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Kinesiology Students’ Perceptions of Ambivalent Sexism

Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice Assessment, Evaluation, and Research Center for Women Women in Student Affairs
April 4, 2019 Elizabeth Taylor Alicia Johnson Robin Hardin Lars Dzikus

THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM “Kinesiology Students’ Perceptions of Ambivalent Sexism” ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE IN VOLUME 11, ISSUE 3 OF THE JournaL of women and gender in higher education.

The culture of sport has historically reinforced hegemonic notions of gender. Both intercollegiate and professional sports in the United States are male-dominated in employment numbers and leadership positions. This raises concerns about the professional work environment women will encounter in their careers. Thus, the purpose of this study was to examine perceptions of sexism among kinesiology students who will be entering the male-dominated sports workplace. The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (ASI) was used to measure sexism (hostile and benevolent) among students enrolled in kinesiology-related majors at a large public university in the southeastern United States. Men scored significantly higher than women on both subscales. Undergraduate students also scored significantly higher than graduate students. Overall, the mean scores in this study were higher than those reported previously for other college student populations. The findings suggest considerable hostile and benevolent sexism among these students.

Women’s participation in collegiate sports has steadily risen since the 1980s, yet sport-related professions and education continue to be dominated by men (Jones, Brooks, & Mak, 2008). In 2014, there were approximately 208,000 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) female student-athletes (Irick, 2014) competing on 9,581 NCAA women’s sports teams, of which 4,154 (43.4%) had female head coaches (Acosta & Carpenter, 2014). While female student-athletes make up almost 50% of total NCAA student-athletes, the opportunities for women as sport administrators have not progressed at the same rate as participation opportunities (Acosta & Carpenter, 2014). There are more women employed within intercollegiate athletics now than at any other point in intercollegiate history (approximately 14,000); these women hold positions as coaches, athletic trainers, sports information directors, and other administrative positions. However, only 22.3% of NCAA athletic directors are women, and 11.3% of athletic departments do not have a single woman amongst the administration (Acosta & Carpenter, 2014). The number of women who hold administrative positions in professional sport is also low. Men’s professional leagues such as the National Basketball Association, National Football League, and Major League Baseball have reported that women hold 20–40% of the adminis- trative positions in these leagues (Lapchick, 2015). Notably, the percentage dwindles as the rank of the administrative title increases (e.g., vice president). Women struggle to break the glass ceiling in many professions, and this is especially true in sports (Taylor & Hardin, 2016).

An increasing number of women are pursuing sport-related professions despite the current lack of women in leadership positions. Between 1995 and 2010, the number of women holding graduate assistantships or internships within intercollegiate athletics increased nearly 400% (from 550 to 2,248). This number has continued to increase, and in 2017, the NCAA reported that 3,154 graduate assistants or interns were women (National Collegiate Athletic Association, 2017; Irick, 2011).

The increasing percentage of women pursuing athletic administrative positions is encoura- ging; however, the numbers do not indicate whether sexism in the male-dominated realm of sport is being challenged through the increased employment of women. Many graduate assis- tants are likely enrolled in kinesiology-related programs, so the purpose of this article is to examine the perceptions of ambivalent sexism in undergraduate and graduate students in kinesiology-related majors. Kinesiology by definition is the study of human movement but in the context of higher education encompasses many more things. Kinesiology schools, depart- ments, or programs in the United States will commonly house biomechanics, exercise science, physical education, sport management, sport psychology, recreation programs, and all of their subdisciplines (American Kinesiology Association, 2015). Kinesiology students are the future professionals who will shape sport-related professions and the work environment for the increasing number of women who aspire to hold managerial and administrative positions within these professions. Yet, even before entering the workforce, women may experience gender inequality, considering women are not equally represented in kinesiology programs although the number of female students enrolled is steadily increasing.

Moore, Parkhouse, and Conrad (2004) found female students comprised less than 40% of sport management majors in nearly half of a sample of 72 sport management undergraduate programs. Jones et al. (2008) found that 81% of sport management programs had less than 40% female students, and Chen, Adams-Blair, and Miller (2013) reported less than 25% female enrollment in the small number of sport management programs they investigated. Similar data are not available for other kinesiology-related programs (e.g., exercise physiology, recreation). Fowler Harris, Grappendorf, Veraldo, and Aicher (2014) found most female students were unaware of kinesiology-related academic degrees prior to entering college, which raises ques- tions about recruitment at the high school level and at university orientation sessions. Those who were aware of such degree programs obtained this information by being an athlete or participat- ing in a sport-related project or job.

Female students who did make it into a kinesiology-related major reported facing challenging situations in regard to gender as they progressed through their academic careers. Fowler Harris et al. (2014) reported female sport management students experienced negative gender stereo- types in interactions with male sport management majors. Looking forward, female sport management students believed they were well-prepared for the workforce as a result of their undergraduate program, but they believed being a woman thwarted their career, as sport-related careers continue to be dominated by men (Leberman & Shaw, 2015).

Women in kinesiology faculty positions also face challenges based on their gender. Jones et al. (2008) cited the underrepresentation of women as a critical issue for the field of sport management, and in their sample of 50 higher education institutions offering an undergraduate program in sport management, 67% reported that less than 40% of the faculty was female. Mahoney, Mondello, Hums, and Judd (2006) found women represented only 26.9% of faculty in their sample of 172 sport management programs. These numbers quantitatively demonstrate the underrepresentation of female students and faculty in sport management programs (Jones et al., 2008). Unfortunately, research focused on the representation of women as students and faculty has not been conducted within other kinesiology subdisciplines.