Gender Roles in Sports

Billy Jean King was a heroic female athlete.

In chapter five of “The Playing Field of Eton”, Mika LeVaque-Manty discusses the role of women and people with disabilities in the world of sport and competition. It has historical been shown that women and the disabled have had institutional barriers which have prevented them from having the same opportunities to compete as men. Some of the ideas brought up in LeVaque- Manty’s argument have recently been in the news and are supported by a recent discussion I had in my Sport Management 111 class. We discussed the role of gender in sports and the sociological factors have contributed to the inequality between men and women.

Female athletes do no get the same media coverage as male athletes.

LeVaque-Manty makes reference to certain “value barriers” which cause women not to participate because they have no interest in trying or are afraid to try. As discussed in my SM class, these attitudes come from society’s influence on sport ideology. Men are generalized to be strong, tough, competitive, stoic, and aggressive while women are seen as fragile, caring, emotional, and compassionate. These stereotypes stress the idea that men should be the ones dominating sports. Women were afraid to participate in sports because society initially views female athletes as lesbians. Men didn’t want to see women be strong and muscular so the men questioned the women’s sexuality once they became too good at a sport. This led to society directing women in the direction of cheerleading, dance, and other “feminine activities”. Even today there are examples of women being directed away from participating in sports. For example, Dick’s Sporting Goods recently released a basketball catalog that featured primarily male athletes while women were just sitting in the stands and portrayed as cheerleaders. A 12 year-old girl wrote a letter to the company complaining about the lack of endorsement for female athletes. It is clear that these value barriers are still present in today’s world.

LeVaque-Manty also refers to the assumption that female sports are inherently inferior to male sports. This is reflected in how men are compensated in professional sports compared to women. An article written by Muhaiminul Haque in The Phoenix,  addresses the discrepancy between men’s wages versus women’s wage both for players and coaches. The best female athletes do not come close to making the same as average male athletes. Men’s sports attract more spectators and produce more revenue than women’s sports so therefore they are compensated respectively. This relates to the difference between gender and sex. There are biological differences between males and females that lead to disparity in their performances on the field and there are social roles that categorize men and women. People tend to support men’s sports more than women because they think male athletes are “better” than their female counterparts.

It is evident that sports introduce gender differences and society reinforces it. Generalizations and stereotypes have had a lasting impact on women’s opportunities to pursue the same opportunities as men in many areas, especially sports. I believe that steps in the right direction have been made with amendments like Title IX, but more needs to be done for the issue to go away.

~Andrew Fink


6 thoughts on “Gender Roles in Sports

  1. Pingback: Women Athletes as Sex Symbols | THE BIG HOUSE OF IDEAS

  2. One specific idea you had sparked some thoughts. You said people prefer to watch men’s sports to women’s sports because men generally perform at a higher level than women, and I think that is definitely true. I started then to draw comparisons between minor league sport and women’s sport. Both perform on a “lower” level than professional sports, so I would be very interested to compare the two, particularly in terms of viewership. I would think that they are somewhat even, then, but something about traditional gender roles makes me believe men’s minor league sports would still have a greater viewership than women’s sports. Nonetheless, this is a really interesting blog post and I think you did a great job being concise.


  3. I agree with what you say about the discrepancies for women in modern sports, and this inequality is surely about the business involved with the sports market. I cannot say why more people are interested in men’s sports, but because they are the merchandise, ticket sales, and advertising will continue to be worth more which is unfortunate and surely not how it should be. I also agree with the comment above that says that the expansion of the media has further perpetuated the problem.


  4. I agree that women sports deserve more press than they receive. They put in equal amounts of work and their bodies take the same wear. However, one way for women to receive fairer treatment would be for them to speak up. Everyone seems hot to trot on the idea of inequality between sexes in sports, but women don’t seem to be doing anything about it. Perhaps women would gain more media coverage if they made an effort to express their feelings. I agree with the comment made above as well. It’s interesting to think about the fact that women are starred in the media as models as opposed to showcasing their talents.


  5. I agree that women athletics deserve more respect than they are granted. Women spend just as much hard work and dedication as men, and for them not to be granted equal pay is unfair and unjust. However, one can make the argument that pay is determined by the total revenue that the organization creates. While the WNBA players are spectacular athletes, the profits from their games do not even compare to male sports. The average ticket price to a Knicks game is anywhere from 200-400 dollars. Although Title IX promotes equality, it is hard for athletic organizations to promote this same equality because it is ultimately up to the population and not the organization. People are wiling to spend their money to watch an NFL or NBA game but are tentative to spend it on an WNBA game.


  6. Another interesting topic that goes along with your argument is how women athletes are often sexualized. Now, woman athletes that are not perceived as “lesbian” are often sexualized. Magazines put them on their cover to show off their athletic bodies in sexy ways, rather than focusing on their talent. It is sad yet interesting that women athletes are either perceived as lesbians or sexy and not just as people. This is a societal issue that affects most women in the spotlight. It is interesting to think how this has evolved since our media has taken such a dominant role in the world.

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