Sexism in sports persists

The 2021-22 womens soccer team.

The 2021-22 women’s soccer team.

Sexism in sports has always been prevalent, and is still affecting Pioneer High School women athletes today.

Women were not allowed to participate in the Olympics until 1900, whereas the original Olympic games were held in 1849. The 1900 Olympics were a huge milestone for women, but that wasn’t enough. 

In 1979, a convention to end all discriminatory laws against women in sports was held by the United Nations. This monumental convention was called “The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.” This gave many other countries the strength to make their own treaties and conferences to get women into sports. Finally, in 1996 the International Olympic Committee  formally amended the Olympic Charter to add references to advancing women’s roles in sports, and held its first World Conference on Women and Sport that same year.

While women are now allowed into sports, it is important to know why they weren’t allowed in the first place. Women were often seen as objects whose only asset is the ability to have a child. Many men only wanted women to have children and didn’t want anything getting in the way of that. 

When women expressed interests in sports, there were myths surrounding their participation, such as that  “if they participated in sports, (it) would make them unattractive to men, and that they only had a finite amount of energy in their bodies, and wasting that energy on sports or higher education would lead to weak offspring,” according to an article on the history of women in sports by Concordia Saint Paul University.

Appearance has always seemed a priority to men when it comes to women in sports. Some male coaches will make sure to find any opportunity they can to comment on a female athlete’s body because they are authority figures who can. 

“In women’s sports, your body is commented on way more than boys, and coaches take you playing sports as an opportunity to comment on your body,” said Maddie Hood, a senior at Pioneer who plays soccer and runs cross country.

Women should be encouraged while playing, not torn down by coaches that they look up to. When coaches comment negatively about women’s bodies, it contributes to the misogyny of how women are seen in sports.

Women’s and men’ sports still have a big difference when it comes to uniforms. Women are typically forced to wear smaller, tighter clothes, and it enforces the idea that women are only important because of their bodies, and not because of their athletic achievements. 

“Women’s track (shorts) compared to the boys track shorts are here” (pointing to middle of the leg) “for guys and is almost a speedo (swimsuit) for girl,’” said Margriet Poppens, a senior at Pioneer, who runs cross country, plays soccer, and does gymnastics. 

The shrinking of the uniform on girls makes it evident that women’s sports often have an unspoken requirement that  the athletes are showing skin. 

Women get degraded in sports all the time which affects how people see them. Since women are seen as inferior in terms of athletic ability, some coaches and men use that to demean women and discourage them from playing sports.

“I had a soccer coach when I was younger…and when we played sports, he would only call us ‘girl or woman.’ When we would shoot, he would yell out ‘better shot, girl,’” said Hood.

When authority figures define a woman athlete as just “girl,” he is taking away her self worth, because he is defining her only by her gender, and not by her accomplishments or who she is. By doing so, he is contributing to the misogyny tied to women, because he is viewing women athletes as just women.

Another major stigma female athletes must contend with is that women are emotional and that their emotions take over. This stigma stems from the idea that women have no sense of control and cannot take care of themselves.

Coaches today still use the excuse that women are more emotional to explain to women athletes why they are not as strong as their male counterparts. This idea is shown when coaches tell their women players that they are not worth their time because they are women.

“I had a soccer coach when I was younger and he told us that he wouldn’t coach girls because they cried too much,” said Hood.

Since women are seen as emotional, there is a general consensus that men are just better at sports because they are men. This pushes the idea that women were never as good as their male counterparts because they are women.

“People generally think that guys are stronger and can do more.” said Kate Lindstrom, a senior at Pioneer, who does swimming and water polo.

The idea that men are automatically better at sports shows that all men have to do to be better in someone else’s eyes is to be a man, instead of showing actual athletic evidence to prove that they are better.

Another big issue that is constantly facing women athletes is the recognition they receive. Men receive attention and praise because of their accomplishments. But, when women have greater or equal accomplishments, they are not met with the same respect or recognition that men are.

Men and women will put in the same time and effort, but women will always be met with resistance simply because they are women. 

“In gymnastics, the guys would go before us and the praise and attention they received was much higher, even though we were doing the same tricks,” said Poppens. 

Another example of the unfairness in recognition of sports between girls and boys is through social media. A media presence is something that is prevalent in most people’s lives, and when girls’ sports are not met with the same interest and enthusiasm on  social media platforms, then girls’ sports can be seen as less important. 

“For example, (with) boys soccer versus girls soccer, boys soccer is advertised more. Ann Arbor has a lot of social media accounts, and they always advertise when their boys are playing or who scored the goal in the big game, and I have seen no media around girls soccer at all,” said Hood.

Since boys are advertised more on social media, it can discourage girls from playing sports in the first place. It also can negatively affect how girls’ sports are seen in the first place, because social media is making it seem like girls sports are not as important as boys sports. 

Despite the many obstacles girls face everyday in sports, they manage to push through and continue doing the sports they love. When girls overcome the stereotypes around women in sports, they come out stronger and get to play a sport that they really enjoy.

Pushing yourself is a major part of sports. Many women athletes use misogynic coaches to push themselves to be better and stronger. 

“I personally wanted to work harder to prove to him that I was good even though I was playing with boys,” said Hood, of one coach she didn’t believe was supporting her.

Sexism in sports has always been a real thing and is still  present today. Female student athletes face it when it comes to their uniforms, coaches, social media presence, and the overall stigma surrounding women in sports. With all of this put in place by men, women athletes still must find a way to push through and make themselves stronger. 

The author of this piece, Monica Ristich, has run cross country and track all of her four years at Pioneer and is captain of both teams this year.