Essay: Women in Sports

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Women in Sports

Sports, as well as other areas of social reality like politics or labor, have been viewed as a man's world for many centuries. As it has happened in politics or human rights, women have always found not only the strength but also the leadership to take things to the next level and create positive change in the way they are seen both by men and by other women.

Women in the times of the ancient Olympics were not only denied access as contestants but were not even allowed to be spectators, sports being considered a show for men. Later, as the Heraea Games appeared, every four years girls and young women had the opportunity to race in various competitions in the same stadium that men would face, but prior to the men's games. As Thomas Scanlon argues "There were three footraces, one for each of three age divisions unspecified in the ancient sources, but perhaps ranging from six to 18. Winners, like victors in the men's games, received an olive wreath crown and a share of the one ox slaughtered for the patron deity on behalf of all the participants. Heraia victors attached painted portraits of themselves to Hera's temple in the Olympic sanctuary." (Scanlon, 2004).

Until the nineteenth and twentieth century women sports was rare and non-structured. Even in some women would have wanted to engage in sporting activities, the social norms of the last 200 years argued that it would not be normal for a young lady to involve themselves in such activities. The first real celebrity in sports was Edith Cummings who appeared on the cover on Time magazine as the first female athlete in such a position, and the first professional woman golfer in 1924. The following years brought more and more women involved in sports, yet only at an amateur level as real financing, public support and audience were missing.

Barriers have always been there and will still be there for many decades to come, even if significant progress has been made to create a socio-economic space that aims for equal opportunities and promotion of women. Therefore, having in view that in most countries women have in theory equal opportunities as men, sport can be used as an amazing tool for lowering and eliminating the effects of gender discrimination.

By demonstrating that women can engage in various sporting activities with the same proportional level of results as man, or even better in some cases, significant progress can be attained for the overall community building. As the United Nations "Women, gender equality and sport" Report shows, sport is also very important for the socio-healthy development of young girls. The skills and values that sports brings are crucial for the development of a normal society: "teamwork, negotiation, leadership, communication and respect for others, new interpersonal networks, develop a sense of identity and access new opportunities, allowing them to become more engaged in school and community life" (United Nations, 2007, p. 9).

As Huggins and Randell argue, more opportunities for women and girls to engage in sporting activities "empowers women and girls on an individual level, by promoting self-confidence, leadership, teamwork skills and a sense of achievement." (Huggins and Randell, 2007) This offers also the possibility of reevaluating concepts of femininity and masculinity and make sport as a unifying and mediating factor in gender-biased communities. In such communities and societies, when access to the political arena is lower than in other societies, women that excel in sports can become female role models for all the female population, be them young or old. By offering a positive example that through hard work, determination against all odds and courage, these athletes offer not only hope but also an incentive to act. This is not restricted to entering the world of sports but goes beyond that, to a feeling of women-empowerment which can create massive waves of pro-feminist equitable policy movements.

One of the problems that appear when discussing women performance in sports is the fact that although the effect could be huge on other women, this has low media coverage and does not get in the quantity and quality of what it should to its public. Women in sport leadership "can shape attitudes towards women's capabilities as leaders and decision makers, especially in traditional male domains" (United Nations, 2007, p. 3) Yet this leadership cannot be seen when it is kept away from the public's eye.

In North American, Europe and Australia and all the other developed countries, women in sport is given much less television time and newspaper text than men's sport. Just looking at one developed system of equal chances like Australia, shows how weak women's sport is present (Government of Western Australia, 2010): coverage of women's sport is 9% of all sports coverage in Australian television (as of 2010) with male sport reaching easily over 80% and with much more per news minutes on air; horse racing has more than women with 10% of television coverage. This is visible in the United States as well, where even in more than 40% of sport participants are women, only 7% of sports coverage refers to their sporting activities. In a rather comprehensive study made by the Women's Sports Foundation on four important newspapers -- USA Today, The Boston Globe, the Orange County Register and Dallas Morning news -- it shows that women sporting barely made it to 3,5% of all sports news. (Cassel, 2011)

In a recent study by the Center for Feminist Research, University of Southern California that focuses on Gender in Televised Sports over the last 20 years, the researchers have found that there has been no or little improvement in the last years in what regards women's sporting presence on television. With a 1.6% television broadcasts that focused on this type of activity, one could say that it is almost inexistent. And when it does, it is usually portraying women in demeaning ways, "as sexual objects, or as the brunt of commentators' sarcastic humor in stories on marginal pseudo-sports" (Messner and Cooky, 2010, p. 5). Also, when presenting sports stories of women, these were in connection to incidents, fights or other types of controversy.

These types of discrepancies are also visible in the way women athletes are paid for their professional achievements. For example in the United States, the total prize money for the PGA Tour is over $250 million, which is five times more than the women's version of the sport. This is seen also in basketball where in 2005 the minimum salary for a woman was $31,200 and for men, $385,277 or in soccer where similar ten times less figures are visible. (Women's Sports Foundation, 2011) This is a result of a multitude of factors, coming from history of gender and finishing with sponsorship packages that do not allow for higher amounts of money to be invested in women.

Besides the level of payment and the unjust space on newspapers and television, women have had a significant number of moments when fame went over barriers to reach higher and higher peaks. When sports performances are high, so does the media involves more and more into the subject, thus promoting women and the aforementioned issues of role models and inspirational sports leaders. One of the first women that eliminated, even for a short while, the male competition from the media attention was young Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci. The fact that she won gold at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal was not that important, and neither that she was extremely young to win these at 14 years old. She entered in history because she received the maximum scoring possible, a 10, and was the first to achieve this and the last in the history of this sport. Not only she received this score, but she received it 7 times in a row creating a global wave of fans and followers. She was declared the 1976 BBC Sports Personality of the Year and the Associated Press's 1976 "Female Athlete of the Year and was decorated by communist leaders Nicolae Ceausescu with the title of "Hero of Socialist Labor," the youngest person to ever receive such a title. What Nadia had done, and several other women before her, was to draw the attention towards women's extraordinary sporting performance opening the way for other amazing sportswomen to become role models for young girls. As it happened with Nadia or with Martina Navratilova in tennis, they became leaders in the hearts and minds of young girls in the Eastern Block and in the entire world, motivating young girls to involve in sports and raise the bar for the next generations.

As time passed and media coverage of sporting events began to look at women sport as well, champions like Navratilova and Nadia started using their position as celebrities to become civic actors. Martina Navratilova, declared by many as the greatest tennis player of all times, involved herself in various charities for the benefits of animal rights,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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