Women Athletes and Gender Stereotypes (2022)

Gender stereotypes can discourage girls from sports and other healthy activities, but a new fitness program for preschoolers hopes to even the playing field.

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When Leah Robinson was a child, she remembers having a great love of being active. But she felt discouraged from some forms of recreation due to a factor that was out of her control.

“I used to always love rough and tumble activities as a young kid, but [I would] always get pushed to the side because I was a girl,” Robinson recounted in a recent interview with Healthline.

Robinson’s experience is no fluke.

Overall, girls receive less encouragement from family members and teachers to be physically active and participate in sports. As a result, girls ages 8 to 12 are 19 percent less active than boys, according to a 2016 study.

Researchers also found that girls take almost 2,000 fewer steps a day on average than their male counterparts, and this disparity does have health consequences.

The study showed that girls have 18 percent lower cardio-respiratory fitness, 44 percent lower eye-hand coordination, a 9 percent lower perceived aptitude in physical activity, and 5 percent more body fat.

These findings led researchers to conclude that the physical education of girls was detrimentally impacted “by socioecological factors at the individual, family, school, and environmental levels.”

However, they also offered a ray of hope, proposing, “These factors are potentially modifiable, suggesting the gap in [physical activity] between boys and girls can be reduced.”

(Video) Gender Stereotypes: Women in Sports

Robinson, an associate professor of movement science at the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology, is seeking to reduce this “potentially modifiable” gap.

As a researcher, she and her colleagues have developed a curriculum called CHAMP —Children’s Health Activity Motor Program — in order to jumpstart motor skills and physical activity in preschoolers ages 3 to 5.

The goal of the curriculum is to engender a lifetime of healthy living for both genders.

A recent study that tracked the success of the program is promising.

It followed preschoolers as they engaged in half-hour movement sessions twice a week over the course of nine weeks. Unlike traditional programs, CHAMP allows children to choose the skills they’d like to focus on (throwing, kicking, etc.) as well as the level of difficulty (low, medium, or hard) and the length of participation.

Overall, CHAMP kids spent two more minutes engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity than those in traditional programs, which recorded two more minutes of standing around.

Yet, the study found there was still a gender gap. CHAMP boys participated in two more minutes of physical activity than girls and two less minutes of standing around.

(Video) Gender Stereotypes in Sports | Mona Kilani | TEDxYouth@ACSAmman

“We do see that girls are engaged in the program,” said Robinson. “Unfortunately, we… have not been able to eliminate that sex difference between boys and girls. But they are… seeing better increases compared to girls who are not receiving the intervention.”

By teaching girls these skills early in life, Robinson hopes to help even the playing field between boys and girls as they grow older.

Additionally, physical education isn’t a requirement in many preschool programs, even though the recommended amount of exercise for this age group is three hours per day. At present, only half of this group gets this amount — and most of them are boys.

It may take a lot more than CHAMP to bridge this gender gap in physical activity.

Political philosopher Iris Marion Young wrote in her 1980 feminist essay, “Throwing Like a Girl,” that “it is in the process of growing up as a girl that the modalities of feminine bodily comportment, motility, and spatiality make their appearance.”

Women are “conditioned by their sexist oppression in contemporary society” to not engage with physical activity as much as men from an early age, she concluded.

According to Young, the physical activity of girls is limited not by any physical differences between men and women, but by oppressive patriarchal forces that constrict their movements.

(Video) Gender Stereotypes In Sport

“Women in sexist society are physically handicapped,” Young noted.

This constriction can be seen in more than acts like throwing — which from hunting to baseball, is already perceived as a more “masculine” act in society’s eyes. Any rider on the subway can see how an act like “manspreading,” in which a man will extend the limbs of his body to take up maximum physical real estate, contrasts with how many women will shrink themselves to take up as little space as possible.

Overcoming the hurdles between girls and physical activity is daunting, because it effectively means fighting against a sexist society and its norms.

Conditioning starts as early as the playground, when common taunts like “You throw like a girl” dissuade young people from being physically active and tapping into their bodies’ full potential.

Robinson acknowledged the challenges. “There are various social [and] cultural factors that influence girls’ participation in sports,” she noted, adding the key is to be conscious of these factors.

