Gender Equality in Sports

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Nonexistence of Gender Equality in Sports

The sports culture has always had a gender controversy in that it favors men more than women. Even though Title IX has long been passed, there is still a social stigma against women’s participation in sports. This issue is very significant due to the unequal treatment of female athletes in aspects such as salary, media coverage, endorsements, etc. Most of the research points to the masculinity of sports and how female athletes are disregarded due to their gender. It is suggested that there are underlying factors that may affect this imbalance of treatment such as race, age, capabilities, etc. Due to these factors, women in sports are underrepresented in the media and sexualized in order to gain attention. Furthermore, there is an image they must upkeep in that female athletes exude feminine appearance but uphold masculine traits when playing sports. There have been some considerable changes over the years in regards to women in sport but there is still an obvious distinction from the male athletes.

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“Gender Equality in Sports”

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Title IX “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance” (U.S. Department of Education, 2018). This law was passed under the Education Amendments of 1972, which helped eliminate the discrimination of sex in sports. This also opened up the world of sports to females in schools and inspires skilled individuals to further pursue an occupation in professional sports. History Before Title IX, females were not encouraged nor were they allowed to participate in most physical activities like sports. Women were associated with soft play, caring and nurturing to further promote an image opposite that of males. The social norm became that the women’s responsibilities were childcare, house chores, and taking care of the family in general. This was further explained by Steinfeldt et al (2011) that “the process of gender role socialization utilizes social norms, values, and ideologies to teach attitudes and behaviors about what it means to be a man or a woman in society (Addis & Mahalik, 2003” (p.402).

When women did participate in activity deemed outside of their capabilities or contradicted the feminine image, they ended up being discriminated by those around them. During the World War II when the men were off to war, women took over the jobs in the factories and also the sports industry. The most popular is the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was not widely accepted at first, but people eventually came around to enjoy it. When the war was over however, and the men returned home, the women’s baseball team lost its popularity and the men’s sports reigned supreme. This mentality unfortunately was passed down from generation to generation, continuing the discouragement and decreasing the exposure of women in sports. Significance Title IX was a product from the Civil Rights Act that begun in 1964.

This was a significant movement in that people were fighting for equal rights within all race, sex, and religion. With the law now by their side, the society saw an increase in female participation in sports and allowed the formation of sports teams for women in schools. The law had a greater strength in compliance since failure to do so can cause the cancellation of federal financial assistance to those facilities. Furthermore, most organizations such as the NCAA have adopted competitions specifically for women’s sports, providing more opportunities for female athletes. This also helped alter the gender norms in society about women playing sports and widened the society’s perception about equal sports participation.

After Title IX Although it may seem like Title IX solved the problem within sports about gender, it unfortunately just introduced new obstacles for female athletes. Sports remained heavily in favor of men and as Steinfeldt et al (2011) stated, “sport as a male dominated setting has influenced female athletes’ negotiation of their position in sport and continues to reflect traditional gendered hegemonic practices that promote conformity to gender role norms (Beal, 1996; Krane, Choi, Baird, Aimar, & Kauer 2004; Meaˆn & Kassing, 2008; Ross & Shinew, 2008)” (p. 402). Women must not only conform to sports norms but also gender norms within society just so that they can continue playing. Another obstacle factor for female athletes according to Sherry, Osborne, and Nicholson (2016), “Women’s sport continues to be viewed through the prism of male hegemony… sport management and administration structures, policies and behaviours that underpin the treatment of women’s sport and maintain the status quo” (p. 299). With this continuation of males reigning supreme over the sports realm, female athletes still have difficulty being credited as an equal athlete with males.

Social Stigma and Stereotypes

Most of the issue surrounding gender and sports all stem from social stigma and stereotypes embedded within society. People have grown to have the Near Exposure Effect, which is the preference towards often seen or familiar with. Since men are the ones normally seen to be playing sports and associated with physical activity, it is only natural that when women were included in sports, many stereotypes formed as a result. Biological Make-up Wellard (2016) pointed out in his article, “…when addressing gender issues in sport is the continued assumption by many sport practitioners that the experiences of women and men will always be different because of perceived physiological characteristics” (p. 1).

Although there are multiple differences between the anatomy and physiology of men and women, this does not validate the statement that women cannot play sports due to that difference. Force production is vital for most sports and women are stereotyped to be weaker than men. This is not necessarily true as there are many athletes who take advantage of training adaptations to be the best at their sport. Each individual is unique, thus it is hard to contribute physiological factors as the valid reason to support women being inferior to men. Unfortunately, due to lack of education in society about the human body adaptations in relation to training, stereotypes like these have remained prevalent in sports.


