WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The Olympics are a rare time when women's sports garner a large female television audience, along with increased interest and exposure because of American pride, says a Purdue University expert.
"The Olympics pay attention to women's sports in a way that we don't see very often," says Cheryl Cooky, an associate professor of health and kinesiology and women's studies, gender and sexuality studies. "One reason is that the Olympics focus on national identity, and that trumps gender. These women are competing as American athletes first, and are covered as such rather than as female athletes."
Cooky, who studies girls' participation in sports and gender images in media, also says television network devotion to Olympics coverage, including related advertising, is packaged for a strong female audience. The 2014 Winter Olympics are Feb. 7-23 in Sochi, Russia.
"The Olympics showcase sports that are not on the everyday lineup, and as a result, there are many great stories during the Olympic Games of women excelling in a variety of sports," she says.
Cooky also can talk about the social contexts of advertising campaigns, including the renewed Procter & Gamble "Thank You, Mom" campaign that focuses on the role mothers play to support young athletes.
"This is a popular campaign, especially for the Olympics' large female audience, but by attributing athletes' success to moms, it implies dads are absent from a child's positive support system," she says. "Not only does it ignores the role dads play in athletic success, but it continues to reinforce gender stereotypes."
Cooky also can discuss the coverage of women's sports and how female athletes are featured, as well as gender disparities between leadership in athletics. She also studies athletic participation and interest of young girls in urban and rural environments, and she says that family and friends' support of young girls in sports contributes to their success.