A female athlete recounts her experiences on the field:
Over the years, I have learned that you only have one real shot to show your athleticism. A bad first touch on a soccer ball makes you unreliable. A tackle on an offender too early makes you slow. Avoidance of a header makes you weak. After 15 years of playing soccer, I know I am most critical of my skills in co-ed games because a mess up too big will result in lack of involvement from the boys.
In high school, the boys in my freshman gym class did not know I could actually play until a week and a half into our soccer lesson. In a class with five or six girls, they quickly assumed none of us were worthy of a pass. I made sure when I finally got my first touch on the ball, I wouldn’t mess it up. I am an athlete. Like everyone else involved in the game, I was there to compete.
Location plays a major role in determining a culture’s acceptance of female athletes. Frankly, I’ve been luckier than many growing up as female athletes. My chosen sports of soccer, long distance running and the occasional season of basketball have — for the most part — plenty of competition and opportunities for all genders in northern Virginia. My fancy cleats and travel team’s soccer bag are comical luxuries in comparison to the bare feet and beaten soccer balls of street games in other countries, specifically outside of the United States.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, from 2007 to 2008 female high school athletes had access to 1.3 million fewer athletic opportunities compared to male athletes. This could mean a lack of a specific sports team that female athletes can play on such as a girls’ varsity basketball team. Especially if the resources are not available for female athletes at an early age, then they are less likely to continue with a sport.
According to sports psychologist L. Bunker, “If a girl does not participate in sports by the time she is 10, there is only a 10 percent chance she will participate when she is 25.” Looking at the progression of a sports career, female athletes will have a hard time being recruited for college teams if they do not even have a varsity team at their local high school.
In the United States, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, high school boys receive nearly 60 percent more chances to play varsity sports than girls. This perpetuates a continuing cycle of difficulties for aspiring female athletes if they cannot even find a program that will teach them the skills of their selected sport.
Even if young women are provided with opportunities to play, their programs can be short changed with lesser quality fields, damaged equipment and inadequate, often shorter uniforms compared to their male counterparts. Even on the United States' World Cup-winning national soccer team, female players like Hope Solo admitted that they had to practice on baseball fields on occasion.
In addition, when it comes to pay, as a whole, men are paid more. For instance, if the men’s team qualifies for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, it will receive a $2.5 million bonus to be divided among the 23 players, while for winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the team received just $1.8 million. The U.S. men’s national soccer team operates on a pay-for-play system, plus bonuses regardless of game outcome, while the women are paid a base salary as well as bonuses for winning games, getting nothing for ties or losses. The pay disparity is worse in basketball, with male rookie players averaging $500,000 a year, while female rookies average just about $35,000.
In many circumstances females may have the opportunity to participate in athletics; however, marginalization from a male-dominated sphere prevents female participation. According to a 2009 report from the Women’s Sports Foundation, "the majority of youth programs and drop-in centers for older children and adolescents have male oriented, if not male dominated, cultures."
A girl is less likely to participate in a pickup game at her local rec center if female participation is unpopular and marginalized. There is a persistent stereotype that discourages girls from competing in sports that typically idolize masculine traits like aggression, competition and strength. In the Western world, the hegemonic female ideal of skinny and lean does not idolize famous female athletes like Serena Williams or Mia Hamm, whereas the masculine ideal favors male athletes like David Beckham or Tom Brady for their physical appearances and athletic accomplishments.
Our columnist weighs in from an outsider's perspective:
When we look at why a bias exists toward women in sports, one of the main arguments we have to look at has to do with the physical makeup of women. Traditionally, men are stronger and taller than women. They have more muscle mass and denser, stronger bones, ligaments and tendons. In addition, men also have larger hearts and a greater lung capacity, which aids them when it comes to endurance sports such as soccer and football.
The different physical makeup of females often contributes to the perception that female sports are not competitive and boring, and, thus, do not attract large audiences to attend games. A lot of the bias that female athletes get comes from the male perspective.
After talking with about 50 college-aged men on the issue of women in sports, I found that more than half felt that women were too weak to play competitive sports at as high a level as men. Therefore, the overall product that they produced was of a lesser quality than that of men. Some respondents even went as far as to say that watching women play sports was “painful for (their) eyes” and “lacked any sort of technical skill and fast-paced action that would keep (them) interested in continuing to watch.”
The notion that sports are a man’s game is one that has been in existence for ages, but more recently grew out of events like the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Women were not allowed to participate because International Olympic Committee founder Pierre de Coubertin believed that their inclusion would be "impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and incorrect." It was not until 1900 that women were permitted to participate in the Olympics in limited “women’s sports” such as golf and lawn tennis.
In order to further understand the female perspective, several women — both athletes and non-athletes — were asked whether or not they actively watched sports. If there was both a male and female soccer match at the same time at two different stadiums, we wanted to know which they were more likely to attend. Not surprisingly, almost all of the participants said that they either would attend the men’s game, or just follow their friends to the event that seemed the most interesting and had the best atmosphere. Most admitted that they would most likely attend the men’s soccer game.
Personally, I am of the mindset that everyone should be allowed to play sports at any level, on an equal playing field regardless of one’s sex or gender identity; however, that’s just not the case.
Currently, many preconceived notions exist regarding women in sports, some of which are downright unfair. Take, for instance, girls playing on a co-rec intramural sports team. Traditionally in intramural basketball, when a female scores a layup, it is counted as 3 points, while in contrast, a male score is 2 points, but why is that? The simple answer is that it encourages male team members to pass to their female players in order to better include them in a game instead of just having the men score all the points and the females standing around. However well-intentioned this policy may be, it is not without its share of controversy from females who feel that the point system should be equal for both men and women.
Overall, there are many differing viewpoints on the issue of women in sports. There has been a concerted effort to bolster the inclusion of women in sports, particularly at the collegiate and professional levels. Federal laws such as Title IX provide safeguards for female athletes at the collegiate level, while at the professional level, many female sports leagues are sponsored and even funded by the larger male leagues. For instance, the U.S. Soccer Federation and teams in Major League Soccer fund the National Women’s Soccer League in order to provide American females the opportunity to play their trade domestically. While we have come a long way, there certainly is more work to be done to achieve equality across the sports landscape.