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Defining ‘women’s sport’

Copyrights: Flickr: Nottingham Trent University

Defining ‘women’s sport’

Why do we refer to ‘women’s sport’ when male leagues have no such gender qualifier?

Why is it that men play ‘basketball’ but women play ‘women’s basketball’? There are examples of this dichotomy everywhere, whether it is the sport itself or the event (i.e. Rugby World Cup vs. Women’s Rugby World Cup, NBA vs. WNBA).

Historically, most sports were only accessible to men, thus no need to specify gender. But times have changed, so why is ‘women’s sport’ still treated as a separate entity?

In the book “Olympic Women and the Media: International Perspectives”, Pirkko Markula makes the case that the separation of sport by gender reinforces a stereotype of female inferiority: “One way to identify women as the ‘weaker sex’ is to structure women’s sport as a discrete category of men’s sport.”

New and alternative sports like Quidditch break this tradition by having mixed teams as their default. Set-ups like this can be instrumental in erasing gender stereotypes, especially for younger players.

But the problem is not that ‘women’s sport’ exists. Female athletes deserve a space irrespective of men’s. The natural remedy would then be to add ‘men’s’ before the so-called regular sports for equal representation. But besides the difficulty of (and, presumably, resistance to) making such a change, it would not guarantee an attitude change.

The only real way to change the othering of women’s sport is to change the surrounding culture. This means paying close attention to how we frame female athletes in the media, calling out sexism, showing support for professionals and encouraging beginners.

A recent video by Attn: switches up the roles, a clever way to emphasise the difference between how male and female athletes are treated.

It has been a continuing battle for many to find a place in a traditionally male domain. A significant cultural change can only occur when more athletes, sporting bodies and fans identify existing problems and actively call for change.


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Wednesday, September 13, 2017 - 12:11

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