With the highly publicized success of women’s sports teams in the 1996 Olympics, social commentators proclaimed that women’s sports had finally arrived. A careful analysis of the country’s premier mainstream sports publication, Sports Illustrated, however, suggests that this social progress was more fiction than fact.
Despite women’s athletic success and physical skill, Sports Illustrated systematically used language used describe female athletes that adhered to traditional gender roles, as outlined by Sherry Ortner in her groundbreaking anthropological piece “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?” Ortner outlined a gender hierarchy tying women’s construction to nature (using domesticity and emotion) and men’s social construction to culture (using abstract thought and the destruction of nature by culture through buildings and other social signifiers). Although there is an acknowledgment of the increased participation of women in the mainstream sporting arena’s meta-discourse, an analysis of language and images shows that women are consistently marked as “others” through the use of stereotypically feminine language and imagery to depict them in a realm that is normalized by masculine language and imagery. Terminology in regards to physical appearance and relationships is reserved for women; images repeatedly show passive, social, emotional females as men are shown in active poses and more often individually.
Full Article (PDF):Laura-Cavender-Language-in-Sports.pdf