Why do they say sports aren’t for women?
“Don’t play in the sun – you’ll get tanned!”
“Playing sports is not right for girls.”
“Who watches women’s cricket?”
Society finds a million different ways to tell us that sports are not for women. But why is it so?
In popular culture, it is mostly men who are shown excelling in sports. Athletic women are shown as out-of-place ‘tomboys’ and outcasts. And off screen, discrimination persists within sports industries.
40% of women in professional sports have faced gender discrimination, with 30% of reporting sexual harassment from male colleagues.
This discrimination translates into a lack of support from audiences too.
87% of the abusive social media comments circulating about the Tokyo Olympics were targeted at sportswomen, with most comments questioning their competence.
In a BBC study, 50% of the respondents could not name a single sportswoman and up to 42% felt that women’s sports were not as entertaining as men’s. Media coverage also generally targets sportswomen with words such as ‘older’ or ‘married.’ But men in sports, however aged, are commonly described as ‘fast’ and ‘strong.’
Numerous studies show that instead of portraying women athletes as skilled professionals, the media unduly sexualises them, focusing on hair, make-up and body shape over their athletic qualities. This kind of discrimination translates into a lack of adequate infrastructure and access to sports for girls and women.
And even for those women who do end up pursuing professional sports, the excessive media scrutiny and sexualisation makes them more prone to developing anorexia, bulimia, and more body issues. And such anxieties result in them quitting sports, enjoying sports less, and even suffering weakened performances.
So why are we convinced that women can’t be athletes?
Historically, women have been denied the right to even exercise because of the alleged weakness of their bodies, and supposed detrimental effects on their fertility and ‘chastity.’ Over time, as societies modernised, traditional gender roles started becoming redundant, posing a threat to men’s status.
In response to this threat, the emphasis on sports being ‘a man’s preserve’ became even stronger. And this trend continues till today.
A study shows that even though approximately 40% of sports and physical activity participants are women, only 6 to 8% of total media sports coverage is devoted to them. And this lack of exposure results in the audience thinking that either women don’t play or excel in sports, or that women’s sports are not worth watching.
But, here’s the thing – while most sports research have focused on men’s physical prowess, newer studies are showing that women have unique strengths and advantages in sports, that women respond better than men to competitive pressure, and that women are naturally fitter than men.
For instance, men on average have a harder time keeping up with women in ultra-endurance races of fifty-five miles or more, where women often display an advantage.
The need of the hour is to support women playing sports, back professional sportswomen in their fight for better pay and resources, and to play a part in dispelling the gender stereotypes in the world of sports.
After all, no country can excel without an army of fired up sportswomen.
[Images from different sources]
Mahabahu.com is an Online Magazine with collection of premium Assamese and English articles and posts with cultural base and modern thinking. You can send your articles to firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com ( For Assamese article, Unicode font is necessary)