Gender Inequality in Athletic Sports

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Updated: Jun 06, 2023
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Sports are both one of the most idolized and contested activities in our society today. Historically, sports have been used as a display for the public, for both entertainment and social purposes. Sports also provide professional opportunities for athletes and coaches at the highest level of performance. Regardless of the purpose or presentation, sports have created an element in our modern society. While sports have provided opportunities, it has also created underlying effects on social cues in regards to the stigmas brought about within them.

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Sports have bolstered damaging and unhealthy social issues such as racism, gender inequity, and violence. This paper will focus on the patterns concerning gender inequality, which have been established throughout the progression of sports in society up until today. There are barriers in gender identity through sports, providing a substantial upper hand for men as opposed to women. It is through this issue we shall attempt to challenge our common ways of thinking about sports.

Male domination in athletics can be analyzed first through the upbringing of masculinity in our culture that dates back to the early 1900’s. During the turn of the century we had social norms for which outlined specific social norms between men and women within the labor force. The labor force is a prime example of some of the first looks into what duties and differences men were expected to do as compared to women. This moment in history can be devised as the first crisis of masculinity. During this period of time, sports were just beginning to grow as a part of social entertainment, and the stigmas brought about through this crisis resulted in heavily male dominated activity in these sports. “Sport was a male-created homosocial cultural sphere that provided men with psychological separation from the perceived feminization of society while also providing dramatic symbolic proof of the “natural superiority” of men over women.” (Messner 1988) Through this crisis it is apparent this issue has traced back into the depths of early history and was apparent even during this time.

It wasn’t until post world war two and the birth of capitalism did women begin finally progressing to some recognition in sports. During the 1970’s women pushed for social change into more participation in athletics but there were several drawbacks that limited their success in doing so. During this period in time and into society today, we have developed a norm for men to be more powerful than women on and off the field. This concerned male dominance in relationships as well as in schools, and overall physicality. The push for change began with Title IX, which initiated the benchmark for women’s equity in society. “Due to efforts by the athletic establishment to limit the scope of Title IX, the quest for equity remained decentralized and continued to take placein the gymnasiums, athletic departments, and school boards of the nation (Beck,1980) This issue is a prime example in history as to when women have unfulfilled success in gaining recognition due to the norms of gender inequality in these sports. This period of time consisted of some of the strongest barriers regarding gender inequality as men being superior to women in sports.

Next, is the discussion concerning norms the media has imposed on this issue concerning gender inequality in athletics. People tend to base their love for sports around excitement and entertainment. Due to male dominance in sports this idea has created a gender boundary in which divides the pleasure of watching men’s sports superior to that of watching women’s sports? Why is this? You could argue that people enjoy men’s sports because they are statistically stronger, faster, and more competitive. Because of this idea built into our society, we have seen a boundary with the way media handles sports. “Furthermore, the coverage of women’s sports did not supersede coverage of dogs and horses until 1992” (Lopiano 2000) This is a staggering fact in our society and when put into perspective as such, is quite alarming. It is hard to pinpoint why exactly media outlets will not consider gender equality when it comes to sports, but if I had to guess, it involves money. The Media outlets will do whatever makes them the most money, whether that means they through gender equality out the window or not. Unfortunately in our society, the development of this issue has persisted for many of years and needs to be addressed. The effects of this issue go far beyond the public eye. “To this day, female athletes still experience significantly less and different media coverage than their male counterparts. The purpose of this study is to examine how increasing exposure to women’s sports impacts attitudes towards women’s sports.” (Sheadler 2018) Gender inequality in sports being fueled by the media makes women less likely to pursue sports or even be interested in them, even though they have their personal right to do so.

Lastly, sticking to the projection of gender differences through media outlets, we can prove this issue through real world studies conducted through academia. In a fairly recent study a group of college students took an in depth look into the construction of gender in sports based on campus cover photographs at their own university. Specifically, National Collegiate Athletic Association media guide photographs. The study examines that gender differences are depicted strongly through these types of media outlets, and that women athletes are less likely to be shown actually participating in sports as compared to men. The research was conducted during two periods of time, 1989-1990 and 1996-1997. “In the 1990 media guides, when women athletes were represented, they were less likely than men to be portrayed in uniform, on the court, or in action.” (Buysse 2004) This is staggering finding in itself but what is most disturbing is that the time between studies didn’t change much of anything. “In 1997, women athletes continued to be underrepresented on the court and in action, but the gender difference in wearing uniforms had disappeared. Unfortunately, the degree to which women appeared on court actually decreased.” (Buysse 2004) This study specifically reveals the continual boundaries women have had to face in athletics over an eight year time span. This is where the issue of gender equality struggles the most, in change on the issue.

The body of this paper has attempted to highlight some of the causes behind the social barriers women endure when it comes to athletic participation. First, I discussed the history behind these boundaries, that date clear back to the turn into the twentieth century. I analyzed some of the key issues pertaining to social constructs back then and proceeded to discuss how they have persisted relevant even in todays society. The discussion of things such as Title IX are examples of instances when women have tried to rebel against societal norms, yet still have not been able to rid the negative ideals seen as normal. The strongest point of emphasis lies within how women are portrayed in sports through the media. The question being how are these women supposed to become equal in the world of sports with mainstream media against them? This is an issue in todays society that is conflicting in many ways because it arguable comes down to greed amongst the media. When we as a society can figure out to portray women equally as men in their own form of athletics will we have gender equality in sports. Until then, there are barriers in gender identity through sports, providing a substantial upper hand for men as opposed to women.

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Gender Inequality in Athletic Sports. (2021, Apr 21). Retrieved from