Media represent a powerful institution in society reflecting dominant values in society and take part in socialization to gender roles for men and women. The gender discourses in society as well as in mass media are interrelated to a complex system of many parts in people’s every day lives (the family, the school, the peer group, boyfriends etc.). The study’s main focus is on how discourses in society and Sport Media offers different gender positions that young female football players use as tools when they as active subjects make meaning of their identities in a gender discourse of sport.
In Sweden football is a well-represented sports in media as well as among a Swedish population of nearly 9 millions. The Swedish Football Association is the largest among the sports federations with more than 3.200 associated clubs consisting of more than 1 million active members where 20 % are females (The Swedish Sports Confederation www.rf.se). In media the most common sports is football and Television Channels with nationwide coverage produce more male sport than gendered mixed or female sport in all. Male and gendered mixed sport top the list of sports occurring on Television, as despite football, consists of ice hockey on second place, athletics on third, motor sports and skiing on fourth and fifth place. Popular female sports, that is sports dominated by women in Swedish sports federations, as gymnastics, equestrian and swimming, we find horse jumping on ninth place and swimming on eleventh but not gymnastics though it’s the second popular sports activity after football for females. Despite this when Germany and Sweden meet in Women’s World Cup Final in USA 2003 broadcasted by Swedish Channel 4, the match was followed by 3,5 million Swedish viewers. In the combined the annual audience rating 2003 on Television viewers in Sweden, this football match came second only beaten by The Swedish Trial Contest for Eurovision Song Contest. Other sports events positions on this annual list are far behind other popular TV-programs in Sweden as Donald Duck and Friends, a popular Disney production always sent on Christmas Eve and Swedish quizzes with popular program leaders (www.rf.se, www.svenskfotboll.se, www.mms.se). It has been said that Female Football reached a break trough 2003 in Sweden as a public popular sports event, and in 2004 spectators visiting But if this hints to better opportunities for more female football in the national media coverage, the male dominance still continues in media representations of sport. Even though female sport reporters and female sports appears in media more often than before, this suggests that Sport Media foremost is an interest only for a male viewer, but many women like sport on Television too. The question is what happens when teenaged girls (and boys) view mediated sport produced for male middle-aged adult audience groups? How does cultural meaning of generation, gender and social differences structure everyday life for a collective group as a female football team in how they construct and position them selves within a gendered discourse?
This brief summary reflects sports and media habits in the Swedish society and shows us the cultural importance of physical activities and media entertainment in our day-to-day lives. How the sport is represented through media reflect in certain ways our own picture of the concept sport, as well as sports is comprehended and valued on a cultural level. From a feminist perspective on the institutionalised power relations between media and culture the central question is how gender discourses negotiate meaning in society for men and women.
The theoretical framework for feminist audience research
The main theoretical perspectives used here are Stuart Halls reception model of the process of encoding and decoding media texts as meaningful TV-discourses, where viewers in terms of meaning structures approach the media. This model has developed by feminist media studies as power structures of gender discourses in production, content and reception (van Zoonen 1994:41f, Thornham 2000: 99). I will use this model to analyse female positions as gender discourses in a football team. The second perspective is a hermeneutic inspired approach supported by John B Thompson’s appropriation concept.
The reception model suggests that even if media texts are framed in certain ways were a dominant power structure of gender representations are embedded; they are decoded by the audiences’ meaning structures in a social context with specific cultural and historical variations. The main point is that communication practices have to be understood in a wider context of social and cultural determinations, as context is both related to family matters and wider social relations. Instead of ideological power structures Hall emphasize the process of hegemony were three possible positions in the decoding process are offered to the viewers: a dominant /hegemonic, a negotiated and an oppositional position (Hall et al 1972/1992, van Zoonen 1994). By relate dominant structures to social processes in culture we can find different explanations. In one sense the media content offers a dominant/hegemonic female collective gender identity supported by the common western ideal for femininity, but in another sense the female gender identity expressed in this football culture by the female football players shows how the interpretation of media content adjust in a socio-historical context. Young females in a football club can negotiate or reject the offered media messages and construct other possible gender positions in their own socio-historical context.
