It should be no secrete that women have faced all sorts of inequality throughout the history of time. From basic human rights such as voting and be able to have jobs to more recent day dilemmas, such as being able to compete in sports. It was not all too long ago that women were not able to compete in the same sports as men, but why is that? This problem has plagued the minds of many for centuries and still remains a problem today, in the way that women are treated at an unequal level compared to men. Since the beginning of modern era sports, women have been subject to inequality and unfair treatment solely based on their gender. But why is that?This photo, taken in 1967, is of a young woman named Kathrine Switzer. Kathrine Switzer will go down in history for being the first woman to ever compete in the Boston Marathon.
Although this is true, we can see that some of her male counterparts are less than enthused about it. The first thing that I notice about this photograph is the varying differences of facial expressions. The first one that catches my eye is the man in the front of the pack who seems to have a smile on his face. This either indicates that he thinks the situation is funny or that he is genuinely having a good time, which is unlikely running a marathon. The next reaction that I notice is of the men that are trying to corral Kathrine, they seem to be very angry.
So angry that they justified physical removal of Kathrine from the race. The last reaction that sticks out to me is the man on the right side of the photo, he seems to be upset by the fact that these men are pulling her out of the race, like he wants her to be able to keep running. So, from these facial expressions, we can draw several different conclusions. Men either think that it is funny a woman is trying to compete in the race, or they are enraged in the fact that a woman would be able to compete in such a prestigious event, or the less popular reaction of wanting a women to be able to compete in such a race.
So why would any man not want a woman to compete at the same level as them? This idea stems from a much earlier school of thought dating centuries back where women were ultimately viewed to be inferior to men. Tracing our roots all the way back to the first Olympic games, women were not allowed to compete. From this time period up until the late 18th century, women were viewed as second class citizens.
They were discriminated against in nearly all aspects of their lives. They were unable to have the same opportunities as men, such as education, ability to own property, voting, among many other things (Oglesby). This gave the idea that women are weak, incapable objects that are fragile and not able to do the basic tasks that men were able to do, so why should they be able to play the same sports? This idea of women playing sports seemed blasphemous to many in times such as these. Until the 1500s, women had not even been documented to have participated in sports. It actually wasn’t until 1567 that the Mary Queen of Scots became the first women to play a sport (Oglesby). That sport would be none other than, Golf, one of the oldest games to ever be created. This moment was revolutionary, but it’s effect on women becoming more involved in sports was seemingly invisible.
It wasn’t until 1811 where there was any organized women’s sporting events. This first organized sporting event for women was a golf tournament held in Musselburgh, Scotland (Oglesby). Although this was a major step in the right direction for women in the sport of golf, other sports seemingly did not follow. Other sports continued to leave women at the wayside while not batting an eye, after all, they were still viewed as inferior. It wasn’t until 1884 where another sport would add women to the competition. That sport was Tennis. The Wimbledon officially introduced the women’s singles division in 1884 which lead to a major step for women in sports (Oglesby).
This ultimately allowed women to compete in the 1900 Paris Olympics in Golf, Tennis, and Croquet. Just as things were beginning to look sweeter, they would be met by the discontent of many men. A certain, largely important discontent would come from none other than the President of the Olympic games. In 1910, Pierrede Courbertin, President of the Olympic games, said, “If a woman wishes to pilot an airplane, no policeman has a right to stop her…but when it comes to public sports competitions, women’s participation should be absolutely prohibited,”(Hargreaves). While women began to be able to compete in sports, the inequality and discrimination remained, just in different forms. So what changed?As time went on, and women became increasing more involved in sports, where courageous acts such as Kathrine Switzer’s paved the way for women’s sports to grow and things like Title XI became enacted, women’s sports became more and more legitimate. Although this is true, they still were not the same as their male counterparts.
They were now faced with discrimination in other forms. As technology began to increase and change, so did sports. Games were beginning to be televised.
This allowed for a new niche of sporting world to be opened up. Advertising. Companies could now sponsor the latest and greatest athletes to be associated with their brand in exchange for money (Hargreaves). For women, this could be viewed as either a blessing or a worst nightmare for building an image.
Take for example, Billie Jean King. Debatably one of the greatest women’s tennis players to ever live, struggled for her whole career to obtain even one sponsored endorsement. Whereas a certain Chris Evert became the first woman reach endorsements totally near $1 million dollars. The difference? Billie Jean King didn’t want to comply to sexualizing herself for a company while Chris Evert didn’t mind doing so (Cahn). As we know, Tannen discusses marked versus unmarked traits for women in relation to the way that they dress, this is a very similar situation. This means that women were either left with the option to take little to no endorsement money while retaining the hardworking, athletic image that they had built or they could begin to market themselves as sexualized beings that just so happen to play a sport as their profession.
With an already insurmountable pay gap between genders in the sporting world, nearly four times the average pay in every sport, this means that many women are driven to sell their image of being hardworking and top performing in exchange for an image that is equated to being a sex symbol in the sporting world, just to stay financially afloat (Cahn). Not only did this principle translate to tennis, but all other sports. Sports such as golf only furthered this image in later years by creating this frilly, girly image out of golfers that were nearly on par with men.
Take for example, Michelle Wie. Considered a child prodigy, Michelle excelled through her amatauer career and onto the pro circuit. Even making a debut to play in some men’s tournaments, a concept that was foreign to say the least. She quickly became the face of Nike Golf for women, but began to lose the respect that she had earned.
She began to be viewed as a symbol for provocative women’s golf clothes instead of a world class golfer. This lack of respect for women is the ultimate reason why female sports are not able to gain a mass following of fans. Advertising has conclusively changed society views towards women in sports from hardworking athletes to sexualized objects which has in turn caused a loss of respect for their sports, the main reason as to why female sports don’t have a large following. If females don’t have a large following, this is going to be the root as to why female athletes are not able to be paid as much. Since the integration of sexualized female athletes have come on the scene, a large majority of the population have become uncomfortable with the idea of physically defying female athletes (Cahn). Many members of the population see the advertisements withholding these ‘sexy female athletes’ and begin to associate this image with what they picture every female athlete to look like. So when they see that the majority of female athletes don’t look like goddesses that play basketball for a living, they become disinterested in watching.
With this discontent, many people never gain interest in these women’s sports, which accounts for the lack of a large fan base. This leaves female sports to not be able to gain a large following only due to the fact that they don’t meet the physical attractiveness level that society desires.So what is the underlying reason as to why women face discrimination and inequality in the sporting world? Since women’s sports don’t draw as many fans as men’s sports do, they cannot generate the same money.
Since they can’t generate the same money, many female athletes must turn to things such as sexaulized advertisements to stay financially afloat. If they turn to selling themselves as a sexualized female athletes, then they won’t have the same respect as someone who is viewed as hardworking and dedicated. This lack of respect will mean that they will continue to be faced with the same discrimination and inequality that they have for countless years. But hope is on the horizon. Companies like Under Armour and Nike have began to portray these female athletes for their true identities of hardworking, dedicated individuals. This is how female athletes will erase the discrimination and inequality that they are faced with in the sporting world.