Women Athletes in Male Dominated Sports
Sports are one of the great American pastimes, but the reality is that sports have encouraged a very distinct separation between males and females in the American society. The attitudes acquired through sports are learned on the field and breached into the real world to create conflict between the sexes. The issue of gender inequality goes far beyond the sports world, yet male dominated organizations form and support the sexes. With this separation of sexes we see the social and cultural strain on athletes participating in opposite gender sports, because society frowns on women participating in male dominated sports.
The idea of sports has always had a masculine viewpoint. It has been seen as unladylike for women to participate in certain sports, let alone those that are primarily male dominated. The American public's fascination with female athletes: tennis players, professional golfers, figure skaters, and gymnasts. These sports demonstrate the agility and elegance "natural" to women and although athleticism is clearly a major aspect of these sports, the individual stars are known, culturally at least, more for their "feminine" attributes like self-sacrifice, glamour and grace (Banet-Weiser, p 411). From the article by Banet-Weiser, we can see society and the general public recognition of female athletes has always been based on their feminine beauty and objectified status, rather than their athletic skill, which becomes a major drawback to women's sports and probably a significant reason why many women drop out of sports or have their sexual identity questioned when they try to prove their athleticism.
This issue of gender in sport occurs all the time. The masculine assumptions of team sports challenge the individualist and moralist ideology that constructs sports such as figure skating and gymnastics. The women of the WNBA have had to manage a contradictory set of cultural images and strategies are needed to reassure fans that although they are not dancing gracefully over the ice in designer outfits, professional female basketball players are feminine beings (Banet-Weiser, p 412).
What happens when society cannot accept women as athletes and feminine beings all in one package? This has a dramatic affect on athletes as Cahn (1988) points out, "the lesbian stereotype exerts pressure on athletes to demonstrate their femininity and heterosexuality." So, instead of athletes concentrating on training and competition, they have to spend their time defending their personal lives and sexuality, also reassuring their audiences that women involved in sports are indeed women.
It is not surprising that sports such as hockey, boxing, and weightlifting, which resemble masculine athletics, have the greatest need to attract audiences and the fear of lesbianism are most prominent....