. Participants perceived that the sexualized athlete (M= 5. 14) had less athletic ability than the non-sexualized athlete (M= 5.92), F(1, 82) = 9.48, ? = .003, MSE= 1 .33, η^sup 2^ = . 1 0. Also, participants perceived that the high status athlete (M = 6.06) had greater athletic ability than the low status athlete(M= 5.00), F(1, 82)= 17.22, p <. 001, MSE= 1.33, η^sup 2^ = .17.

Impact on Attendance Index. Participants believed that the sexualized athlete (M= 3.78) would be less likely to have a positive impact on fan attendance to WNBA basketball games would thenon-sexualizedathlete(M=4.62),F(I, 82)= 14.40,p<.001, MSE= 1.01, η^sup 2^=. 15. However, this effect was qualified by an interaction of type of depiction and athlete status, F ( 1 , 82) = 1 0.09, ? = .002, MSE = 1 .01 , η^sup 2^ = . 1 1 . When the athlete was depicted in a sexualized manner, participants believed the high status athlete would have a less positive impact on attendance than would the Io w status athlete, F(1, 84) = 6.13,p = .01, MSE = 1.32. However, when the athlete was not sexualized it was believed that the high status athlete would have a more positive impact on attendance than would the low status athlete, F(1, 84) = 5 .80, p = .0 1 , MSE= 1.32. See Figure 3.

General Discussion

Knight and Giuliano (2003) argue that women athletes have an "image problem" inasmuch as they are more likely to be seen as gender non-normative and homosexual than are non-athletic women. One way to solve the "image problem" is to systematically portray women athletes as feminine and to highlight their sexuality. The present research examined this notion by assessing how tawdry portrayals of high status professional basketball players influence judgments concerning their gender role, gender-stereotypic characteristics, and sexuality. In addition, we examined how tawdry representations influence general attitudes toward women basketball players.

The findings of two studies suggest three major points. First, athletes depicted in a tawdry fashion are more likely to be perceived in terms of stereotypical femininity than are non-sexualized athletes. Second, tawdrily sexualized athletes are more likely to be perceived to be heterosexual than are non-sexual athletes. Together, these first two findings indicate that the tawdry sexualization of women athletes is likely to dispel any "image" problem that might occur as a result of them engaging in a traditionally masculine activity. Taken alone, these findings might also suggest that tawdry depictions of women athletes are useful in creating favorable attitudes toward women athletes. If so, these favorable attitudes could lead to the increased participation of young girls and women in athletics as well as greater social approval and financial support for women's sports. However, our third major set of findings calls this notion into question.

We found that tawdry sexualizations of women basketball players caused greater disapproval of them and a general disparagement of their athlete ability. Furthermore, we found that people are less likely to believe they would pay to watch these athletes play sports. Taken together our three major findings indicate that tawdry sexualizations increase the likelihood women athletes will be perceived as gender normative, decrease the likelihood that they will be respected as athletes. It is possible that such negative judgments occur because feminine athletes violate traditional expectations that athletes have masculine characteristics, such as strength and determination. Therefore, if women athletes are perceived as being very feminine, it may be difficult to also perceive them as having the traditional masculine characteristics that are associated with successful athleticism (e.g., strength and competition). It is also possible that tawdry depictions of women athletes violate beliefs that athletes should be judged on the basis of their athletic abilities rather than their beauty or sexuality. Perhaps an emphasis on woman athletes' physical appearance is interpreted as a manipulative attempt to distract fans from lackluster athletic abilities. This would explain any negative judgments about athletic ability.

Also of concern is the possibility that repeated tawdry depictions of women athletes' will have a harmful effect on how young girls feel about their bodies. Currently, our society bombards girls and women with images of thin, beautiful women who are portrayed as the standard of acceptable femininity (Clay, Vignoles, & Dittmar, 2005; Durkin, Paxton, & Wertheim, 2005; Park, 2005). Such portrayals of women perpetuate harmful genders stereotypes and have a substantial negative impact on how girls and young women feel about themselves and their bodies (Bryant & Zillman, 2002; Harrison & Lynch, 2005; Oakes, Haslam, & Turner, 1 994; Van Evra, 2004). Tawdry portrayals of women athletes can only contribute to this practice and may subtly give young girls the idea that only pretty and sexy girls can be successful athletes. However, if an emphasis is instead placed upon women athletes' strength, quickness, and agility, women athletes might be positive role models that could buffer against the damaging and stereotypical portrayals of women often presented by the media. A recent longitudinal analysis of intercollegiate media guides found that there was been an increase in the representation of women as competitive athletes. This suggests that perhaps the point of emphasis in media representations of women athletes is changing, at least at the college level (Kane, 2005).

The findings of this research also have implications for the success of professional women's sports. To date the Women's National Basketball Association is the only professional women's sport league in the United States that has had any measure of long-term financial success in the marketplace. Part of the league's success can be linked to its emphasis upon providing role models that will inspire young girls to actively participate in sports and other growth opportunities. Thus, in a sense it has prospered because it has marketed itself as a mechanism for the empowerment of girls and women. However, if athletes that are presented as role models for young girls are sexualized in a tawdry manner, then negative gender stereotypes that harmfully influence the self-image of young girls and women will be perpetuated. Furthermore, if parents generally disapprove of role models that are presented as mere sex objects, then repeated sexualized depictions of women athletes may discourage some parents from attending games with their children or identifying women's sports as family activities that are suitable for children of all ages. Subsequently, young girls may be subtly discouraged from participating in athletic activities that focus more on athletes' sexuality rather than their strength and skill. This is problematic inasmuch as research suggests that participation in athletics is related to a host of positive outcomes for young girls and women (Miller & Levy, 1996; White, 1997).

