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Atalanta's sisters: Sport, gender, and technology in popular press, 1921–1996

Susan C Leggett, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The myth of Atalanta represents the struggle for women athletes to gain legitimacy. Atalanta has strength and power that are foiled by heterosexual conventions of the sex/gender system. Thus, she functions as a metaphor of possibility and dashed hopes. This study explains the persistence of heterosexist representation of female athletes in popular press by exploring the linkages among sport, gender, and technology. Such an exploration is situated amid a body of interdisciplinary research that explores sport as a social and cultural form. As a Feminist Mass Communication study, this project explores the textual strategies employed by producers of mass-mediated content, as well as the institutional power relationships that secure them; and finally, for the exploration of the ways in which gendered ideologies are rearticulated in coverage of female athleticism. The study addresses four research questions: (a) What forms of femininity have been valorized or eclipsed in popular representations of female athleticism? (b) When and in what contexts is female muscularity addressed in the popular press? (c) What strategies does the popular press use to naturalize differences between male and female athletes? (d) Are there moments in the popular press coverage of female athleticism where the relationship between sport and gender is, or potentially could have been, transformed? To answer these questions I conduct a frame analysis on 140 articles from the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature, 1921–1996. Frame analysis allows for the examination of the stability and/or change of mediated representations over time, the organizational practices of media and the representations they engender, and the politics of gender. I conclude that femininity as constituted by the popular press has limited potentially transformative moments in sport and athleticism. Furthermore, the origins of female athleticism are inaccurately represented in media, resulting in a collective amnesia about female athletic experiences. Finally, technological discourse embodies the masculinist values replicated not only in sport media, but also in the more general and popular representation of female athleticism.

Subject Area

Mass media|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Leggett, Susan C, "Atalanta's sisters: Sport, gender, and technology in popular press, 1921–1996" (2001). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3000317.