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Sexism in American Sports

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    Sexism is a highly controversial topic, no matter the application. Throw it into American sports? We might just have a scandal worthy enough to make it to the back page in a crummy tabloid. I’m not saying it’s an unimportant issue, any amount of sexism anywhere is a major problem, I’m just saying it won’t be making the front page anytime soon. Why isn’t sexism in sports making front page news? In the newspaper article -written in 2004 during the Athens Olympics- Sex Sells, and Many Athletes Are Cashing In by Thomas Huang, Huang discusses female athletes’ use of their sex appeal.

    Huang writes, “Advocates for women’s sports don’t blame the athletes for taking advantage of the Olympic spotlight—and potentially earning more money and corporate sponsorships. But they argue that this ‘sexualization’ of female Olympic athletes diminishes their accomplishments—and ends up hurting other women. ” Diminishing their accomplishments and hurting other women? How could any women want to harm their own reputation and cause other women’s reputations to be on the line as well?

    Huang continues his writing, “Dr. Kane and other experts argue that several factors are behind this trend: . . Some younger female athletes are less inhibited about posing nude, because they’re not as aware of the struggle that female athletes have gone through to gain an equal footing with men. ” What struggles have female athletes gone through in the past? Published originally in Nine: A Journal of Baseball History and then republished in Sports Talk, the scholarly article on the historical aspects of baseball called The Patriotic Pinch Hitter: The AAGBL and How the American Woman Earned a Permanent Spot on the Roster by Patricia Vignola reviews the beginnings of women in baseball.

    Vignola writes, Throughout the 1940s the American woman was capable of being more than a temporary hire. She was a professional musician, a war correspondent, and a member of the United States Congress as well as a professional baseball player. The All-American Girls’ Baseball League (AAGBL) began as wartime entertainment; however, it would last nine years after World War II with its effects still reverberating today. . . . (162) Turns out in the war torn United States, baseball had to take a back seat.

    When 1944 rolled around, many were sure that Major League Baseball was about to drop off the map, with major players going out to war, team owners grew increasingly concerned that the player quality would diminish causing fans to lose interest in the game. In late 1942 Philip K. Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs, made a plan in cahoots with Ken Sells, the assistant to the general manager of the club to begin a committee to save baseball. They founded the AAGBL in 1943; but it should be noted that they began their league in history known as the All-American Girls’ Softball League (AAGSL).

    As soon as the male-dominated world of sports caught wind of this, the commentary speculated on a feminine takeover of the All-American sport. They came up with “girlish” names such as the “Glamour Gals” and the Rockettes”. The women were expected to fit their gender role, being forced to attend “Charm School” and each player was expected to have proper etiquette in dealing with sportsmanship, the public and most importantly male baseball fans. Vignola states, “The players were always ‘ladies first’ and ballplayers second. The uniforms were also quite feminine, designed by Otis Shepard with the assistance of Ann Harnett the uniforms were designed “. . . in a tunic style to ensure practicality as well as style. ” These women earned unheard of wages for the day (upward of $85 a week) and they were just as competitive as their male counterparts. In postwar America, according to Vignola, “These women were re-entering a society that had never truly seen a viable, successful female athletes. Few people understood their accomplishments. ” Now in 2012 many people realize that these women paved the way for many female athletes of today.

    It wasn’t until 1971 that women were allowed in the pits, garage area, or the press box at the Indianapolis 500 for any reason at all. Finally in 1983 that marathon runner Kathrine Switer was allowed to have women’s marathon declared a sport in the Olympic games, Women’s Professional Football League wasn’t established until 1999. Women have come a long way in sports, and society, to get where they are today and still women are sexualized rather than praised for their achievements. How are women sexualized rather than being praised for their achievements?

    Women are subjected to sexist comments usually by mainstream media which focus more on their physique than on their athletic abilities. In an article by Teresa Welsh appearing in U. S. News, she questions whether the coverage of the 2012 London Olympics was sexist. Welsh wrote, British weightlifting champion Zoe Smith was criticized for looking like a man because of her muscles, and thus being unattractive. The 18-year-old Smith personally responded to the negative comments on her blog: ‘The obvious choice of slander when talking about female weightlifting is “how unfeminine, girls shouldn’t be strong or have muscles, this is wrong”.

    And maybe they’re right… in the Victorian era. To think people still think like this is laughable, we’re in 2012! ’ (Welsh) U. S. News’s Susan Milligan says women shouldn’t be treated like sweet little girls, but respected for their talents: “Women like sports, both as viewers and participants, and they aren’t going to allow their competitions to be reduced to a glorified runway walk. ” Women’s sports, in reality, are not glorified runway walks or fashion shows or any other feminine competition based solely on looks.

    Women’s sports are difficult, demanding, requiring self-discipline and hard work. Women are often stereotyped as lesbians or extremely masculine when they put hard work and effort into being good in any sport that requires even an ounce of athleticism, women are criticized for being muscular and competitive. Female’s struggles and achievements throughout the past century to define them as equals to males has been award worthy, yet it seems young female athletes of today throw away that award by being pin-up models in semi (if not completely) pornographic ads and literature.

    The reason sexism still occurs against women athletes without being punished in some way, not even making front page news, is because young female athletes of today put up with in and in some obscure ways even promote it. They pose nude or semi-nude for ads and magazines allowing themselves to be sexualized; they allow the current rules of sports uniforms to objectify them as dainty and elegant. In my opinion they need to follow the women of the past, the feminists of the 60’s, and protest and argue the discrimination they face in the sports world.

    Women use to protest the Miss America pageant due to its “ludicrous standards of beauty” but some of these same standards of beauty are used to judge women’s sports today, in the Summer Games, every effort is made to put the women in skimpy costumes to show off their physiques. Sure, it’s warm outside and they’re engaging in vigorous activity. But the men somehow manage to cover their butts and play volleyball at the highest levels. I think it’s time for a change, and this change will never occur unless women start fighting stereotypes.

    Works Cited

    1. Huang, Thomas. Sex Sells, and Many Athletes Are Cashing In. ” Sports Talk. Ed. Lisa Becklehimer. New York: Pearson Longman, 2009. 171 – 175. Print. Napikoski, Linda.
    2. “Significant Feminist Protests: Activist Moments in the U. S. Women’s Liberation Movement. ” About. com. 2012. Web Article. Vignola, Patricia.
    3. “The Patriotic Pinch Hitter: The AAGBL and How the American Woman Earned a Permanent Sport on the Roster. ”
    4. Sports Talk. Ed. Lisa Becklehimer. New York: Pearson Longman, 2009. 162 – 168. Print. Welsh, Teresa. “Is the 2012 London Olympic Coverage Sexist? ” US News. usanews. com. 2012. Web Article.

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    Sexism in American Sports. (2016, Nov 27). Retrieved from

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