Most women conform to feminine norms, while men conform to masculine norms. But female college athletes strive to achieve both. “Past research has focused on how conformity to societal gender norms constrains and inﬂuences men’s behavior,” said Jesse A. Steinfeldt, of Indiana University-Bloomington, and lead author of a study that investigated how this dual role influenced women’s body image. “A higher emphasis placed on conforming to masculine norms has been linked to more health risk behaviors and fewer health promotion behaviors; binge drinking; and greater endorsement of rape myths and more sexually aggressive behavior, particularly when combined with problematic alcohol use.” Steinfeldt added that women who strive to achieve feminine norms are at increased risk for eating problems. “In sum, research suggests that conformity to gender norms can have deleterious effects for both men and women.”
Steinfeldt noted that female athletes are pressured to compete at a masculine level while maintaining their femininity. “By participating in sport, women often develop their athletic identity using standards of traditional male athleticism, yet at the same time attempt to manage expectations of maintaining culturally desirable aspects of femininity (e.g., attractiveness, heterosexuality, relationships).” Seignfeldt added, “Thus, while women in general face body image pressures in society, women who play sports often face unique additional constraints concerning body image based on the pressures to conform to gender norms, both masculine and feminine.”
To determine if female college athletes experienced negative body image or other negative consequences due to striving to achieve dual roles, Steinfeldt and colleagues interviewed 143 female student athletes for their conformity to male and female norms, and body esteem. The study revealed that the student athletes did conform to male norms, but saw only positive effects from doing so. “In sum, higher conformity to Risk Taking and Relational gender norms predicted higher levels of body esteem, whereas higher conformity to the Thinness gender norm and considering oneself overweight predicted lower body esteem,” said Steinfeldt. “Taken together, these results suggest that when compared to female college students who do not play intercollegiate sports, female student-athletes conform to the same levels of feminine norms, but these student-athletes also conform to certain traditional masculine norms that are associated with participation in sport.”
Steinfeldt, J. A., Zakrajsek, R., Carter, H., & Steinfeldt, M. C. (2011, May 30). Conformity to Gender Norms Among Female Student-Athletes: Implications for Body Image. Psychology of Men & Masculinity. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0023634
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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