Sporting women in the media
Sporting women in the media

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Sporting women in the media

6 Gender outlaws

In the previous sections you explored hegemonic masculinity and femininity and how men and women who challenge these through sport can be considered as outsiders, or what Shilling and Bunsell (2009) describe as ‘outlaws’. One of the most notable examples of women being referred to as ‘outlaws’ is female bodybuilders. In the next activity you will explore how female bodybuilders challenge the perceived gender norm.

Activity 6 Female bodybuilders

Timing: Allow 10 minutes
Described image
Figure 2 Gender outlaws: (a) Sadik Hadzovic who won the IFBB Arnold Sports Festival Champion in 2015; (b) Margie Martin who won the IFBB Wings of Strength PBW Tampa Pro in 2015.

Look at the photos above of a male and a female bodybuilder. Note your immediate reaction to these two photos.

Reflect on why you reacted the way you did to the images and consider whether your reaction was influenced by stereotypical perceptions of femininity and masculinity. Were your reactions indicative of gender discrimination?


Numerous authors (e.g. Roussel et al., 2003; Shilling and Bunsell, 2009, 2014) have suggested that female bodybuilders challenge the gender norm by seeking a muscular body, which is generally viewed as more acceptable for men. Do you believe that this is true (think about your immediate reaction)? Think about whether and how different your responses were to the two images and whether you think this was because of gender.

Shilling and Bunsell (2009) refer to female bodybuilders as ‘gender outlaws’ because they break gender norms, both aesthetically (appearance) and kinaesthetically (touch), of what it means to be a woman. When these photos have been shown to students in the past there has been a much stronger reaction to the appearance of the female bodybuilder than to the male bodybuilder. I hear students respond with comments such as ‘Urgh, gross!’ or ‘It’s just wrong for women to look that muscular’ or ‘I don’t think women or men should be that muscular’.

The activity you have just completed, along with the rest of this course, will have encouraged you to reflect on gender perceptions within society and how these impact on sport, with a particular focus on the question ‘Does gender discrimination exist in sport?’ The ability to evaluate the evidence before reaching an answer to a question like this is a very important skill.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371