Robinson recommended that adults, parents, and teachers “be very cautious of and try to be aware of what we say to individuals.” They must also be willing to “try to correct those behaviors and those actions [that might discourage girls from pursuing fitness]” — or any other pursuits, for that matter.

And when it comes to dismantling stereotypes, both conversation and education are key.

“I think the best way is communicating and talking about [societal challenges] and bringing them to light,” Robinson said, adding, “these are issues that we still face today… [not just] 10, 20, 30 years ago or more… Hopefully, one day people will say, OK, it’s time to really move forward and move past it.”

Implementing programs like CHAMP, which foster motor skills and a pro-fitness social environment from an early age, is an important step toward bridging the gender gap.

At present, Robinson and her colleagues are seeking funding in order to train others to help bring the curriculum to more schools.

Robinson’s ultimate goal is to persuade policy makers to institute CHAMP in pre-K to third grade classrooms across the country. She hopes to accomplish this “so I can say that every child hopefully is getting a solid foundation for movement that can get them on a healthy trajectory for activity across their lifespan.”

As for now, the National Institutes of Health is funding a five-year study that will examine the impact of CHAMP for 300 Michigan preschoolers in motor skills as well as other developmental health outcomes in areas like attention and memory.

Another study showed promising gains in these latter areas among CHAMP kids, although more research is required.

Eventually, Robinson hopes to track long-term gains across diverse populations, including LGBT young people, who face unique hurdles to physical education such as stigma related to sexuality or gender identity.

Robinson says she’d like to see an expansion of CHAMP to “see what may happen” when young people up to high school from various backgrounds are raised with a fresh approach to physical education and thinking about gender roles in fitness.

Fresh thinking about gender roles may be required from adults as well — particularly for those with the resources to help improve physical education in American schools.

(Video) Meet the badass female athletes shattering stereotypes

What would Robinson say to a person who told her that boys are just naturally better than girls at sports?

“I would say put your money where your mouth is and let’s see if that’s really true,” she concluded.

(Video) Gender Stereotypes on Female Student Athletes

FAQs

How do stereotypes affect female athletes? ›

Increased stereotypes in women's sports have led to a decrease in female athletes. Social stigmas of being labeled as 'gay', delicate, and playing like a girl have led to body image issues, eating disorders, and depression for many female athletes.

How does gender stereotypes affect participation in sport? ›

Evidence suggests that gender stereotypes contribute to young women dropping out of sport participation because women in sport are often seen as being non-feminine. Similarly, men who do not fulfill the 'masculine' stereotype have reported feeling intimidated and excluded from sports participation.

What is the major issue that affects female athletes participation in sports? ›

Lack of access.

Girls have 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play high school sports than boys have. Lack of physical education in schools and limited opportunities to play sports in both high school and college mean girls have to look elsewhere for sports –which may not exist or may cost more money.

How are male and female athletes treated differently? ›

Sporting environments have degraded female athletes by constantly holding them to a lower standard than male athletes. They are more likely to be objectified, shamed, and paid less because of another stereotype that men are more athletically gifted.

How does gender affect athletic performance? ›

Sex has been identified as a major determinant of athletic performance through the impact of height, weight, body fat, muscle mass, aerobic capacity or anaerobic threshold as a result of genetic and hormonal differences (Cureton et al., 1986; Maldonado-Martin et al., 2004; Perez-Gomez et al., 2008; Sparling and Cureton ...

What is a stereotype threat in sports? ›

Stereotype threat occurs when knowledge of a negative stereotype about a social group leads to less-than-optimal performance by members of that group. Although the stereotype threat phenomenon has been extensively studied in academic and cognitively-based tasks, it has received little attention in sport.

Are male athletes better than female athletes? ›

Experts say men still outperform women in many sports due to greater muscle mass and other physical attributes. However, new research indicates women can perform better in longer distances and in colder temperatures.

What sports are females better than males? ›

7 Sports In Which Women Have Beaten Men
  • Equestrian. The equestrian events are some of the few where women compete against men (the other is sailing), and women have medalled in all three individual categories — show-jumping, eventing, and dressage. ...
  • Tennis. ...
  • Wrestling. ...
  • Bowling. ...
  • Racecar driving. ...
  • Rock-climbing. ...
  • Ultramarathon.
2 Aug 2012

Why is female participation in sport important? ›

Sport has the power to change lives. The ability to drive gender equality by teaching women and girls teamwork, self-reliance, resilience and confidence. Women in sport defy gender stereotypes and social norms, make inspiring role models, and show men and women as equals.

