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Women in Sports: An Exploration of Gender Inequality

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    Throughout history, women have been discriminated against by society as being lesser than men. In the last century, however, women have made tremendous strides in gaining equality with men. Women have gained equal rights in the workplace, the right to vote, and basic civil rights. However, today women still face inequalities in athletics due to society’s viewpoint that male sports are better than female sports.

    Women are still subject to inequalities in athletics because of the societal bias against female sports, which is largely caused by media coverage. Large sports media companies like ESPN and Fox Sports spend the majority of their air time covering and discussing male sports such as football and men’s basketball. Women’s sports simply do not receive equal coverage and as a result, the organizations of women’s sports receive less money. This causes women to experience a significant wage gap between their pay and men’s. When there exists such a media bias, it “leads the sport consumer to believe that women’s sports and athletes are not important and not worthy of being covered” (Trolan). The media bias has created a culture in which women’s sports are not valued as highly as male sports which leads to inequality in both opportunity and pay for female athletes. On top of the lack of coverage for female athletics, there have been several studies that “observed that print media focused on the physical appearance of women athletes much more than their athletic skills and abilities” (Trolan). Instead of highlighting the athletic ability of female athletes, the media demeans women’s athletics by ignoring the accomplishments of the athletes and simply focusing on their physical appearances. Once the media begins to report female athletics more seriously and frequently, female athletes will be able to progress towards equality with male athletes.

    This being said, there has been a larger push for the media to change due to the great increase in female viewership of athletics. In today’s society, there are more women than ever watching sports and the media is slowly adapting to this change in viewership. Women have become avid viewers of sports, as female spectators comprise “35%-45% of the in-arena and television viewing audience of men’s professional sports today” (Lopiano). A great outcry for increased coverage of female athletics has manifested because of the modern culture of athletic viewership in which females have much more power than at any other point in history. Although males are still the majority of sports viewers, the media will need to alter it’s coverage to evolve with the rise in female sports viewers.

    Female athletes not only experience inequality in sports media, but also in their pay as compared to their male counterparts. While the gender pay gap has been closed in the vast majority of jobs, it still remains in professional sports. Many sports still have pay gaps in both salary and prize money, with women making significantly less money than men in the same sport. In the top 100 highest paid athletes in 2017, “there [was] just one woman- tennis star Serena Williams”(Perasso). This exemplifies the great contrast between the pay that female athletes receive and the pay that male athletes receive. The reason that the pay gap exists is partially due to the media and partially due to the culture of athletics. Because sports have been so long considered a predominantly male activity, males receive far more viewership than females, both in arena and on television. This leads to male sports organizations getting more money than their female counterparts or organizations with both male and female athletes valuing male athletes more highly.

    Because of the larger revenue brought in by males to organizations, women often do not have as many opportunities for success as men in athletics. Colleges offer more scholarship money to men and are willing to invest much more into male athletes. This has been demonstrated numerous times in recent history. In 1994, colleges awarded “twice as much money in athletic scholarships to men” (Schrof) than women. Many female athletes have been unable to pursue a career in sports because of the limited opportunities that they were offered. On top of colleges and organizations offering males more opportunities than females, they also invest more money and time into male athletes than female athletes. In schools, males often receive better equipment, newer uniforms, nicer facilities, etc. It is due to society’s bias towards male sports that males receive better treatment than females.

    Although gender inequality still exists in athletics, women have made tremendous strides in gaining both equal pay and opportunity with men. To begin, there are many more women playing sports now than ever before. Over 25 years, women’s participation in high school sports went from 7% to 40% and their participation in college sports went from 16% to 38% (Lopiano). Women have broken barriers by straying from the traditional ideology that sports are mainly for men. Not only have women defied traditional roles, but they have achieved great strides in closing the gender pay gap with “a total of 83% of sports now [rewarding] men and women equal prize money” (Perasso). Female athletes have grown vastly in number and are becoming a powerful force in ridding sports of the gender bias that has existed since the very creation of sports. As female athletes continue to grow in number, the gender pay gap will grow closer and closer to closing for good.

    Although both male and female sports can and should be treated equally, they can never be integrated with one another. Sports do not function like regular jobs, where women and men can work with one another in the same positions. The issue with the mixing of men’s and women’s sports is that “men and women have different capacities in certain areas of physical endeavor” (Shin). If one were to desegregate male and female athletics, men would have a considerable advantage over their female counterparts simply due to the fact that men tend to have a higher capacity in physical performance than females. On top of the fact that women would be at a disadvantage in sports if they competed with men, sports would also become less exciting and therefore would lose support and revenue. In most cases, men would dominate athletics and less people would be inclined to spectate, leading organizations to have less money and both athletes and sports in general to suffer. Complete gender equality in athletics, in the form of gender desegregation, would destroy the beauty of competitive sports, as “competitive sport seeks to celebrate certain human inequalities, not to make people equal” (Shin). Integrating the sports of both sexes would make it nearly impossible to identify top performers and would ruin the idea of fair competition, which would effectively destroy sports.

    While men and women can never be truly equal in athletics because of the physiological gaps that exist between men and women, there are solutions to the inequalities that exist now. In order to create a culture of equality in athletics between males and females, both boys and girls should be encouraged to play sports from a young age and both genders should receive equal opportunity to participate in athletics throughout their schooling. Both genders should not be told that they are better or worse than the other, as that would lead to the same gender inequality that exists now and has existed throughout history. Both high schools and colleges should invest equally in athletes of both genders and in the equipment and facilities that they use. However, before any of these changes can occur, there must be a change in media coverage. The media, whether it is online, televised, or printed, must change their rhetoric and their delegation of time to cover male and female athletics in equal amounts and with equal importance. The sports media drives the culture of athletics and can cause significant change in how society views sports. With a change in media, more women will continue to play sports, as currently “49% of girls drop out of sport by the time they reach puberty” (Perasso). While the media cannot change the inequalities in athletics by itself, changes in the media as well as increased encouragement from both parents and schools can help to close the gaps between men’s and women’s sports by creating a culture in which women athletes are valued as much as male athletes.

    Women have been victims of discrimination throughout much of history with men being more highly valued and men holding more power than women. However, in contemporary society, many of these injustices have been corrected with new laws giving women equal rights in almost all aspects of life. Today, many women still experience inequalities, both in opportunities and in pay, with men in sports, but are gaining equality rapidly as more women are breaking stereotypes and becoming athletes, even in sports not traditional for women to participate in. As women grow closer and closer to reaching equality with men in athletics, the idea that women are unequal to men will dissipate and people will be able to unite as the human race, without the unnecessary worries of which gender is superior. Once we begin to focus on ourselves as a species and not divide ourselves among lines of gender, we can truly better both ourselves and our society as a whole.

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