Qingru Xu (2016), “Body, Gender, and Nationality: How Chinese New Media Construct Female Elite Athletes during International Sporting Events,” American Sociological Association Annual Conference (ASA), Seattle, WA, August 20-22.
Abstract: Sport has proven to be one of the key institutional sites for the study of the social construction of gender. And the media representation of athletes in sports has provided an opportunity to examine the ideology underlying the sports culture. As a heavily gendered social space, sports have been traditionally associated with masculinity, while female athletes have been often trivialized and infantilized. However, media representation is not something that is constant; instead, it is continually challenged or reinforced as the change of social ideology. Affected by nationalism and Communist believes of gender equality, the body image of Chinese female athletes was traditionally strong and powerful. As the market-oriented reform has conducted from 1978, the mixed economy has witnessed the tremendous society change in the past three decades, including the media representation of female athletes. The denied sexuality has revived and the female-oriented athletic image has immerged in Chinese sports media. Furthermore, the emergence of professional athletes has given variety to the media image of female athletes. Compared with Chinese traditional specialized (nationalized) athletes, professional athletes are free from the state-run sports regime and earn their own livelihoods by competing professionally. This paper aims at comparing media representations of Chinese professional female athletes and specialized athletes in Chinese new media. By adopting framing theory and hegemonic masculinity theory, I analyzed 40 news stories about two Chinese female athletes. Textual analysis revealed that the body image of professional athlete Li Na was strongly marked with feminine qualities. And compared with Li Na, the specialized athlete Ding Ning was more submissive to the control of male coaches and managers. Furthermore, media images of the two athletes were both associated with strong nationalism; instead, they were strongly expressed with individual identity.