One of the most glaring issues in sport today is gender inequality and the stereotypes placed upon each gender regarding their physical abilities. According to popular beliefs, men jump higher, run faster, and grow stronger than female athletes, whereas women are seen as more graceful, skillful, and rhythmic than their male counterparts. Unfortunately for women, popular sports consumed in the United States value masculine physical characteristics over female. This is most evident in the sports we choose to popularize in our culture such as football and basketball where controlled violence and physicality reign supreme. However, the prevalence of male dominance in mainstream sport is not only an issue regarding physical performance, but one that stems from gender stereotypes outside of competition as well.
An obstacle standing in the way of women’s popularity as athletes is western society’s longstanding labeling of women as the nurturing, emotional, and passive gender. On the flipside, men are praised as being physical, competitive, and aggressive by nature. According to an article in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise, “Sport is considered as a male domain, but more specifically, activities may be perceived as masculine, feminine, or neutral”(….) To put it simply, sports have had a history of institutionally dividing what is to be male and what is to be female through popular gender ideologies. Yet this does not mean females cannot dominate specific sports. Females, for example dominate figure skating, a sport that requires finesse, coordination, and grace. However, in a society that values masculine characteristics in sports, figure skating events rarely make appearances on national television and the sport is virtually never used in mainstream advertising. It is not that figure skating is not seen as a sport; instead it is figure skating’s feminine characteristics that clash with the traditional, masculine origins that make the distinction between an activity and a sport.
Another way in which males have an absolute advantage over females in sport is the level of appropriateness given to each gender in the way they are allowed to express physicality. In sports dominated by males, physicality and violence go hand in hand. Whether it is throwing punches in MMA or big hits in football, violence in male sports is acceptable and often times applauded. Even out of control brawls in male sports are glorified as society sees such activity as a masculine reaction in the heat of battle. Women on the other hand, do not have the same luxury as men do when it comes to physical expression within sports. This is ever present in the way female athletes are portrayed by the media. Due to socially constructed stereotypes, female athletes are pressured into upholding a sexy and feminine image to appeal to the masculine audience of the sporting world. Thus, many female athletes resort to emphasizing their sexuality as opposed to their athletic qualities. A prime example of this is the portrayal of female athletes on ESPN and Sports Illustrated magazine covers. Female athletes who grace the cover of these magazines are typically portrayed as sex symbols as opposed to athletes, in an attempt to verify their femininity. Ultimately the media’s separation of sport and female athlete will continue to hinder the embracement of
As a result of biological differences and socially constructed ideologies, female athletes continue to fight an uphill battle in obtaining the respect and popularity that male athletes enjoy. To change this, women must somehow appeal to male fans with their ability rather than their femininity and sexuality, a daunting but possible task.