As I sat at the sideline of my high school soccer team’s 2012 regional playoff game, I began to look around. Families and friends from all over had come to see the Crossroads boys take on Desert Hot Springs High School, in a venue two and a half hour from Los Angeles. I was in awe by the amount of people, specifically students, that had come so far to observe this spectacle. Unfortunately, Desert Hot Springs got the best of us for the second year in a row.
The next week our girl’s basketball team won their final game in regionals and moved on to state playoffs. The game was at home, against a tough El Sugundo team. When I arrived at the game I was shocked to see the stands virtually empty, given the circumstances of the game. At the time I thought: “hmm, I guess people aren’t really as interested in playoff girls basketball as I imagined.” As time went on, I began to think more and more about high school sports games and started realizing that almost everybody’s competition had consistently a higher fan base and interest level compared to girl’s sports.
I began to wonder, what is it about women’s sports that is so drastically different from men’s sports, that it affects participation, competition and fan base from the high school level all the way up to the highest level of competitive sport. As I read Chapter five of Mika LaVaque-Manty’s “The Playing Fields of Eton” about the role of women and people with disabilities in sports, it began to make a lot more sense. LaVaque-Manty describes the movement to increase interest level and fan base of high level women’s sports and how it has been “a slow and bumpy road.” He goes on to cite the example that up until the year 2000, pole vaulting was not even an Olympic Sport for women.
There are many genetic and social reasons why women have had to fight to for the right to participate and compete in sports. Genetically, men are on average stronger, faster and larger than women due to hormonal balance of their gender. This gives women a natural disadvantage, off the bat, athletically, just by being born a female. Another thing important to consider, is the way female stereotypes of social roles have been portrayed over the past few centuries. A great way to observe these stereotypes is by looking at an old Disney classic Beauty and the Beast. In this figure below, Belle is portrayed as gentile, peaceful and delicate, compared to Gaston, who is portrayed as tall, muscular, strong and aggressive.
The most shocking thing to observe is the comparison of their wrist sizes. According to Watchcases.com, a popular watch distributor in the US, the average adult male wrist size is 7-8 inches, while the average female wrist size is 6.5 to 7.5 inches. Meanwhile, in the figure above, the male’s wrist looks more thantwice the size of the females. This just goes to prove how extremely male and female stereotypes are portrayed in our society, even as recently as the 90s, when this film was released.
These genetic and social differences have made it hard for women sports to become nearly as large scale as men’s sports. LaVaque-Manty goes into how women’s sports are not “revenue sports.” What he means by this is that no women’s sport has attracted a large enough following to be considered a major business opportunity. This issue is one of the reasons that female athletes do not receive nearly as high of salaries as male athletes. For that reason alone, females are less likely to pursue a career in professional sports than males.
When it comes to observing professional sports, people want to see the best of the best. However, nearly all of the highest levels of competitive sport are leagues that are dominated by men. For this reason, it is hard for female athletes to attract nearly as many fans as males. Personally, the only professional female sporting event I attended was the women’s 400-meter and 800-meter dashes in the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Yet, technically this was a co-ed spectacle involving both men and women competing separately. Interestingly enough, Caster Semenya, one of the more controversial female athletes was competing in a preliminary race. According to an arictle in The New Yorker “Either/Or,” in 2009 Caster won the 800-meter final, yet her win was subject to testing due to rumors of doping and unfair hormonal levels. After a long drawn out process though, Caster was allowed to participate in South African Women’s Track and Field Team again.
Caster was born and raised as a female. However, after being seen by doctors it was determined that Caster was externally a woman yet had irregular an hormonal makeup for a female. This controversy sparked the discussion of whether Caster should compete with males or the females. Eventually Caster fought and won the right to compete in the Olympics and surprisingly finished second. The story of Caster Semenya goes to show how when a woman accomplishes such a feat as winning the 800-meter dash, people question her integrity and the legitimacy of her femininism.
It will always be hard for women to compete with men in any athletic completion, whether you’re comparing stats, participation or fan base. However, modern day American society continues to make strides to improve gender equality in sports for women. Unfortunately, these strides might never effect gender roles in sports enough as many people want.