Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science in Education



First Advisor

Knapp, Bobbi


Research has shown that collegiate female athletes are oftentimes faced with negotiating meanings of their femininity and their athleticism. Athleticism has traditionally been equated with masculinity, and to be a collegiate athlete requires certain levels of skill, experience, and athletic ability. Therefore, female collegiate athletes are conflicted with managing their identities in order to avoid accusations of their sexuality, which often results in being labeled as deviant. A primary indicator of athleticism is muscularity, which is also considered a masculine trait. In order to stay within gender boundaries, female athletes may go above and beyond to emphasize their femininity, or they may hold back on performance and training to avoid a muscular physique. An area of collegiate athletics that has become increasingly important is the strength and conditioning coach and weight room. These coaches are responsible for training athletes in power and speed development to enhance sport performance and prevent injury. Research has shown, however, that the weight room and activity of lifting weights has not been deemed socially appropriate for women. The purpose of this study was to understand first, how do Division-I female athletes negotiate their femininity and muscularity within the strength and conditioning environment? Second, is there a difference in femininity and muscularity negotiations and management between underclassmen female collegiate athletes and upperclassmen female collegiate athletes? Finally, what aspects of the weight room influence the negotiations of femininity and muscularity among female collegiate athletes? To gain a rich understanding of how female athletes negotiate their femininity with muscularity in the strength and conditioning environment, a qualitative methodology was used. Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with 14 athletes, from 7 different sports, at a Midwestern Division-I university. Using a critical feminist interactionist theoretical framework, this study found that female collegiate athletes negotiate their meanings of muscularity and femininity in the strength and conditioning environment. Athletes viewed it necessary to place boundaries on their muscularity in regards to size, preferring the `toned' physique. All athletes acknowledged a positive impact on their sport performance, yet some athletes admitted to holding back during strength and conditioning sessions. Others believed that the weight lifting program was not threatening to their muscularity, but explained they would hold back if it did have a `bulking' effect. Finally, some athletes performed additional cardiovascular training to reduce body size. Additional findings suggest that the weight room environment is influential for the female athletes. The public weight room was described as a gendered space that was intimidating. In contrast, the collegiate weight room was a place that was welcoming to the female athletes. The strength and conditioning coach played an important role to the environment and the female athletes. Concluding results show that inconsistent with previous research, there were no consistent findings in attitude or behavior differences between underclassmen and upperclassmen athletes.




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