While children are growing up, parents play a vital role with shaping the child’s personality and values. It is not surprising that the values the parents grew up with is handed down to their children, which may include gender stereotypes. These stereotypes can range from girls playing with dolls and boys playing sports or anything dealing with aggressive, physical movement. This stereotype promotes the idea that women should not play in sports and if they did, they can be mocked to be a tomboy. Moreover, Plaza et al (2017) explained about gender stereotype activation that can apply as the children grow up and “judgments, attitudes, and behaviors toward the person or object are likely to be shaped by previous stereotypic traits activation without individuals’ conscious awareness” (p. 203-204).

As the children grow older, these stereotypes become instilled in their minds and can be activated when the situation arises. In example would be female athletes playing basketball. The automatic reaction would be that basketball is not a sport normally associated with women and they are contradicting the stereotype by doing so. The result could be the athletes being labeled as lesbians or tomboys, decreased support, and constant negative perception towards their sport participation.

Gender Categorized

The most influential ideas that most research and articles highlight are that sports are heavily gender typed and associated with masculinity. As Steinfeldt et al (2011) wrote “the beliefs and values conveyed to athletes emphasize qualities that are associated with traditional conceptualizations of masculinity (e.g., aggression, competition, toughness; Sabo, 1985; Wellard, 2002; Whan- nel, 2007; Whitson, 1994)” (p. 401). Since most of the sports involve masculine traits, women are constantly pressured to conform to this masculinity in terms of physical and mental state. This comparison is always made between men and women, however only women get criticized for their image. They are expected to exude feminism while upholding masculine features. In addition, the variety of sports is also gender categorized based on what society perceives as appropriate for each.

Plaza et al (2017) pointed out “ qualitative investigation recently confirmed that activities involving strength, endurance, and physical contact were mainly conceived as masculine activities, whereas aesthetics sports (i.e., those involving concentration, application, and flexibility) were considered as feminine activities by French adolescents (Lentillon 2009)” (p. 203). An example of this would be football in that it is deemed too violent for women and gymnastics is seen as more of a women’s sport. This then discourages women to participate and diminishes the idea of gender equality in sports.

Mass Media

Women’s sports are heavily underrepresented in the media in terms of television broadcasting and commercials. Channels like ESPN prioritize all male sports coverage but only cover a handful of women’s sports such as basketball and tennis. When women athletes are featured in commercials or magazines, they are often sexualized to garner more attention. Coverage With the advancing technology and expansion of broadcasting, there are now multiple channels that cover sports on a daily basis, all year round. This televised broadcast has changed the face of sports in that it increased the exposure of sports and athletes to the mass public and allowed for them to watch games more conveniently.

As innovative as broadcasting sounds, it is still an obstacle for females to get exposure through this medium. Most women’s sports are not broadcasted as often as men’s, if not at all. In their research, Sherry, Osborne, and Nicholson (2016) concluded that “the relative exclusion of women’s sport in the media serves to frame women’s sport as less important than men’s (Godoy-Pressland and Griggs 2014; Lumby et al. 2010) and thus maintains the notion of sexual difference and perpetuates masculine hegemony (Birrell and Theberge, 2007; Cooky et al. 2013; Mason and Rail 2006; Messner et al. 2003)” (p. 300). Even when they are televised, women’s sports, with the exclusion of Olympics, does not fill up the stadium seats like men’s sports do. This is a factor that sets back female athletes since the decreased coverage further supports the male supremacy in sports. Image.

The image that society expects of female athletes can be summarized as someone who is attractive and feminine on the outside, but also has the masculine traits when playing sports. As one may notice, most female athletes are required to wear makeup and pastel colors that accentuate the feminine image they are trying to portray. If that does not garner enough attention, sponsors and magazines sexualize the image of female athletes to sell more products and attract more audiences during games. As Hall and Oglesby (2016) noted, “Women athletes are included not for their athleticism but for their sexual appeal. Pictures of female athletes in provocative poses are common; after all sex sells. (Hall 2007)” (p. 272).

Even the uniform styles that female athletes are offered adhere to the social stereotype of femininity. In tennis, athletes have to wear a skirt and a tight fitting tank top along with makeup and a long ponytail for their hair when playing in tournaments. Furthermore, there are certain feminine gestures that female athletes are pressured to having to become more appealing to the public. Sherry, Osborne, and Nicholson (2016) quoted, “Goffman (1979) argued that visual representations present gender relations in a manner that is not reflective of reality, but rather, the images fulfill a social function: to convince society that that is how the two genders are, how they wish to be, and how they ought to be” (p. 301)

A great example is tennis athlete Maria Sharapova, who was popular for having attractive features. Although she performs well on tennis tournaments and has her share of winnings, most of what the public remembers of her is her pretty appearance. In comparison to male athletes, the audience does not focus on appearance or body structure as much but rather focuses on the skill and how well the player performs during games.

