The field of sports is undoubtedly one of the areas where women have to struggle for appreciation and opportunities. The limitation on the participation of females in sports results from its explanation in different social and medical views on their impropriety to sporting activities. For example, the Ancient Olympic Games imposed restrictions on women’s participating and watching sport as their presence could decrease the strength of the warriors. Fortunately, the modern sphere of sport is absolutely different, and women’s sports are expanding even faster than men’s sports. Moreover, females play a significant role in the growth and development of the sports industry.
In 1896, women had no right to participate in the first modern Olympic Games. However, according to one story, a Greek woman called Melpomene took part in the marathon in protest at these limitations. It was a symbol of all efforts made to overcome the male domination in the Olympic sports. At the same time, various national and international institutions developed to give sportswomen more legitimacy.
Only in 1908, the British Olympic Association formally allowed females to take part in archery, lawn tennis, and figure-skating competitions. In a few decades, in 1921, a group of women from America and Europe organized an athletic meeting in Monte Carlo. These female athletes funded the Federation of Sportive Feminine Internationale which organized the Women’s World Games in Paris in 1922. These competitions were incredibly successful and attracted participants and audience from Western Europe, the Commonwealth, and North America. As a result, women were given equal status with men in the Olympic Games of 1924.
In the early 1900s, upper-class students of women’s colleges received an approval to participate in physical and leisure activities. At the same time, the number of male opponents of female athletes increased. To confront this opposition, women created a special anticompetitive sports philosophy. It marginalized female sport and solidified male sport as an ultimate domain. These changes indicated the society’s attitude to women’s sport as less competitive and stressed gender boundaries.
Many women confronted male dominance in sport and wanted to demonstrate female athletic abilities. Namely, Alexandrine Gibb persuaded the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada to select women’s track and field team for 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. She could not even imagine what influence it would make on international women’s sport. The representatives of the new team, called “Matchless Six,” became Bobby Rosenfeld, Myrtle Cook, Jane Bell, Ethel Catherwood, Ethel Smith, and Jean Thompson. They won a gold medal in the women’s high jump and the 4 x 100-meter relay, and silver and bronze medals in the 100-meter race. According to the unofficial results, these women took the first place in the Games. This athletic success gave them recognition all over the world and proved the female strength in the sports area.
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By 1940, the establishment of the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League made women’s sport more noticeable in the world. This league questioned and emphasized gender boundaries in sport. Despite the limits for white women, it provided female athletes with the opportunity to participate in men’s sport. The league tried to dispel the assumption that men’s sport can masculinize women by making remarkable changes in their feminine essence. Thus, the players wore skirts instead of baseball pants. Moreover, they also attended charm school to learn proper etiquette, including walk and makeup. However, the age of conservatism denied the opportunity for women to participate in professional sports. They could take part in individual, “ladylike” sports.
So long as individual sports were considered more suitable for women than team sports, females took part in competitions in track and field as well as golf. The achievements of some female sports participants made them the sports icons and the developers of this industry. One of the most prominent sportswomen of the 20th century is Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias. She has changed the face of women’s sport and provided support for the idea that females can become world-class athletes. Being a founding member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), she was the first woman who played in the PGA event. In 1950, the Associated Press named her one of the best female athletes of the first half of the 20th century. She even had an LPGA tournament in her honor in time she was still playing. Thus, the contribution of this woman both to the development of the golf sport and to the women’s self-realization is inevitable.
The firmly fixed belief in the male biological predominance made it difficult to think that women could contest at a high level. One of the ways to define it was gender verification testing at the Olympic Games. In the course of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the United States Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage pressed for sex testing. Nearly in 30 years, the IOC initiated gender-verification testing in 1966. It comprised physical exams and chromosome pattern analysis. This testing stressed the idea that sports masculinized women and served as a way of diminishing female success. It created the opportunity to institutionalize gender boundaries in sport. Only in 1999, gender verification testing was eliminated by IOC.
Furthermore, African American women had no admission to the majority of sporting events in the early 1900s. The situation changed drastically after the white women’s abandonment of track and field. Black women did not correspond to the widespread stereotypes of femininity. Therefore, they did not think that track and field was a “mannish” sport and used this opportunity to compete. However, the supporters of track and field wanted to eliminate the idea that this sport was too masculine by making athletes satisfy feminine requirements of the society. It was achieved by wearing dresses and discussing interest in men and marriage. These tactics have been used for a long time to support female athletes in the eyes of the sporting public.
The social justice movements of the 1950s and 1960s changed the social opinion about women. The implementation of the Title IX Education Amendment in 1972 increased the opportunities for females to participate in sport. Up to 2011, one in three high school girls took part in sports. The new leagues for team sports, such as basketball (WNBA) and soccer (WPS), expanded the area of the professional growth of female athletes. However, women no longer occupied the majority of leadership positions in sport. For instance, while in 1972 9 out of 10 coaches for women’s teams were female, by 2009 their number decreased to 42.6 percent.
Moreover, women continued organizing their athletic contests to influence the International Olympic Committee (IOC). As a result, by 1980, 20 percent of Summer Olympic participants were females. By the 2008 Summer Olympics, their number increased to 40 percent. However, women still have to struggle for competing in some sports. The under-appreciation of the female sports activities results in the lack of resources and media attention to them. The situation is different only in tennis, where male and female events arouse equal interest and gain popularity. Nevertheless, sports culture still holds the opinion that male participants are more appropriate for sports and women’s participation is not so significant.
In spite of the success of female athletes, gender difference still leads to the distinction between male and female abilities in sports. For instance, the basketball ball for women is smaller than the men’s one. In tennis, women wear skirts and have shorter matches. These differences in rules and equipment make female athletes look like less serious and capable than male. Women seem to use less physical strength, emphasizing their biological difference from men. Thus, they are always marginalized by the constant comparison with the female athletes, regendering, and selective gender comparisons. For instance, such generally used phrases as “plays like a man” or “throws like a girl” convey the meaning that men are better athletes than women. In case of selective gender comparison, male and female participants compete together. Instead of reporting the female athlete’s results in her category, the announcers simply compare her progress to those of her male opponents. Thus, men seem to be an athletic standard to which women should correspond.
To sum up, the growing amount of women’s sporting achievements proves that their role in the sports lives of different nations was more important than it seemed to be. Females had to struggle for their right to participate in sports while their attempts to contribute to this field were not always marked. Some of them made a brilliant career as athletes or coaches while others established various leagues and committees to protect their interest. All these inputs made a significant influence on the sports industry, which could have possibly remained a wholly male sphere. On the contrary, special uniforms and equipment for women allow them to provide a decent concurrence for their male opponents.