Men’s comments on elite women athletes: cultural narratives around gender and sport on Instagram

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Feminist Media Studies


A documented disparity exists in media coverage of men and women athletes. Women receive less coverage and much of it focuses on stereotypes instead of athletic performance, undermining women’s sport and status. Social media, like Instagram, are user-generated and more interactive than traditional media and provide a space for alternative narratives. This study explored if, and how, conversations on Instagram about women athletes differed from traditional media coverage. A thematic analysis was conducted on comments left by men on Instagram posts by eight women athletes featured in the popular “Body Issue” of ESPN: The Magazine. Men’s comments were analyzed in order to facilitate comparisons to traditional media outlets (typically operated and authored by men) and illuminate the dominant cultural discourse. Comments (n = 1,540) on 22 posts were manually collected and coded by a team of researchers. Online comments responded to images primarily through the lenses of gender or athlete, similar to traditional media, and sexism was present in online interactions in ways that were similar to offline spaces. The discussion highlighted how racist, sexist, ableist, and heterosexist narratives play out in online discourse about women athletes, underscoring the need for intersectional theorizing in this area.


ePub ahead of print