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A critical analysis of mediated discourse on women athletes in the WNBA

Jean Marie-Wigton Dufresne, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Today, women participate in sports that had been previously reserved for men. In the past decade the popularity of women's sports and media discourse on those competitions have increased greatly. Sport is traditionally considered a masculine activity and domain in American culture. When women enter the male domain of sport, tensions rise. Women (feminine) and sports (masculine) clash. This can be seen in media discourse on women's sports. ^ American media reflect and reinforce the sport-as-male ideology by covering male sports events much more than women's events. The growth and popularity in women's sports in recent years has created a need for new representations of “athlete.” American media struggle to create a comprehensive representation of “woman athlete.” The problem is that they have only masculine/feminine symbols from which to draw. The changing face of athletics and media presentations of same create a need for cultural scholars to consider exactly how “woman athlete” is being symbolically constructed in media discourse. ^ My dissertation is an inquiry into how American media symbolically construct “woman athlete” in their discourse on women's sports. I focus on broadcasts of three games of the Women's National Basketball Association. I combine Social Construction Theory, Symbolic Action Theory, and Feminist Theory to examine the various symbolic constructions in mediated discourse of the WNBA. ^ Through cluster criticism and semiotic analysis I found that “woman athlete” is constructed using a mix of common feminine and masculine symbols. Throughout the discourse I found tensions amongst those mixed constructions. “Woman athlete” is presented as sexually different through social constructions that place her in traditional female roles and behaviors. The athletes themselves participate in the constructions through their actions as athletes, their use of feminine symbols. In all, I found many tensions and struggles for meaning, but also interesting blends of symbols that point towards more complete meanings of “woman athlete.” ^

Subject Area

American Studies|Anthropology, Cultural|Women's Studies|Language, Rhetoric and Composition|Mass Communications|Recreation

Recommended Citation

Dufresne, Jean Marie-Wigton, "A critical analysis of mediated discourse on women athletes in the WNBA" (1999). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9947121.