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The beginnings of the participation of women in sport
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This article looks at the factors that enable or inhibit female participation in sport, and how these have developed over time. Illustrating these allow for the consideration of changes that could be made to promote gender equality in sport.

This article was written by Professor Anastasovski Ivan, PhD, Deputy Dean for science and international collaboration, Saints Cyril and Methodius University of Skopje, Macedonia, Faculty of physical education, sport and health.

According to the historical records, the first women's participation in high-level sports came during the Olympic Games in Paris, France, in 1900. But only in certain sports disciplines: grass tennis and golf. At the time people everywhere had much more respect for men as athletes, versus women. From the beginning of the Olympic Games, the role of women in sport was neglected.

Following the First World War, women began to actively participate in sports. By the end of the 20th century there was increasing interest among women in sport, both as supporters and as active participants.

Education played an important role in encouraging women to participate in sports, whether it was school or college. The provision of sports facilities on an equal scale for women as for men has more recently also contributed to the increased number of women who participate in sports.

Another key factor that sets out conditions for the involvement of men and women in sport (or in cultural and sport activities) is the quantity of leisure time they have. The fact is that more than half of the burden of domestic and family responsibilities falls exclusively on women. In France, 80 percent of the housework is still done by women (Des Desert S. 2001:14). Statistics show that of parental duties, that consume on average 39 hours per week, women perform two thirds of this total, and men one third1.

Compared to male participation in sports, female sports are newer and this contributes to why they do not get equal recognition as they should. For example, men’s sports get significantly more coverage on television and in other media, whereas there should be equal or at least approximately balanced media space for both sexes.

The disparity is also very evident economically, i.e. regarding salaries and compensations of men and women in sport. Additionally, the first place for trainers and managerial positions as well as for television interviews, again, tends to belong to men. To some extent, this falls on the concerned authorities and the editorial policies of media houses who are responsible for the promotion of gender equality and equal recognition of athletic achievements.

Society has been “trained” to think of sports in terms of “genderedness”. Men are encouraged and taught to participate in strenuous, aggressive, competitive team sports, while women are commonly steered toward individual, aesthetically pleasing activities such as gymnastics, figure skating, and synchronised swimming2. Historically, girls, women, and femininity have been defined in relation and contrast to men and masculinity. Sports and the sports world have been tied with the masculine domain, and there has been a legacy of bias against the female athlete.

In the past few decades, this trend has been confronted and challenged. Girls and women have “tackled” narrow, negative, and limiting concepts and ideas that they should not participate in sports, sweat, show aggression, or compete, and have begun to include physical strength and athletic prowess in the definition of femininity. As a result, traditional stereotypes for females have slowly been changing and evolving. This will likely continue as girls and women stop feeling that they need to choose between sports and femininity.

While there is still a long way to go, women can break free of traditional stereotypes3.

[This article has been edited by the operating team.] 


1Anastasovski, I. Nanev, L. Aleksovska ,Velichkovska, L. Stojanoska, Ivanova, T. (2014). Sport in Society (Attitudes and Proposals), Skopje: Academic Book, Faculty of physical education, sport and health, Geostrategic Institute GLOBAL, printing  GINIS – Prilep, pg.55-60

2Schmalz, D. and Kerstetter, D. (2006). Girlie girls and manly men: Children’s stigma consciousness of gender in sports and physical activities. Journal of Leisure Research, 38(4), 536-557.

3Kristin Wilde (2007). Women in Sport: Gender Stereotypes in the Past and Present, Internet text.

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