Appropriation is a concept that directs our attention to contextualise the process of reception as a cultural phenomenon, where macro structures of ideological power in society are interrelated with people’s ordinary lives and sense-making processes in their micro social world. This concept also helps us to direct our attention on combining the contexts of production, content and reception in order to analyse culture as meaning making processes. To appropriate is a cultural process were individuals use their available resources to make sense of media messages and adjust them to their social-historical context. Media products are an important part in how we create communication and shape our identities in modern society. The media stimulate to action and utterance as an active part in the formation of social reality. By following the content of sport in media, individuals actually can use that as information to guide their thoughts and actions in their own social context. The appropriations of symbolic forms in a social context are shared with other important individuals in every day communication (Thompson 1995:11f, 174f). In modern society collective identities are complex and culturally constructed in various ways. Media, as part of popular culture, have a particularly important role in the construction and mediation of different expressions and styles of identities. In one sense mass media serves us with a multiplicity of possible identities, free for any individual to pick up and adjust for individual needs in a social context outside the media content. In another sense we must also relate this to some of the important power structures in the organization of media production and content of Sport Media in order to show how mediated symbolic forms adjust in a cultural context by active meaning making subjects. (These structures are often referred to as the Media-Sport-Complex where the analyses of global power relations are connected to perspectives on political economy and culture. See Miller at al.2001, Roche 2000, Boyle & Haynes 2000). In relation to this study the football-playing girls have opportunities to choose what ever sport they like on a theoretical level, but on a social level they adjust to the cultural context they live in, where football for men and women are considered as two separate spheres, supported by the Sport Media content.
The Sport Media’s gender representations divides sports in a female and male sphere according to gendered stereotyped structures in society, where team sports as football or ice hockey are dominated by men, and individual sports as gymnastic or figure skating are dominated by women. These stereotypes are structured within ideological representations of gendered positions for masculinity and femininity that are bound to social-historical context that changes over time. The framed structure in media texts function as ideologies but at the same time hegemony according to Hall rather suggests possibilities for opposition and social change since the production of cultural meaning always is open to contestation from below (Hall 1972/1992: 136ff). The positions suggested here are considered as gendered ideal types not existing in reality. Rather they show how complex constructions of gender identities are and how the girls in this study reflect and move between discourses and different gender positions. The dominant/hegemonic ideal for femininity concerns appearance and beauty accepted as normal standards for females, and are reproduced in many social spheres of which mass media is one of the main messengers. The negotiated position acknowledges and adjusts the offered dominant feminine ideal to own experiences and social situation. The oppositional position recognizes the dominant feminine ideal but due to other experiences or social situation this position rejects and question the proposed ideal with skepticism (Thornham 2000: 100).
But if media discourses reflect dominant values in society there is another standard to consider for the constructions of gender in sports. The commonly hegemonic gender ideals are reflecting dominant gender values that in part passes over to sport, where masculine and feminine ideals for physical body appearance distinguish between gender and between sports. So the polarization between genders in sports suggests at least 2 possible hegemonic positions for us to consider. The dominant/hegemonic female position for football is compared to male football, and both ideals starts from a heterosexual white western middle class ideal on masculinity and femininity. Even if the mediated sport historically is built on masculine hegemony were men compete over the hierarchical positions and space of action, this not only exclude women but also men from the sporting field. The dominant position in the hegemonic power structures then only supports some men, not all men (Boyle & Haynes 2000, Connell 1995). Considering sports like ballet, gymnastic or aerobics dominated by women, the men in these sports are likely in a subordinated hierarchical position within a feminine hegemony. They are as men also certainly subordinated in a masculine hegemony, compared to other male sports. We must also consider the risk of using the concepts of masculinity and femininity as this split up gender in two homogenous spheres, when gender in reality consists of more complex and heterogeneous characteristics both for us as individuals and as on a collective level for different groups of people. In everyday life other demographic factors as social classes, education, professional roles or sexual preferences also can unite people as they share common interests. So as gender is social and cultural constructed I consider masculinity and femininity as qualities possessed by both men and women, but divided into gender-preferred stereotypes by socialization for each sex within a given ideological power structure embedded in different discourses in culture (van Zoonen 1994: 34, Butler 1990: 144ff).
How to study football culture
During a 6-month period I had conducted my study with an ethnographic approach in a female football club in a team with seventeen players aged 15 years, in a Community situated in the southern parts of Sweden. My focus is on how teenaged girls make meaning in their day-today lives by using media content in a specific cultural context. I colleted my data by observing, talking and interviewing mainly these girls, but also the team’s coaches and the girls parents while attending on the teams training and matches. The media ethnographic approach combines different methods by using participant observations, conversations and interviews. These methods originally derived from anthropological inquiry, are often termed interpretative procedures, the theoretical tradition known as interactionism represented in the works of Erving Goffman and Herbert Blumer. This perspective suggests that the social world is not objective but involves subjective meanings and experiences that are socially constructed in relations by participants in social contexts. Essentially focus lays on how different people experience, interpret and structure their lives. As a researcher using a media ethnographic method you take active part in the culture and tries to understand and take the cultural group’s perspective on media in order to describe peoples acts, expressions and thoughts (Bell et al. 1995, Gillespie 1995:54f, van Zoonen 1994: 131ff).