Playing Professionally

Gender typing in sports also applies to professional athletes in aspects such as monetary winnings, sponsorships, and overall treatment during the games. In comparison to females, male athletes have multimillion-dollar contracts and are offered lifetime sponsorships with popular brands. Women athletes on the other hand, are only offered a fraction of what male athletes make and sponsorships are limited. Salary Since Title IX, the prevalence of women’s sports has increased all over the world and competitions between countries occur annually, asides from the Olympics. Some have had great successes like the U.S. women’s soccer team who was the 2015 World Champion and Serena Williams who have won twenty-three Grand Slams in tennis.

Along with the pride and fame that comes with winning, professional athletes are also awarded prize money for their accomplishments. Unfortunately, there is no law that states women and men receive equal amounts when it comes to winnings. Female athletes are at a disadvantage getting paid much less than male athletes. Hall and Oglesby (2016) described, “Gender and salary differences are staggering for professional women. In soccer, women earn a minimum of $6842 and for men salaries are at least $50,000 (Harwell 2015)” (p. 272). This is still the case today in organizations like the WNBA where female players’ contracts are only a fraction of the amount of what NBA male players make. Fortunately, tennis has made great innovations in eliminating the prize money difference between male and female tennis players. Currently, the winner of the tournaments receives the same amount of prize money, regardless of sex.

Product Endorsements/Commercials

As mentioned earlier, the salary differences between male and female athletes are significantly different, but that is only the beginning. A good portion of an athlete’s salary comes from brand sponsors and product advertisements. The most common advertisement is commercials ranging from insurance companies to food products. Male athletes are portrayed with a cool, macho vibe while female athletes are most often sexualized and required to wear revealing clothing. Sherry, Osborne, and Nicholson (2016) reiterated in their article that “ some studies argue that there could be serious and long-lasting negative implications flowing from female athletes’ use of sex to sell themselves, to gain exposure and establish a presence, presumably with a view to gaining sponsorship ((Smallwood, Brown, and Billings 2014)” (p. 303). The authors further explain that this sexualization of women to gain sponsorship relates back to the idea of gender typing. The sexualized image attributes to the feminine side and sex attracts more fans and sells more products. This switches the focus from performance to image in women’s athletes and defeats the purpose of gender equality between men.

Game Rules

Each sport has a set of rules, and referees and organization officials ensure to enforce those rules especially during tournaments. These rules are objective and focuses on the overall goals of the sport. One would not expect any gender bias from it, but the idea of masculinity in sport still prevails through its rules and regulations. “Sports organisation management’s perceptions of gender underpinned discourses which served to “sustain homologous reproduction” (Knoppers and Anthonissen 2008, p. 93), thereby restricting the capacity for change” (Sherry, Osborne, and Nicholson, 2016 p. 299). It can be seen that in men’s sports, the referees follow the rules but are lenient to certain violations. Women’s sports on the other hand, are held to very strict rules and referees tend to be biased against them. This still occurs today and an example is the Grand Slam 2018 between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. Williams was fined for code violations when the umpire accused her of receiving illegal coaching on the side. She admitted that she did not receive any coaching but the situation escalated badly, leading to the organization announcing her loss against Osaka due to violation. Williams later argued that circumstances like these have also occurred in men’s tournaments but the umpires overlook those violations due to a favorable bias on male athletes.

Sexism plays a factor here and umpires who are supposed to be neutral and enforce the rules equally do not do so. Conclusion Without the passing of Title IX, women’s sports would not be where it is today. It helped encourage women to participate in sports and decrease the social stigma against women and physical activity. With the growing epidemic of obesity today, the encouragement to participate in women’s sports helps society tackle through this problem and promote a healthier lifestyle with exercise.

Unfortunately, Title IX covers only a small amount of problems within the gender issue in sports. Society still believes in gender roles and stereotypes that disable the advancement of women’s sports to be taken more seriously. Fortunately, there are articles like the ones mentioned that brings further awareness to the current sexism in sports. Although most people know about it, further action is necessary to bring equality for female athletes. The articles have also discussed about other factors that affect gender inequality in sports such as age, race, and physical capabilities that still needs to be addressed. This is important since the U.S. is a melting pot of different cultures, which could play a factor for women’s ability to play sports.

Although these articles are very helpful in addressing the issues female athletes face today, its downside is the lack of coverage about the support women received from male athletes. There are many instances that male athletes have acknowledged and given recognition to skilled female athletes that further promote gender equality in sports. Another lack of coverage is on male athletes’ conflicts in sport. Even though female athletes have a more challenging experience in the sports world, male athletes also have their obstacles to face. They too are subject to gender discrimination that makes sports participation challenging.

All in all, there is still a long way to go and many obstacles to tackle through before the gender inequality in sports is completely resolved. Future research can be done on the social structure of the population as to why male athletes are more popular and accepted in the world of sports. The goal still remains to be diminishing the gender discrimination in sports. Moreover, the social idea that sports’ focus is athletic performance and entertainment of competition between talented individuals should be further promoted.  

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Gender Equality in Sports. (2021, Mar 29). Retrieved February 6, 2023 , from

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