The Swimsuit Issue and Sport

Hegemonic Masculinity in Sports Illustrated

By Laurel R. Davis

Subjects: Sports And Society
Series: SUNY series on Sport, Culture, and Social Relations
Paperback : 9780791433928, 184 pages, February 1997
Hardcover : 9780791433911, 184 pages, March 1997

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Table of contents


Chapter 1  Introduction

Feminist Analysis with a Twist

Studying the Mass Media

Getting at the Meaning of the Swimsuit Issue

Chapter 2  Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue: The Rise To Popularity And Profitability

History of the Swimsuit Issue

Popularity of the Swimsuit Issue

Profitability of the Swimsuit Issue

Chapter 3  The Basic Content: "Ideally Beautiful And Sexy Women For Men"

The Basic Content: Ideal Women's Bodies

The Ideal Readers: Men

Denotative versus Connotative Level Meaning

Factors That Encourage Denotative Level Consensus

Recognizing the Power of Producers and the Text

Chapter 4  The Struggle Over Public Sexuality

Debating the Degree of Sexual Meaning

Debating the Morality of Public Displays of Sexuality

Chapter 5  A Vehicle For Public Declarations of Heterosexual Identity

It's about Heterosexuality

Securing Heterosexual Status through Consumption

Using Heterosexual Status to Secure Masculine Status

Chapter 6  Profiting From The Masculinity Crisis

The Masculinity Crisis and Response to the Crisis

Fashioning Sports Illustrated as a Men's Magazine

Critiques of the Sports Illustrated Strategy

Chapter 7  The Struggle Over Gender

Men Who Identify with Hegemonic Masculinity

Women Who Identify with Hegemonic Femininity

Men Who Do Not Identify with Hegemonic Masculinity

Feminists Who Criticize Hegemonic Masculinity and Femininity

Backlash against the Feminist Readings

Chapter 8  Hegemonic Masculinity Built On The Backs Of People Of Color

Racism as a Central Component of Hegemonic Femininity

Racism as a Central Component of Hegemonic Masculinity

Chapter 9  Hegemonic Masculinity Built On The Backs Of "The (Post)Colonialized Other"

The Hegemonic Masculine Subject as Actual and Media Tourist

"The (Post)Colonialized Other" as Exotic Spectacle for the Hegemonic Masculine Subject

The Hegemonic Masculine Subject as Colonizer of "the (Post)Colonialized Other"

Chapter 10  Conclusion

Appendix A  Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issues (From 1964 To 1991 And 1996)

Appendix B  Non-Academic Media Material Related To The Swimsuit Issues

Appendix C  Interview Schedules For Producers, Consumers, And Librarians

Appendix D  Recruitment Of, And Information About, The Interviewed Producers And Consumers





Explores the cultural meanings of the swimsuit issue and shows how Sports Illustrated secures a large audience of men by creating a climate of hegemonic masculinity.


This study of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue demonstrates how the magazine encourages individual and institutional practices that create and maintain inequality. Laurel Davis illustrates how the interactions of media production, media texts, media consumption, and social context influence meaning. Individuals' interpretations of and reactions to the magazine are influenced by their views about gender and sexuality, views that have been shaped by their social experiences. Based on extensive interviews with Sports Illustrated producers and consumers, as well as analysis of every swimsuit issue from the first in 1964 to those of the 1990s, the book argues that Sports Illustrated uses the swimsuit issue to secure a large male audience by creating a climate of hegemonic masculinity. This practice produces considerable profit but on the way to the bank tramples women, gays, lesbians, people of color, and residents of the postcolonialized world.

Laurel R. Davis is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Springfield College.


"The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is the cultural keystone of what is worst about male-dominated sport media. This book is the most systematic treatment of the SI swimsuit issue to date, and it reveals some of the ways that sexism, racism, heterosexism, and Western ethnocentrism have been woven into the cultural fabric of men's sports. But it is more than an analysis of SI. Davis unfurls cutting-edge critical analysis of media through this ostensible exercise in the study of a sport magazine issue. The book is a fine example of the explanatory power of feminist analysis that takes other multiple systems of domination into account; i.e., race, ethnicity, nationalism, and sexual orientation." — Don Sabo, coauthor of Sex, Violence, and Power in Sports: Rethinking Masculinity

"The author does something that few others in media studies have done—to look at how producers, texts, and consumers all work together to construct the meanings of a text. Rarely are all three examined as systematically and coherently as they are in this book." — Margaret Carlisle Duncan, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

"Deconstructs an important social issue about sport that is necessarily shaped through the media." — Lawrence A. Wenner, author of Media, Sports, and Society: Foundations for the Communication of Sport and Editor, Journal of Sport and Social Issues