The participant observations had the main purpose for me to get into the culture and understand football from the girls’ point of view, and to give the girls a chance to get used to me, and make it possible for them to ask questions about me and my study. All though some media use occurred on occasions, I have not observed them watching TV or in front of a computer, in stead I had asked and interviewed the girls about their media preferences. Like other feminists I treat their responses as texts which should be read “symptomatically” as discourses related to available ideologies and images in the specific culture in order to analyse my informants constructions of female identity (Thornham 2000:108f).
For ethical reasons I was very clear about my role as a researcher, since I believe you must be as honest as possible in a study were people are involved, especially young people, and to win their trust I must treat them with respect. My informants knew what the research was about and were prepared for questions from me. Permission from the club and parents were granted before the study started and the girls as well as the club are presented with other names to secure their anonymity and integrity in the published study.
Sport active girls environment and media habits
These girls live in a provincial capitol of medium size, with 76 700 inhabitants in the municipality with 174 sports associations consisting of some successful sports on national or international levels. Despite football clubs in several series, there are for instance a premiership hockey team, a successful tennis club and an athletics club. In 2004 three clubs in this district had football teams for girls and women but only The Football Club Lyrans FF exclusively concentrate on female football. In this cultural context these teenaged football- players live. Their parents all work in middle or lower middle classes professions and lives in middle class areas. The girls either come to trainings together in pairs on bicycles or are driven by cars by their parents. Most of the parents take active part in the team’s matches as enthusiastic spectators. Even if a girl is hindered to participate in training or matches by some illness they always are present as by watchers, not out of duty but for social reasons. Three of the girls have their fathers as coaches in this team, but some younger teams have female coaches and some of the girls in the team I followed acted as coaches on summer school for girls aged 7-10. Of the seventeen girls in the team only two are immigrants from different parts of the Mediterranean.
The cultural construction of gender identities by female sport active females
All these girls live, as many other teenagers in western societies, in a dense media environment with access to different kind of media genres. In the discourse of dominant sports and gender ideals the football playing girls own experienced self-identity as female football player clashes with the unbalanced content on football in Sport Media, as they meet conflicting demands on femininity within the football culture as well as from surrounding society. The football culture encourages one type of femininity that perhaps is a little tuff and physical at least when it comes to matches. But as female football players they don’t recognise their own experiences in broadcasted football matches from male premier league matches as female football is played in a different way. A negative perspective on gender position available for young football-playing girls then seems to be restricted by the clear affluence in favour for male football represented by media. There is also a strong allusion to separate male and female football, where the latter part has to adapt to the hierarchical structures in the ideology of football. In society sports organizations and Sport Media mediates value systems of norms and regulations supplied by the football club and the team’s coaches from a dominant power position of discursive practices and power. At the same time the girls own processes of meaning making are at work, were experiences and media use both negotiate or stand in opposition to sport ideologies and gender ideals.
Other TV-genres like reality soaps discussed here, encourage young women to take good care of their appearance by diets, dressing codes and make up, to fit into the hegemonic ideals for femininity. All media representations support the cultural conventions existing on gender differences by differentiate their audience as either feminine or masculine subjects by offering separate gender closed spheres with different hegemonic positions in sports and as well as in other media content for men and women (Hirdman 2002). For young teenaged girls this might seem difficult to find a self-confident gender identity by them selves because of the manifest demands in modern society implies this as a personal duty for us to fix. A positive perspective however suggests the possibilities for these girls use of different media genres as means to reflect over their gender identities in a supportive culture where female football is accepted as something different from male football. As gender qualities not are fixed to certain sexes female football-players also must deserve the acknowledgement of playing the game in a different way. Perhaps these girls own appropriations by positions in gender structured discourses shows the way for how female football in the future have the possibilities to earn acceptance in society and media as a sport performance for its own sake and not as a treat to a protected masculinity in decline.
A brief conclusion then shows the representation of team sports in Sport Media still are built on an ideological understanding of football as a typical masculine field of action, where female football always has a subordinate position. The cultural demands on women (and men) are to adjust to a society where football for men and women are considered as two separate spheres, concealed and supported by the global sport media content.
Lund: Media-Tryck sociologen, Lund 2006 , 2006. , 114 p.