How females are discriminated against in sports? ›

Women and girls get fewer athletic opportunities, scholarships, and funds. College women's coaches earn less than men. The gap widens when women's sports receive dramatically less coverage, sponsorships, and marketing. Women have less say in athletic organization governing bodies' boards and in coaching.

What is the impact of women's sport on society? ›

Girls and women who play sports have higher levels of confidence and self-esteem and lower levels of depression. Girls and women who play sports have a more positive body image and experience higher states of psychological well-being than girls and women who do not play sports.

What is an example of gender inequality in sports? ›

There is not just inequality in participation and opportunity, but also with pay. That comes mainly in professional sports, wherein in almost all cases, men make more money than women. Male athletes in basketball, golf, soccer, baseball and tennis make anywhere from 15% to 100% more than female athletes.

What struggles do female athletes face? ›

Common problems female athletes have with sports injuries
  • Ankle sprains. Female athletes have a higher incidence of lower extremity injuries than male athletes. ...
  • Stress fractures. Bone stress injuries in the legs are also much more common in female athletes than in male athletes. ...
  • ACL tears. ...
  • Shoulder instability.

How are female athletes portrayed in the media? ›

Portrayal of Women in Sports Media

Media tend to represent women athletes as women first and athletes second. Coverage of women in sports is often dominated by references to appearance, age or family life, whereas men are depicted as powerful, independent, dominating, and valued as athletes.

What causes gender inequality in sports? ›

Lack of support, inadequate development and the weak motivation of athletics as a profession were given as primary causes. On the one extreme there is a lack of opportunities for children in rural areas and on the other spectrum athletic schools are too competitive and overly performance-driven.

How much do female athletes make compared to male athletes? ›

But, while the level of pay varies from sport to sport, a look at five popular American sports shows a common reality: female athletes consistently make less than men.
...
The Gender Pay Gap in Sports.
SportMenWomen
Tennis (ATP & WTA)$335,946$283,635
4 more rows
20 May 2021

Why female athletes should be paid the same as males? ›

By making the same decision, you gain the same positive effect, whether it's AFL, league, union, cricket or professional goat racers in Kyrgyzstan. By paying female athletes equally, you're increasing your chances of attracting and keeping females in your sport, as players and as fans of both men and women's sports.

What sports do females dominate? ›

For example, football, basketball, baseball, wrestling, boxing and hockey are examples of male-dominated sports because they are thought of as being more “masculine.” On the other hand, gymnastics and figure skating are thought to be female-dominated sports because they are more “feminine.”

How can we promote gender equality in sports? ›

Sport for Generation Equality: advancing gender equality in and through sport
  1. Promote women's leadership and gender equality in governance models.
  2. Prevent and respond to gender-based violence.
  3. Undertake to close the gap in investment in women's sport and promote equal economic opportunities for women and girls.
10 Mar 2020

Why female athletes are paid less? ›

The first factor is the fewer chances for female athletes to negotiate with endorsement deals. Assuming a male and female athlete receives equal prize money, generally speaking, the top male athletes earn more due to better sponsorship and endorsement deals.

Is there gender equality in sports? ›

Together with many Olympic Movement stakeholders, the IOC has implemented significant gender equality initiatives so that girls and women around the world are being given greater access and opportunities to participate in sport.

What is the relationship between sport and gender? ›

Associated with such masculine imagery, sports serve to legitimize a perceived natural superiority of men and reinforce the inferiority of females who are defined with reference to relative weakness, passivity, and grace – the characteristics of femininity.

What is gender stereotyping? ›

Gender stereotyping refers to the practice of ascribing to an individual woman or man specific attributes, characteristics, or roles by reason only of her or his membership in the social group of women or men.

What is gender inequality sport? ›

There is not just inequality in participation and opportunity, but also with pay. That comes mainly in professional sports, wherein in almost all cases, men make more money than women. Male athletes in basketball, golf, soccer, baseball and tennis make anywhere from 15% to 100% more than female athletes.

