Willey, C., Shaw, S., Havitz, M.  (2000)  'Men's and Women's Involvement in Sports: An Examination of the Gendered Aspects of Leisure Involvement', in Leisure Sciences, Vol 22: 19 - 31.

Involvement is an important aspect of leisure behaviour, and there has been much work to develop this concept. Some work turned on trying to establish the involvement of consumers in the products that they acquired, where involvement was defined as a psychological state featuring motivation arousal and interest  (Wiley et al citing the work of Rothschild, page 20). However, 'Empirical studies... suggested that many consumer products typically generated only low involvement scores; thus, the usefulness of the construct to consumer behaviour research has been questioned' (20).  [It seems to me that, on the contrary, this is a very useful finding that serves to doubt much of the work that suggests that people find their identities in the goods that they buy].

Tracing involvement in leisure activities seems to be more valuable. It goes beyond data about frequency of participation, for example, to try to get at the meaning of a leisure activity for the participant. The work has been developed particularly with sports, and some researchers have elaborated whole scales and dimensions of involvement  [details on page 20 -- some of them look similar to the work on flow?]. Gender needs to be brought into these discussions, however.

The development of the notion of involvement has led to the idea of three important facets  'attraction, self-expression, and centrality' (20), which have been at the heart of considerable research and have generated reliable results. Attraction  'should be conceptualised as a combination of importance and pleasure... pleasure... does not necessarily indicate high involvement unless the enjoyable activity also is deemed to be important or meaningful to the individual' (20)[ An interesting argument -- usually, 'pleasure' just includes importance and meaning?]. Self-expression relates to symbolic meaning  'the impression of self that individuals wish to convey to others' (21), but again there seems to be two dimensions according to whether self-expression is internal or directed more towards an external audience. Centrality can be measured by the extent to which participants organize their life around the activity, including whether it  'occupies the main place in which interactions with friends occur' [which raises possibilities of measuring it using the classic sociogram techniques of mapping friendship choices?]. Another measure turns on whether the activity is seen as having various life benefits  'stress reduction or other significant health outcomes' (21). The three facets may be connected together, but it is more common to see them as making up an involvement profile.

Sport involvement is a good area to research if one wants to add considerations of gender. In North America at least, sports are male dominated and also gender stereotyped [divided into male and female types]. The stereotypes clearly affect participation choices, with males in particular mostly choosing  'conforming activities' that are gender appropriate. Participants are not actually prevented from choosing inappropriate sports, but gender stereotyping can be an additional barrier.

The study set out to measure the involvement of male and female hockey players and figure skaters in Ontario. These activities are heavily gender stereotyped. It was thought that male participants would report higher levels of involvement for sports in general, and that  involvement would be higher in conforming activities. Additional variables were also measured  'age, level or frequency of participation, and time or number of years as a participant' (23). A final measure examined attitudes towards sex equality.  [Details of the scales used, all of which seem pretty reliable and well researched, are provided and seem very useful for anyone considering further research in this area. For example attraction was measured by asking for reactions to questions such as  'Participating in (these particular) sports is one of the most pleasurable things I do'; self-expression by items such as  'When I play sports... I can really be myself'; and centrality buy items such as  'I find that my life is organised around sports' (24). An established scale measures attitudes towards sexual equality -- details on page 24]. The sample produced 205 records altogether  'including data from 51 male hockey players, 76 female hockey players, 24 male figure skaters, and 54 female figure skaters' (24) .

The results proved to be rather unusual. The first step was to perform internal correlations to test construct validity, and these were satisfactory (24). The two initial thoughts [above] provided the hypotheses for testing, and in each case results were compared between genders and types of sport.

One problem emerged immediately in that there were important age differences between the figure skaters and hockey players, and different participation rates  [which might be explained by the characteristics of the sport, the availability of facilities, and the stage reached in a player's career, as well as by gender stereotyping, as the subsequent discussion suggests]. Attitudes towards sex equality also proved important.

In general,  'there were no overall gender differences in involvement level with sport in general' (25)  [a real surprise here]. If anything, female hockey players reported higher levels of involvement and female figure skaters lower levels compared to other groups. Hockey players tended to have higher centrality scores than figure skaters irrespective of gender. There was also a significant interaction effect involving gender and specific activity together, which produced higher attraction scores for female hockey players, and lower attraction scores for female figure skaters compared to the male groups.

Looking at specific activities produced more surprises:  'with females having higher overall  involvement scores and considerably higher attraction scores than males' in both cases  (26). Females also seemed to generate high self-expression scores, although this may have been distorted by the particularly high levels reported by female figure skaters. The activity also affected centrality, with hockey players reporting high levels in general compared to figure skaters -- and there was a slight tendency for males to record particularly high sores. Thus  'Overall, the results of this study provided only very limited support for the initial hypotheses... it was the women rather than the men who reported higher activity attraction schools... the highest activity self-expression scores... and the highest overall attraction for sports in general' (27).

However, there may be a gender effect in that attraction might be more important for women, and centrality for men. Men may simply have a more supportive social environment, including gender stereotyping, if they want to play hockey  [but is this permanent or temporary?]. The unusual scores might indicate that women value pleasure and enjoyment in sport rather than competition and achievement. It may also indicate that participation requires particularly high levels of motivation to overcome social stereotyping  [hints of the negative self-fulfilling prophecy. Other very interesting implications as well -- (a) maybe societal constraints and stereotyping are not as effective as we thought and can be overcome, (b) having a set of constraints might actually help to motivate some women to enter sport]. There is also the possibility of measurement problems, especially with the self-expression scale -- there may need to be separate scales  'for personal identity versus social identity' (28).

It also seems likely that duration and frequency of the activity itself affects attraction scores in particular. It may be difficult to get into hockey, for example, and attraction levels may rise at first and then level off  [a  'career', affected by progress and achievement as well as ageing?]. Figure skating seems easier to do on your own too.

Finally, this data relates to regular and committed participants rather than the general population, and other sports and leisure activities may have different specific effects. Overall, the study may have illuminated some important variables affecting leisure involvement, including gender --  'The immediate social context of people's lives, as well as broader societal values and structures, may affect not only leisure participation rates, but also the personal relevance and meanings associated with leisure' [true, but disappointingly weak compared with the original hypotheses?].