Are Women Athletes Portrayed the Same as Male Athletes in High School Yearbooks?

A new study by Heather Van Mullem, a professor of kinesiology and health in the Division of Movement and Sport Sciences at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, examined the portrayal of male and female athletes in high school yearbooks published between 1920 and 2020. Dr. Van Mullen analyzed photographs of athletes for their presentation of athletic competence, using presence on court, in uniform, and in action shots as indicators.

Her results showed that for photographs of a single individual or a group, males were statistically portrayed in uniform more often than females. In images of two or more people, males were statistically portrayed in active shots more often than females and were portrayed on court more often than females. Females were statistically portrayed off court more often than males. These presentation choices articulate to the broader community that male athletes are perceived to be more competent athletically, which translates to a perceived sense of increased value in their athleticism, according to Dr. Van Mullem.

Professor Van Mullem wrote that “male athletes, when compared to female athletes, are more commonly presented as competent athletes. Perceptions of athletic competence may influence levels of respect and value, which in turn may influence equity. Athletic and yearbook administrators should ensure the quantity, quality, and type of yearbook photos reflect both the season of competition but also the true athletic competence of the competitors.”

Dr. Van Mullem is a graduate of Eastern Washington University. She earned a master’s degree at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, and a Ph.D. at the University of Kansas.

The full study, “You Play Like a Girl? Gender and Image in High School Yearbooks,” was published in The Sport Journal. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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