What are some examples of stereotypes? ›

Examples of Gender Stereotypes
  • Girls should play with dolls and boys should play with trucks.
  • Boys should be directed to like blue and green; girls toward red and pink.
  • Boys should not wear dresses or other clothes typically associated with "girl's clothes"

Is there a gender pay gap in sports? ›

Basketball. The gender pay gap continues to affect all female professional athletes in almost all sports. Considering basketball, the maximum salary for a Women's National Basketball Player (WNBA) player is $111,500 whereas for the National Basketball Association (NBA), the minimum salary is $525,093.

How can we solve gender stereotypes? ›

To Create a Bias-Free Home
  1. Check your own biases. ...
  2. Have open discussions at home about the way chores are divided up. ...
  3. Ask children for their feedback about these family practices. ...
  4. Provide children of both genders with books and movies that feature nontraditional gender roles.
29 Nov 2018

How can we stop stereotyping? ›

Develop empathy for others. Try to walk in their shoes. Educate yourself about different cultures and groups. It is important to educate ourselves and continue to do self-assessments about our stereotypes and how they are potentially interfering with our interactions.

Why is it important to learn about gender stereotypes? ›

Because stereotyping can affect how children feel about themselves and how they relate to others, it's important that they learn to recognize and understand gender stereotypes in different media. Images of men and women in the media are often based on stereotypical roles of males and females in our society.

What is the impact of women's sport on society? ›

Girls and women who play sports have higher levels of confidence and self-esteem and lower levels of depression. Girls and women who play sports have a more positive body image and experience higher states of psychological well-being than girls and women who do not play sports.

How are females being discriminated against in sporting activities? ›

Females, when compared to males are still discriminated against when it comes to sport in general. The discrimination usually takes form through the wage gap, lack of adequate media coverage, and derogatory stereotypes against women.

Do female athletes work harder than male athletes? ›

The researchers measured the amount of energy respiratory muscles consumed in male and female athletes during maximal exercise intensities. The more oxygen consumed the harder these muscles are working. They found that respiratory muscles in females worked harder than those of males at maximal exercise intensities.

What are 5 gender stereotypes? ›

Domestic life: Assuming men and women would have certain roles in the family.
...
Dominant Feminine Gender Stereotype Examples
  • Women are Caregivers. ...
  • Women are Passive. ...
  • Women Should have Children. ...
  • Women are Quitters. ...
  • Young Women are Innocent or Naïve. ...
  • Women need Help from Men. ...
  • Women are Weak. ...
  • Women are Too Emotional for Leadership.

How does gender stereotyping affect society? ›

What are the negative impacts of gender stereotypes? Gender stereotypes shape self-perception, attitudes to relationships and influence participation in the world of work. In a school environment, they can affect a young person's classroom experience, academic performance, subject choice and well-being.

How do stereotypes affect us? ›

Stereotype threat leads to a vicious circle. Stigmatised individuals experience anxiety which depletes their cognitive resources and leads to underperformance, confirmation of the negative stereotype and reinforcement of the fear.

Why female athletes should be paid the same as males? ›

By making the same decision, you gain the same positive effect, whether it's AFL, league, union, cricket or professional goat racers in Kyrgyzstan. By paying female athletes equally, you're increasing your chances of attracting and keeping females in your sport, as players and as fans of both men and women's sports.

Why do women's sports get less attention? ›

Many people have argued that the low coverage of women's sports stems from the lack of interest to watch it. If there are no viewers, sports media has less inclination to put the time and effort into covering it. “I think there are personal preferences when it comes to specific sports.

What sports do females dominate? ›

For example, football, basketball, baseball, wrestling, boxing and hockey are examples of male-dominated sports because they are thought of as being more “masculine.” On the other hand, gymnastics and figure skating are thought to be female-dominated sports because they are more “feminine.”

Videos

1. Gender Stereotypes in Youth Sport
(Cormack Psychology)
2. Student Reporting Labs tackles gender stereotyping in sports
(PBS NewsHour)
3. Women are Breaking The Gender Stereotypes In Sports and are loving it|
(Reviewscast)
4. Gender Stereotypes-Women in Sports
(MovalTum)
5. Stereotypes of Female Athletes
(albrand225)
6. Breaking Gender Stereotypes Through Sports | Claudia Crizzle | TEDxVersovaWomen
(TEDx Talks)

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