As discussed above, the two studies in this research produced consistent evidence that the tawdry sexualization of women athletes influences judgments about the athletes, often in a negative manner. However, our findings regarding athlete status are somewhat less clear. Overall, we found some indication that the effects of sexualizing women athletes may be differentially influenced by an athlete's status within her sport. Specifically, we found that when high status women athletes are depicted in a sexualized manner, they are disapproved of more and there is less confidence in their athletic ability. In addition, there is some evidence that they are less likely to have a positive impact on fan attendance to WNBA basketball games than their lower status counterparts. Given the media attention that is given to premiere athletes, future research could examine this factor more thoroughly.

Future research could also examine whether women and men differentially respond to tawdry depictions of women athletes. Because the present research consists primarily of women college students, we were unable to determine this. It is conceivable that men respond differently than women to the sexualization of women athletes. Likewise, tawdry depictions may lead men to have more positive judgments of women athletes and/or increase their likelihood of supporting women's sports. Thus, in terms of trying to woo male fans, such techniques may be useful with that population. However, research should investigate this and determine how this compares to the backlash that we found among a mostly female sample. At best, tawdry depictions could lead to a zero-sum outcome if they increase the number of male fans, but decrease the number of female fans. Furthermore, if we consider the potential harm of perpetuating negative stereotypes about women, such depictions could clearly do much more harm than they good. Likewise, it would be useful to determine whether the findings would generalize to male athletes who are depicted in a tawdry sexual fashion. It may be that women athletes are penalized more than male athletes when their sexuality is highlighted in a manner which may be considered inappropriate to many people.

Future research might also explore other women's sports to determine whether tawdry depictions similarly influence judgments of soccer players, tennis players, golfers, gymnasts, etc. It is possible that some sports, especially stereotypical feminine sports, will lead to different outcomes. For this research, we choose basketball for several reasons. First, there is some evidence to suggest that it is currently perceived as a gender-neutral sport, rather than a stereotypical masculine or feminine sport (Koivula, 2001). Thus, we hoped this would lessen any association between the sport and gender stereotypes. Second, we choose basketball because it is currently the most successful women's sport in the United States, and the attractiveness and sexuality of many WNBA players is often emphasized in the media. Thus, this research may serve as a foundation of future research that explores tawdry depictions of women athletes in other sports. However, because we only examined judgments of White athletes who were sexualized, future researchers should explore whether racial stereotypes also play a part in judgments about sexualized non- White athletes. In addition, it would be interesting to replicate this study with current fans of women's sports to determine whether they are similarly influenced by sexualized depictions of women athletes.

In closing, we argue that the present research gives strong support for the notion that tawdry depictions of women athletes that focus on their femininity and sexuality do alleviate any "image problem" women athletes may have concerning their gender role and sexuality. However, these tawdry depictions are also linked with decreased liking and respect for women athletes. Therefore, the tawdry sexualization of women athletes may ultimately result in very patronizing attitudes toward women athletes who are perceived as pretty, but not warriors of

their sports. Likewise, it may socialize young girls and women to believe that to be athletic means to be pretty and feminine rather than strong and competitive. In addition, this research calls into question the utility of marketing strategies that focus upon athletes' sexuality. Presenting women athletes as sexual objects may be a bigger hindrance than it is a help to the promotion of a healthy fan base for women's sports. As such, it could threaten the longterm viability of professional women's sports. However, future research should investigate whether emphasizing women athletes as feminine, but not tawdry, lead people to positive judgments concerning their femininity, without the coinciding disapproval of their athletic ability.

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Author affiliation:

Lisa A Harrison and Ashley M. Secarea

California State University, Sacramento

Author affiliation:

Address Correspondence to: Lisa A. Harrison, Department of Psychology, California State University, Sacramento, CA95819- 6007; lharriso@csus.edu

Appendix A

Attitude Questionnaire

Favorability Index

1. 1 admire this athlete.

2. I think this athlete is likable.

3. Overall, I have an unfavorable impression of this athlete.*

4. This athlete's behavior was unacceptable.*

Athletic Ability Index

5. 1 have no respect for this athlete's athletic ability.*

6. This athlete is a very talented basketball player.

7. This athlete is not a very good basketball player.*

8. One day this athlete will become one of the best players in the Women's National Basketball Association.

9. This athlete is probably very committed to playing basketball professionally.

10. This athlete probably works very hard to become a better basketball player.

Impact on Attendance Index

11. I would probably go see this athlete play basketball if I had free tickets to a game.

12. I would probably go see this athlete play basketball if I had to pay for tickets to a game.

13. This athlete's behavior will have a negative impact on attendance at professional women's basketball games.*

14. I would encourage my children to go see this athlete play basketball.

15. I would encourage my children to go see professional women's basketball.

16. Many fans probably watch women's professional basketball because of this athlete.

NOTE: * Items were reversed coded.

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