The construction of gender identity in elite sports: a mixed methods exploration

Lamont-Mills, Andrea (2001) The construction of gender identity in elite sports: a mixed methods exploration. [Thesis (PhD/Research)]

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[Abstract]: This dissertation explored how gender identity is constructed in elite sport. I argued that sport is a unique socio-cultural context where gender category membership, may be enacted both the same and differently than in other contexts. Historically, most gender stereotyping, gender trait, and gender identity research in sport (e.g., Andre & Holland, 1995; Csizma, Wittig, & Schurr, 1988; Harris & Griffin, 1997) has employed researcher-generated constructions of masculinity and femininity, or non-sporting constructions of masculinity and femininity. By failing to define and construct gender from the participants' perspective, researchers have imposed their own preconceived cultural standards of gender upon participants (Doyle & Paludi, 1995). To generalise these preconceptions to other groups is to do so without consideration of cultural diversity and possible difference (Doyle & Paludi). Therefore, previous sport gender studies that have used these methodologies are tenuous as contemporary and future models upon which to base gender work.
Further, gender identity research that has utilised a discursive psychological theoretical and methodological framework has produced findings that question the empirical validity of current models of gender in sport and exercise psychology (see Wetherell & Edley, 1999). These discursive results suggest that gender is a multifaceted, multidimensional, multifactorial, negotiated, dynamic, and variable concept (Wetherell & Edley, 1999). Therefore, two research questions were addressed by this dissertation: 1) How do participants perceive themselves in terms of gender-related characteristics?; and 2) How do elite sportswomen and sportsmen enact and negotiate membership of idiosyncratic, gender, and gender identity in sport categories?
In order to address these research questions two self-report measures were utilised, the 24-item Personal Attributes Questionnaire (PAQ) (Spence & Helmreich, 1978) and a semi-structured interview concerning identity prescription. Thirty-eight elite level coaches (19 women, 19 men) and 37 elite level athletes (19 women, 18 men) voluntarily participated in this study. The interview data were analysed using two divergent theoretical and analytical frameworks, an a-priori content analysis (imposition of the PAQ items on interview responses) and a discursive psychological framework.
The results of the PAQ analysis suggest that sportswomen and sportsmen perceive themselves differently in relation to gender-related characteristics. Differences which did not reach statistical significance, were found between male and female responses on the PAQ Masculine (M), Feminine (F), and Masculine-Feminine (M-F) sub-scales. Statistically significant differences were found with reference to PAQ classification, with women more likely to be classified as Androgynous and men as Masculine. There were no statistically significant occupational differences on either PAQ sub-scale responding or PAQ classification. The above results call into question the underlying assumptions and theoretical foundations of the PAQ.
The a-priori content analysis also revealed a number of contradictory findings with reference to the assumptions and foundations of the PAQ scale. For example, women were more likely to utilise the PAQ M item Self-confident to describe themselves as gendered individuals than men. Whereas men were more likely to use the PAQ F item Gentle than women in the same identity category. Further, Feminine classified people were more likely to use the PAQ M-F item Very Dominant when describing themselves as women/men in elite sport. Therefore, the PAQ and a priori results cast doubt on the empirical utility of two factor models of gender to understand gender as a complex and dynamic construct. The results suggest that elite sport might be a context where gender is distinctively enacted and constituted.
In order to determine how gender identity is enacted and negotiated in competitive sport, the interview data were analysed using a discursive psychological approach. Discursive psychology focuses upon how representations are constructed within, and constitutive of, the social practices that are found in language. In this respect, gender is conceptualised as being negotiated within the local interactive context where culture, history, and social contexts are reflected within discursive practices. In Research Question Two, interest centred on the interpretative repertoires and reflexive positions that participants used to prescribe themselves as idiosyncratic, gendered, and gendered individuals in sport.
Interpretative repertoires are recurrent, culturally familiar global discursive patterns that individuals use to make sense of themselves in conversations (Wetherell, 1998; Wetherell & Potter, 1988). Reflexive positions are offered as an alternative discursive notion to the social psychological concept of role (Davies & Harré, 1990). A person is not considered as an individual free agent, but rather as the subject of the interaction, where the individual takes up or is placed in various subject positions depending upon the discourse and the particular social context in which the individual interacts. Thus we make sense of ourselves, or position ourselves, within social interactions through the cultural and personal resources (interpretative repertoires) that are made available to us in our discourse.
Overall, the results of the discursive analysis suggest that participants enacted something gender scholars would call Masculinity, Femininity, and Androgyny when prescribing themselves across the three identity categories. That is, participants used gendered, culturally familiar discursive patterns (interpretative repertoires) to make sense of themselves across identity categories. However, participants were also able to draw upon non gender-related discourses during this process. Thus, identity work was characterised by variability, inconsistency, and contradiction. Different interpretative repertoires and reflexive positions were used by participants both within and across identity categories.
Therefore, the use of gender-related interpretative repertoires differed according to the identity that was being scripted up. Thus participants were able to be Masculine, Androgynous, and Feminine, and position themselves differently depending upon the identity that was being prescribed and the local interaction context. That is, participants used interpretative repertoires to talk one way, but walk another (e.g., Androgynous interpretative repertoire, Hegemonic Masculine reflexive position) that was specific to the social, historical, and cultural context, and the local interactional context. The above results call into question Spence and Helmreich’s (1978) postulation that there is one Masculine and one Feminine identity. Indeed the results are suggestive of many Masculinities and many Femininities.
Participants also deployed specific discursive strategies that incorporated the action and epistemological orientation of their talk when constituting their identities. That is, they worked to increase the facticity of their talk and worked to align themselves with certain positions (e.g., Hegemonic Masculine man) and not others (Feminine man) through their discourse. Thus gendered talk carried with it gendered ideological practices that participants used to reproduce, reinforce, and challenge the current gender order.
The above results, combined with the disparity between the PAQ results and the a-priori content analysis, suggest that earlier and current models of gender that conceptualise gender as a multifaceted, multidimensional, bi-directional but static concept are probably not representative of how people do gender in everyday talk. The results support extant theory that gender identities might exist rather than a single gender identity. Overall, the results of this dissertation -suggest that elite sportswomen and sportsmen enact and negotiate membership of identity categories that is specific to the local interactional context, as well as the cultural, social (i.e., sport), and historical context. I infer, therefore, that current static gender models in sport and exercise psychology may not fully capture the complexity of gender in everyday talk and that alternative ways of understanding gender in sport are needed.

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Item Type: Thesis (PhD/Research)
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Sciences - Department of Psychology (Up to 30 Jun 2013)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Sciences - Department of Psychology (Up to 30 Jun 2013)
Supervisors: Grace Pretty
Date Deposited: 11 Oct 2007 01:21
Last Modified: 26 Jul 2020 22:47
Uncontrolled Keywords: gender identity; elite sports; sport; methods
Fields of Research (2008): 17 Psychology and Cognitive Sciences > 1701 Psychology > 170114 Sport and Exercise Psychology

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