Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University

Peer-Reviewed Articles by Michela Musto, PhD in Sociology

Michela Musto’s research has been published in Gender & Society, Communication and Sport, and the Sociology of Sport Journal. Her work can be downloaded here.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

Brilliant or Bad: The Gendered Social Construction of Exceptionalism in Early Adolescence

Michela Musto

American Sociological Review 84(3): 369-393.

Abstract: : From kindergarten through college, students perceive boys as more intelligent than girls, yet few sociological studies have identified how school processes shape students’ gender status beliefs. Drawing on 2.5 years of longitudinal ethnography and 196 interviews conducted at a racially-diverse, public middle school in Los Angeles, this article demonstrates how educators’ differential regulation of boys’ rule-breaking by course level contributed to gender-based differences in students’ perceptions of intelligence. In higher-level courses – where affluent, White, and Asian American students were overrepresented – educators tolerated sixth-grade boys’ rule-breaking, such that boys challenged girls’ opinions and monopolized classroom conversations. By eighth-grade, students perceived higher-level boys as more exceptionally intelligent than girls. However, in lower-level courses – where non-affluent, Latinx students were overrepresented – educators penalized sixth-grade boys’ rule-breaking, such that boys disengaged from classroom conversations. By eighth-grade, lower-level students perceived girls as smarter than boys, but not as exceptional. This article also demonstrates how race intersected with gender when shaping students’ perceptions of intelligence, with students associating the most superlatives to affluent, White boys’ capabilities. Through this analysis, I develop a new theoretical understanding of how school processes contribute to the gendered social construction of exceptionalism, thereby reproducing social inequalities in early adolescence. Click here to download.

Athletes in the Pool, Girls and Boys on Deck: The Contextual Construction of Gender in Co-Ed Youth Swimming

Michela Musto

Gender & Society 28(3): 359-380

Abstract: Few studies have examined how groups of individuals enact different patterns of gender relations within and across contexts. In this article, I draw upon nine months of fieldwork and 15 semistructured interviews conducted with eight- to 10-year-old swimmers on a co-ed youth swim team. During focused aspects of swim practice, gender was less salient and structural mechanisms encouraged athletes to interact in ways that illuminated girls’ and boys’ similar athletic abilities, undermining categorical, essentialist, and hierarchical gender beliefs pertaining to athleticism. However, in the swimmers’ unfocused free time, the salience of gender was high and structural mechanisms encouraged swimmers to engage in “borderwork.” In this context, similarities between the genders were obscured and girls and boys instead interacted in ways that affirmed essentialist and categorical—but nonhierarchical—meanings of gender. By paying attention to structural mechanisms and the variable salience of gender, we can thus see the various conditions under which children deploy different patterns of gender relations, and how less oppressive gender relations can potentially “spill over” from one context to the next. Click here to download.

From Fizzle to Sizzle! Televised Sports News and the Production of Gender-Bland Sexism

Michela Musto, Cheryl Cooky & Michael Messner

Gender & Society 31(5): 573-596

Abstract: This article draws upon data collected as part of a 25-year longitudinal analysis of televised coverage of women’s sports to provide a window into how sexism operates during a postfeminist sociohistorical moment. As the gender order has shifted to incorporate girls’ and women’s movement into the masculine realm of sports, coverage of women’s sports has shifted away from overtly denigrating coverage in 1989 to ostensibly respectful but lackluster coverage in 2014. To theorize this shift, we introduce the concept of “gender-bland sexism,” a contemporary gender framework that superficially extends the principles of merit to women in sports. Televised news and highlight shows frame women in uninspired ways, making women’s athletic accomplishments appear lackluster compared to those of men’s. Because this “bland” language normalizes a hierarchy between men’s and women’s sports while simultaneously avoiding charges of overt sexism, this article contributes to gender theory by illuminating how women can be marginalized in male-dominated, male-controlled settings via individualized merit-based assessments of talent. Click here to download.

It’s Dude Time’: A Quarter Century of Missing Women in Televised Sports News and Highlights Shows

Cheryl Cooky, Michael Messner, and Michela Musto

Communication & Sport 3(3): 261-287

Abstract: The last quarter century has seen a dramatic movement of girls and women into sport, but this social change is reflected unevenly in sports media. This study, a 5-year update to a 25-year longitudinal study, indicates that the quantity of coverage of women’s sports in televised sports news and highlights shows remains dismally low. Even more so than in past iterations of this study, the lion’s share of coverage is given to the “big three” of men’s pro and college football, basketball, and baseball. The study reveals some qualitative changes over time, including a decline in the once-common tendency to present women as sexualized objects of humor replaced by a tendency to view women athletes in their roles as mothers. The analysis highlights a stark contrast between the exciting, amplified delivery of stories about men’s sports, and the often dull, matter-of-fact delivery of women’s sports stories. The article ends with suggestions for three policy changes that would move TV sports news and highlights shows toward greater gender equity and fairness. Click here to download.

For the Sociology of Sport: Where Are the Kids?

Michael Messner and Michela Musto

Sociology of Sport Journal 31(1): 102-122

Abstract: Huge numbers of children participate in sports. However, kids and sports are rarely seen, much less systematically studied by sport sociologists. Our survey of the past decade of three major sport sociology journals illustrates a dearth of scholarly research on children and sport. While noting the few exceptions, we observe that sport studies scholars have placed a disproportionate amount of emphasis on studying sport media, and elite amateur, college, and professional athletes and sport organizations, while largely conceding the terrain of children’s sports to journalists and to a handful of scholars whose work is not grounded in sport sociology. We probe this paradox, speculating why sport scholars focus so little on such a large and important object of study in sport studies. We end by outlining a handful of important scholarly questions for sport scholars, focusing especially on key questions in the burgeoning sociological and interdisciplinary fields of children and youth, bodies and health, and intersectional analyses of social inequality. Click here to download.

Strike a Pose! The Femininity Effect in Collegiate Women’s Sport

Sociology of Sport Journal 33(2): 101-112.

Michela Musto and PJ McGann

Abstract: The apologetic strategies women employ to manage the cultural tension between athleticism and hegemonic femininity are well documented. Existing research, however, tends to be small-scale. The cumulative symbolic implications of female athlete appearance on cultural ideals remain under-theorized as a result. Our quantitative content analysis of a stratified, random sample of 4,799 collegiate women athletes’ roster photos examined whether sport, school type, and geographical location are related to gendered appearance. Despite important contextual variation, we found overwhelming homogeneity across settings. Our results suggest that the normalization of women’s athleticism is limited and depends on subordinated femininities. Thus, despite some positive changes, team sport still helps stabilize and naturalize the gender order. Click here to download.

Friends and family: A synthesis on how high school social groups influence advanced math and science coursetaking

Michael Gottfried, Ann Owens, Darryl N. Williams, Hui Yon Kim, and Michela Musto

Education Policy Analysis Archives 25(62): 1-22.

Abstract: In this study, we synthesized the literature on how informal contexts, namely friends and family social groups, shape high school students’ likelihood of pursuing advanced math and science coursework. Extending scholarly understandings of STEM education, we turned to the body of literature with three guiding questions: (1) What influence do friends have on advanced math and science coursetaking? (2) What influence does family, particularly parents, have on advanced math and science coursetaking? (3) Do the effects vary by gender among each social group? By synthesizing existing literature on the influence of family and friends on advanced math and science coursetaking in high school, we find that both friends and families can influence the number of advanced math and science courses students complete, but the amount of advanced coursework students complete also varies based on the gender of the individual student, the gender of his/her friends, as well as by mother or father. Implications and limitations are discussed. Click here to download.