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Women, Sport, and Film - 2002
Student Papers
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Merging and Submerging of Women in Sports

Jessica Lee

Throughout the history of women in sports, women had to ?merge? then ?submerge? with male dominated sports organizations and structures in order to participate. The Olympic Games is a key example of women have to merge and submerge with a male dominated organization. The first modern Olympics, held in 1896, did not allow women participants. And when women were allowed to participate, in 1900, it was in only three sports and out of the 1,225 athletes, only nineteen were women. The Olympics have allowed women to ?merge?, thus enabling women to participate in the games and rise to the level that they compete at today, however women are still ?submerged? within the dominant male sport structure, as can be seen with the present imbalance of men?s and women?s events and the significantly higher number of male athletes than females. Though equal participation of male and female athletes needs to be further developed, the mere idea of female participation in organized ?male? sports is socially and culturally significant by empowering women and breaking barriers that hinder women in all aspects of life.

Women have always been regarded as the "weaker" sex and the role of the woman was always to be submissive, passive and obedient to men. With sports, women hardly had a role at all until the twentieth century. Using the Olympics as an example, female athletes were not even considered at the onset of the modern games, and when they were allowed to compete in the second games in the 1900s, their presence was not taken seriously, only nineteen women competed, and only in three sporting events: golf, archery, and tennis. However, the "merging" of women into the Olympic games has come a long way, as can be seen by the competitive edge of the women in their events, events in which women and men both compete against one another, and sports in which women are actually favored over men , such as gymnastics and figure skating. However, a disparity still exists. In many other Olympic sports, women's and men's times and scores cannot be compared, because the rules are slightly different. For example, in shooting, women and men used to compete together but now, the sexes have been separated and women compete in fewer events than men. In archery, women and men shoot from different distances. Downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, rowing, the luge, and the biathlon all feature shorter courses for women than for men; and in basketball the ball is smaller than the ball used by men, and the basket is set lower than for men. What is the point of having slightly different rules for women and men? Many women contend that the rules of the game changes lightly for women as soon as it appears that women are catching up. Or in those sports where women can compete successfully (such as shooting or archery), the rules are varied slightly so women's and men's scores cannot be compared.

The merging of women into male dominated sports has been important, not just in allowing women to play sports, but it had many social and cultural benefits as well. In many countries, there are actual separate laws regarding women. Women hardly have any rights at all in several Muslim countries; Iran refused to allow women to play sports and would not partake in the Olympic games. The merger of women athletes into "men's" sports has been a social justice issue. Women playing sports has broken the stereotypes surround women as athletes, and their physical capabilities, but more importantly it has introduced the issue of gender equality, and allows promotion of the idea that women are capable of accomplishing almost anything they want. The theme going along with "merging" is also "submerging" of women into men's athletic organizations. A pattern definitely exists in the integration of women into organized sports; women were "invited" to participate, then after merging with the men's athletic organization, they were "submerged". The rules for women's sports and events in the Olympics are different, and when women were beginning to excel men, alterations were made so that women and men could not be compared. The standard is always slightly lowered for women and this forces women to submerge, causing a problem that cannot be solved through legislation, like Title IX.

The mindsets of all people must be changed in order for there to be complete equality between men and women. Homophobia for women athletes still exists in the twenty-first century. Female athletes are often branded as "lesbian", which is a term that should not even be used as an insult in the first place. It is much more difficult for a woman to achieve their goal in the athletic world, and on the whole, women's sports faces struggles that male sports exacerbate. The WNBA was formed to allow women a professional basketball league but it is much less popular than the NBA; a factor that has made the WNBA submissive to the NBA. The situation of submerging occurs very frequently even today. Female athletes receive less endorsements, and scholarships, women's sports organizations received less publicity or recognition; the list goes on. This problem is not one that can easily be solved. Until everyone, including women, unlearns the stereotypes, which hinder women all around the world, something as simple as women playing sports will not fully be embraced or accepted.

The merging of female athletes into male sporting arenas has been a milestone in illustrating women's capabilities, but we are still only partway there. As is illustrated through the submerging of women in the Olympics, women are still not social equals to men. Countries that restrict women to the extreme still thrive and refuse to allow women to pursue sports because of the cultural beliefs, and even in democratic societies women are still not regarded as equal to men. Until the idea of equality is truly accepted by society, women's sports will always be submerged, not only on the playing field, but in the entire realm of life.
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