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Women, Sport, and Film - 2002
Student Papers
On Serendip

The Issues of Women in Sport

Jessica Padgett

The topics including race, gender, history and sexual orientation play major roles in women's participation in sport. Through out the history of women in sport, opportunity has increased. Many athletes and coaches are presented with the issue of sexual orientation throughout their sporting career. Regardless of sexual orientation, all female athletes are affected by heterosexism. One's racial or ethnicity background greatly shapes the experience they may have in sport. This essay explores the many issues women in sport face today.

Historically, it has been understood that the "natural order of the universe" consisted of man to the marketplace, woman at home with her family, woman the mistress of domesticity, man the master of all else, man the rational thinker, woman the guardian of morals, man dominant, and woman subordinate. The injection of equality between the two genders challenged the foundation of the social order. Women's sports in the late 1800's focused on correct posture, facial and bodily beauty, and health. In 1916 the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) holds its first national championship for Women. In 1919, Suxanne Lenglen shocks Wimbledon in triumph in a dress that exposes her arms and lower legs. In 1925 Gertrude Ederle becomes the first woman to swim the English Channel, breaking the existing record by more than two hours. In 1932, Babe Didrkson sets the world record in three track and field competitions. Amelia Earhart disappears over the South Pacific in her round-the-world flight in 1937. In 1949 the LGPA is established. Marcinia (Toni) Stone is the first woman to break gender barrier when signed to the Negro American League Team in 1953. In 1960 gender verification testing for women was enforced at international sport competitions. The first five-person full court play is adopted in women's basketball in 1971. In 1972 Title IX is passed creating opportunities for girls and women to participate in sport. In 1973 Billy Jean King defeats Bobby Riggs in the "battle of the sexes" tennis match. In 1973 the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) awards the first academic scholarships to women athletes at the collegiate level. Jackie Joiner-Kersee sets the new heptathlon world record and wins a second gold medal in the long jump in 1988. In 1991 Judith Sweet becomes the first woman president of the NCAA. Soccer and softball make it into the Olympic debut in 1996. In 1997 professional basketball debuts with the WNBA and ABL. In 1999 the U.S. Women's Soccer team defeats China for the World Cup win in a record seating of 90,185 people (Cohen, viii).

Gender role is defined as the socially constructed and culturally specific behavior and appearance expectations imposed on women (femininity) and men (masculinity). Many girls are subjected to gender role stereotyping and different treatment Through socialization, individuals learn to behave in accordance with the expectations of others in the social order (Hult, 83.). Gender ideology is involved when one attaches a color such as pink and blue to sex and when one designates types of toys as male, female or neutral. Most play behavior is an outcome of gender role stereotyping that stems from cultural ideology. Early research provides that by first grade, boys recognize sports, whereas girls recognize grades as the most important attribute for popularity. Research has found that girls tend to play indoors more often and tend not to play team or competitive games, which limits their spatial experiences in outdoor settings. Developmental progression of sports socialization process provides us with the following information: activities during the early years are more gender similar than gender differentiated, by grade one, children are monitoring their parents' behaviors for cues that reveal the importance parents attach to participating and doing well in sports, gender differences in sport ability, enjoyment, and perceived usefulness are evident, parents encourage sons more than they encourage daughters to be physically active (Cohen, 9.)

Early studies indicates that race and social class background accounts for different experiences in socializing young girls into sport. Women of color experience both racism and sexism. Racial, and social class are essential elements that need to be incorporated into the socialization process in general and sport socialization in particular. These factors represent critical components in the formation of values and cultural practices that orient individuals to particular patterns of thinking and feeling about sport, leisure, gender, and the body. Women of color speak with the understanding that they will often not be listened to. Coaches who are women of color know that the majority of White colleges and universities are not viable places employment. People of color can not be late to meetings or practices without it reflecting their race. When people of color are successful athletes, their success reflects their race rather than their ability (Cohen, 291.)

Girls and women who excel in sport are threats to a gender system that insists on unequal social constructions of womanhood and manhood. Women are perceived as an imitation of the real thing and are treated as second class citizens. Women and girls in sport are often called lesbians or dykes to deny them the equal opportunity in school or community sport programs. The heterosexism in women's sport affects all women, regardless of their sexual orientation. Many lesbian coaches and athletes are hesitant to out themselves publicly out of fear that they will be discriminated against, losing corporate endorsements or the support of fans, teammates, or coaches. Some athletic directors prefer to hire female coaches that are married to avoid hiring a lesbian coach. Some colleges participate in negative recruiting. They tell the recruit and her parents that there are lesbians in other school's sports program to discourage an athlete from considering another educational institution. Sometimes lesbian athletes are shunned by their teammates. Athletes taunt and tease opponents during competitive play by shouting anti-gay slurs or questioning female identity. Homophobia in sport needs to be addressed because generally 10% of athletes are gay, coaches may help unlearn certain prejudices that athletes bring with them. Another reason to address homophobia in sport: The U.S. dept. of health and services released information indicating that 30% of suicides are committed by gay or lesbians (Cohen, 279.)

Although Title XI has brought women's history in sport a long way and has provided women with the opportunity for fair play, many objectives are still left unmet. For every one dollar spent on collegiate female athletes, two dollars are spent on males. As long as there are expectations for male and female children to participate in certain activities based upon their gender, equality between the two sexes will not be met. The touchy subject of homophobia in sport has begun to draw interest over women in sports today. This major issue needs to get world-wide attention before great efforts are made to stop homophobia in sport. White people realize the concept of their white privilege and the responsibility it entails.

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