Authors

Kelsey Gainor

Document Type

Dissertation

Abstract

Social media has brought with it a closing of the relational distance between players and fans; athletes have an important decision to make about the way they want to be viewed, not only as athletes, but also in the many other facets of their lives, such as being a parent, friend or role model. By applying the differing gender expectations for males versus females to an athletic context, this research study aims to gain a better understanding of how these gender expectations for male versus female professional athletes are exhibited through self-presentation on social media, specifically Instagram. The athletes’ own self-presentation via their Instagram posts were compared to traditional roles presented by the media in advertisements through a visual content analysis. Four of Erving Goffman’s gender norm categories were utilized in analyzing Instagram posts: feminine touch, ritualistic touch, licensed withdrawal and ritualization of subordination. Twelve athletes were analyzed in this study, six of them male and six of them female. Each athlete was evaluated on the basis of seven different criteria including the presence of feminine touch, ritualistic touch, licensed withdrawal, a head tilt, nonathletic clothes, a knee bend, and a smile. In using qualitative and quantitative methods, 300 photos were analyzed for presence of this criteria (25 photos per athlete). The study found that both males and females are under considerable pressure to adhere to society’s gender expectations which are constantly perpetuated by the media, namely in advertising settings. Despite their athletic achievements and elevated status, athletes are no more immune to gender expectations than the rest of society. Female athletes are found to adhere to gender expectations on Instagram more so when they are not presenting themselves as athletes. Male athletes also remain in the boundaries culture has set for them as acted out in Instagram settings. However, there is hope for a rebuttal to these standards in the near future and using social media outlets, such as Instagram to do so. Female athletes may have already begun this shift. The future of reshaping gender roles rests in the hands of those with social power and influence if society ever has a hope to change the rules of the game.

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