I spent this past weekend playing very challenging, high-level rugby games in the Women’s D1 Round of Sixteen for Nationals. Truthfully, we got our butts kicked, having lost the fire, and numbers, from an undefeated fall season which earned us number one seed in the league.
I spent the rest of Sunday, and today, reflecting on my team, and female athletes. In rugby, it is hard to ignore the perceptual barriers women break in playing what many deem as a masculine sport. Historically, women who entered the world of sports, in an athletic, media-related, or coaching role undoubtedly faced opposition from a previously unbroken patriarchy.
All collegiate and professional sports teams are guilty of this, but we will use this season’s basketball emails from James Madison University as an example. When advertising upcoming games, or sharing previous results, the announcements for the men’s team read, “Basketball Game Tonight at 7 p.m!” For the women, the announcements read, “Women’s Basketball Game Tonight at 7 p.m!”
This slight language differentiation is enough to effect perception, because suddenly basketball is not the same sport, when Women’s is preceding it. Rarely, if ever, will you find a team that chooses to clarify their sport is being played by men. Male athletes are the expectation, female athletes are the caveat.
For the JMU Men’s and Women’s Rugby teams, this past year the two consolidated their previously separate branding, funding, and teams into one program labeled JMU Rugby. Before this, there was a stark disparity in the money individuals donated to the men’s team, versus the women’s, leading to undoubtable disparities in competition level, and at times, success.
Rather than going to the extreme of ambiguity, the team’s use their shared social media accounts to differentiate between men’s and women’s games. These teams are an example of how we can easily equalize language.
When women were first ushered into sports broadcasting in the 1970s, when women were first ushered into sports broadcasting, Ms. Kennedy was one among a small faction of women whose beauty pageant status propelled her qualifications.
Yes, the first female sports journalists, were all initially beauty queens. The reason, is clear, because in a pre-Title IX, male-dominated environment like the sports world, women were objects of entertainment not sources of information. And while I wish to pretend this trend stopped with changes in legislation and networks, this article from Men’s Fitness shows that the first criteria for many who perceive female sports broadcasters is good looks.
If you are not convinced gender still effects the sports world, take note of the financial and community support a women’s team receives versus their male counterparts, or observe the dynamics of a female sportscaster in a male locker room. In the past, and even now, it is not uncommon for female journalists to find themselves harassed, accosted, and disregarded.
Just as with many STEM programs in universities across the nation, there are parts of our modern culture ardently working to maintain masculinity. While this fault often falls on the shoulders of individuals, it is the responsibility of all who offer dialogue on multi-gendered athletics to work towards inclusivity.