Can Women Playing Sports Be Considered a Feminist Act?

Women today usually avoid the label Feminist, because it carries negative connotations. Stereotypical images of an angry woman or a  misandrist emerge. Although Third wave Feminism has its flaws, this does not discredit  it entirely. It has produced some positive results. Women are advancing in education and the public sphere. One area of advancement which is fascinating is sport. The traditional view was that sports were male only. However,there are records of women participating in sports prior to Title IX. Feminists try to claim that without their movement, no woman would have been involved in sport. This claim ignores the long history of women’s involvement. Playing sports is not specifically a Feminist act. It really is at its heart, a leisure activity . The rise of professional sports then made it a capitalist venture. Sure it can be empowering for individual women, but not a radical statement of gender politics.

The historical record shows women’s involvement in sport going back to ancient history. Sparta was an example of women’s early participation in sport. Women and girls were encouraged to run, wrestle, and build strong bodies. Sparta was a Greek city-state centered around warrior culture. The idea was that strong women would produce strong warriors.Some archaeological findings suggest that Egyptian women accompanied their husbands on hunting trips. This was among the nobility and the pharaoh.  Gambia has a long tradition of  women’s wrestling among the Diola ethnic group. Similarly, the Njabi of the Congo and  the Yala  of  Nigeria also had this tradition.Even though women were prohibited from the Olympic games, Greek women did engage in foot races. During the Middle Ages women ran in foot races, played stoolball, did horseback riding, and went hunting. By the 1800s  women in Europe and America were active in golf, tennis, and croquet. Cycling would gain popularity in the 1860s. When the Olympic games were revived, women were once again restricted from competition. This was overturned by 1900 and as the century advanced more events were opened to them.

Feminists sometimes use women athletes as role models. This does seem practical, because it does challenge the idea of male physical superiority. Yet it poses some problems. There can be a fine line to walk between empowering and sexual objectification.


This is Lolo Jones a track athlete posing for the Body Issue of ESPN Magazine. Feminists claim that men only focus on a woman athletes looks rather than her performance. While this may have some truth it ignores some other critical points. 

Feminists are quick to blame male fans for the element of sexual objectification. This is not fair, because there is a capitalist profit motive behind this.One concept comes to mind is the idea sex sells. The publishers of certain sports magazines realize that a majority of their readership is male. Putting nude women in magazines will increase sales. This is the negative aspect of a consumerist culture. Using people for profit. Feminists then lump all men into one group. There are male fans who admire women’s athletic feats.


Men can admire Serena Williams skill on the tennis court. She just happens to be beautiful.

There are still men who only value women for their appearance. This is sexist, but does not represent the attitudes of all men.

         Women playing sports is not entirely a Feminist act. However, it represents that women are gaining equal opportunity. Women have a long history of sport participation. Discrimination sadly held back women with remarkable talent.  Women know have access to better training and a pathway in which they can compete professionally. Women on an individual level have empowered in some way. Many women athletes credit their physical activity giving them higher self-esteem.A new sense of confidence has emerged, but it cannot be from some form of Feminist revolution.

Can Women Playing Sports Be Considered a Feminist Act?

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