Girls' sports win with universal community support, fans

August 19, 2014  


Cheryl Cooky

Cheryl Cooky 
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Encouraging girls to sign up for sports this school year will be good for them, but to boost those benefits, families, neighbors and friends need to rally behind them as well, says a Purdue University expert who studies girls' participation in sports and gender images in media.

"Even if schools invest in both male and female sports equally, the girls are often the group that gets left behind with community or fan support," says Cheryl Cooky, an associate professor of women's studies, gender and sexuality studies. "Younger girls seeing that support know their participation is valued, and this can go a long way to encourage them to continue with sports throughout their youth. Research shows there is a higher sports dropout rate for adolescent girls, which is linked to peer pressure and community expectations."

Studies have shown the benefits of girls participating in sports include higher levels of academic achievement, confidence and self-esteem, learning leadership skills and better physical health.

"On a societal level, getting involved with girls community athletic events could probably lead to increased interest in sports itself, and even lead to increased fan interest in the women's collegiate and pro levels. It would go a long way in shifting cultural perspectives," Cooky says. "The popularity can translate into better support and more resources and higher investment for women's sport participation. Corporations are already starting to notice the woman sports consumer."

For example, Always launched a popular social media campaign this summer called #Like a Girl to address attitudes about "running like a girl" or "throwing like a girl."

"One of the reasons its captured so much attention and had a strong viral impact was because it tapped into a sentiment that is part of our culture which is not recognized in dominant mainstream media," Cooky says. "Corporations, knowing there is demand and consumers, are embracing and championing women's physicality. They want to be involved and are willing to challenge the stereotypical notions of what a girl is supposed to do."

Cooky is part of a team based at the University of Southern California that analyzes the amount and quality of media coverage for men's and women's sports. 

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Cheryl Cooky, 765-494-2503, ccooky@purdue.edu  

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