Thursday, May 14, 2009

And the Vote goes to…Men’s Sports!

An analysis of the popularity differences between Men’s and Women’s Sports

By: Julie Silvestri

Women in sport are a common image in modern society; Men in sport were always a common image in society - How can a country known for its freedom and equality explain such a phenomenon? The reputation and recognition of women’s sports has the potential to deeply affect communities outside the sports world, and not always in a positive way. Although women’s and men’s sports have been outlined to be equal, women continue to be less recognized when it comes to the popular vote.

With the passing of Title IX in 1972, women began to be awarded their equality. It “outlawed gender discrimination in any school sports and any other federally funded education program” (Gregory, 2007, 49). Title IX acted as a foundation for women to enter the sporting arena. It increased the number of women playing and the number of collegiate athletic scholarships awarded (Vest, 2007). Colleges equalized their athletics by adding women’s sports, and some had to additionally cut men’s sports to compensate and comply with the new law. The reduction of men’s collegiate sports to accommodate women made an impression that “men’s programs must be cut to obtain gender equality” (McClung, 25). With the added negativity, women were subjected to more obstacles in the struggle for the right to compete. Title IX allowed women everywhere to feel entitled to equality. With more role models to aspire to, women were opened up to a whole new world where it was almost acceptable for them to be as physical as their male counterparts.

Prior to the passing of Title IX, some women had their way with sports in the roaring 1920’s. The 1920’s in America signified an era of change, hope, and a strive for equality. The 1920’s followed World War 1 as America flourished with a sense of community, identity and consumption. The numbers of community recreation centers rose and Americans had more leisure time to spend participating in and watching sports and buying sport products to support the new obsession (Schultz, 2009). The women athletes were compared to the ‘flappers’ of the 1920’s with their similar physique, “independence and willful, adventurous spirit” (Cahn, 36). Women in sport became heroes for all American women. Gertrude Ederle challenged male athleticism as she swam the English Channel, two hours faster than any male predecessor (Cahn, 1994). Suzanne Lenglen, a European tennis star, created a new feminine style for women athletes as she brought fashion into the game (Cahn, 1994). Helen Wills went on a six-year winning streak in American tennis (Cahn, 1994). These women became athlete-celebrities as they were celebrated for their successes (Schultz, 2009). Ederle, Langlen and Wills were outstanding sports stars, who achieved success with both masculine and feminine characteristics (Cahn, 1994). They represented a new set of standards for women - to be different than the stereotypical housewife.

With the outstanding female achievement in sports, it’s difficult to understand the view some have of women in sport today. Here at the University of Maryland, the inequality between men and women’s sports is prominent. Many sports on campus have both men’s and women’s team, including basketball, soccer and lacrosse. Each is reported on daily in The Diamondback, but rarely with equal representation. Take women’s and men’s basketball for example. We know sports are found on the back pages of The Diamondback. Throughout basketball season it’s guaranteed to find Greivis Vasquez, Landon Milbourne, plus other starting players on the Men’s team, featured with a large picture and articles about their performances. The women, however, only received attention once the men were knocked out of the NCAA tournament – a little unfair. Recently, the top two players from the women’s team, Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman, were drafted second and third in the WNBA draft – they were awarded the bottom right-hand corner of The Diamondback. I can imagine if a star of the Men’s team had this success, his face would be the front page. Moreover, the news of the draft was hard to come by for other Marylander’s because there’s no evidence it was printed in The Baltimore Sun or The Washington Post. It’s sad to see that here, in our ‘home,’ women still struggle for athletic equality.

Although Title IX and the women athletes from the 1920’s paved the way for future women, there remains a struggle. No big change is evident in modern society as it’s easy to find inequalities in media coverage, fans in attendance and recognition. This issue impacts society and our culture in a negative way. In society, women want to excel academically, at home and physically, however it’s easy to be led down a less physical route when men are the athletic role models. This issue shows our culture continues to value male physicality over women’s and it’s a struggle that will continue to be studied, fought and hopefully, resolved.

Recommended Readings
Basketball's First Ladies of Dunk. (2008, November 28). Wall Street Journal –
Eastern Edition, Retrieved April 21, 2009, from Academic Search Premier Database.

Equality grows over the years. (n.d.). USA Today, Retrieved April 21, 2009, from
Academic Search Premier Database.

TOWARD WNBA BASKETBALL. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, 36(3), 347-358. Retrieved April 21, 2009, doi:10.2224/sbp.2008.36.3.347

Mean, L., & Kassing, J. (2008, April). “I Would Just Like to be Known as an
Athlete”: Managing Hegemony, Femininity, and Heterosexuality in Female Sport. Western Journal of Communication, 72(2), 126-144. Retrieved April 21, 2009, doi:10.1080/10570310802038564

Cahn, S. (1994). Grass-roots growth and sexual sensation in the flapper era. In S.
Cahn, Coming on Strong (pp. 31-41; 44-47; 51-54). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Gregory, S. (2007, August 27). Uneven Playing Field. Time, 170(9), 49-50.
Retrieved April 20, 2009, from Academic Search Premier Database.

McClung, L., & Spencer, N. (2001, October). Women and Sport in the 1990s:
Reflections on 'Embracing Stars, Ignoring Players.'. Journal of Sport Management, 15(4), 318. Retrieved April 20, 2009, from Academic Search Premier Database.

Schultz, J. (2009). The History of Sport in America, 7: Sport’s “Golden Age” (?).

Lecture presented in KNES293. University of Maryland, College Park, MD.

Vest, B., & Masterson, G. (2007, December). Title IX and Its Effect on Sports
Programs in High School and Collegiate Athletics. Coach & Athletic Director, 77(5), 60-62. Retrieved April 20, 2009, from Academic Search Premier Database.

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