It is obvious that there are reasons for differences in athletic performance between the sexes. The first one is biological. Sexual dimorphism does have an effect on athletic performance. There are some sports physiologists who claim this is the sole reason for the difference in performance. The problem is that this ignores sociological factors that could effect women. There are many issues that the male athlete will never have to confront. The challenge of gender bias and concepts of femininity still hound women in this profession. Access to equal training and talent development is limited. At an early age women are not taught to be physically skillful. Economic factors also play a role in how much time women can devote to sport. There have been instances in which women have been banned from a particular sport when they upset the gender norm order. It has only been recently that women have been allowed to compete on a professional level. The fact is performance has both biological and sociological factors working in conjunction. Biological determinism fails to realize this and reduces everything solely to the genes. The other end of the spectrum focuses on environment. It is not one or the other, but both. Examining the sociological factors reveals legacies of discrimination and lack of opportunity. While these challenges have been addressed, they are still present and effect women’s athletic performance. Sociological factors cannot be ignored, even though they are not immediately detectable.
Body image has at some point effected women’s lives. The ideal standard of beauty is obsessive over the image of thin body type. Even female athletes are not immune from this social and cultural pressure. Fear of violating the dated gender norm hinders women’s chances for improved performance. The trepidation of getting too muscular holds women back. Femininity has been defined in terms of delicateness or frailty. Muscle, strength, power, and skill were traditionally thought to be male only. This is not true, but when women display this they are criticized as being masculine or unfeminine. Skill and a level of aggression is necessary in sport, yet these attributes are praised in men. Women are forced to sometimes walk a tight rope in terms of body image, even though they have sculpted impressive physiques. There is subtle message of being toned, but not too muscular. Women’s bodies vary in size and shape depending on the sport they play so it is strange that their remains body image conformity. This also projects itself in eating disorders, which female athletes are also susceptible to. Some female athletes will not train as hard for fear of becoming more muscular. Weight training can dramatically improve performance, but some female athletes avoid it to prevent becoming muscular. It should be understood that women come in all shapes and sizes. The athletic body is not always a muscular one. It could larger or lithe.
The modern fitness industry does not help with improving body image. Most marketing is directed at weight loss and diets. It does not emphasize other workout routines in a serious manner in men’s magazines. There is an emphasis on tone for women and building strength for men. There has been a shift which has emerged from a movement against body shaming. Yet, this movement seems to be solely focused on women who are “curvy.” There is also a movement in the fitness community that believes “strong is the new skinny.” The problem with these movements is that they could just be swapping another body image conformity standard with another. The only solution to this is for women themselves to define what version of beauty is acceptable, rather than having it dictated to them. Body image seems to be a tool in which women are controlled. Female athletes violate this standard, by offering an alternative. It becomes a threat, because it challenges the old convictions about women’s roles and false notions of biological inferiority.
There are men who see a strong woman as a threat or an aberration. This to a great extent is influenced by mass media representations that people are exposed to during childhood and adulthood. If one image is presented as how all women should be, this creates a level of prejudice against people who do not fit such a paradigm. Women who are very muscular have to deal with negative commentary form the public and the media. Serena Williams has been attacked unjustly about her body built form hours on the tennis court. Female bodybuilders are also attacked and ostracized for large musculature. They have the largest musculature of all causing trepidation in some. Such behavior shows that body shaming is a bullying tactic to isolate women who do not submit to the cultural body ideals. Body image goes beyond just having a preference is is linked to sexist attitudes.
Women in sports and their supporters believe that there is no contradiction between women’s muscular strength and femininity. There is not a contradiction, but it demonstrates who limited a woman can be defined in a sociological context. Body image pressure continues to be a persistent problem that could harm women’s athletic performance. Competition is just not a physical task, but a mental one. Stress and an uninviting atmosphere can cause issues. Men do not have to deal with such body image pressure in the sports world.
Barriers exist for women in terms of sexist discrimination and misogyny. When one views sporting events, one question that comes up is why are there not more female athletes? This relates back to socioeconomic status, cultural attitudes, and how girls are raised. There could be talented women out there would just do not have the opportunity to compete. There are nations that still view women as being merely property or just wives and mothers. There roles should not extend outside the domestic sphere. Culturally, girls are not taught physical skills like boys are. One of the bonding experiences between a father and son is teaching is child how to throw. Rarely do fathers do this with their daughters. Rough and tumble play is not considered appropriate for girls. This has changed in some countries. The US passed Title IX, which in many ways changed the way girls and women viewed physical activity. It is not strange for a girl to show interest in or want to play a sport. There is a gap in the amount of physical skills taught to girls. Physical education may to an extent be watered down for girls. The fitness targets and exercises are lower for girls, even when the physiological changes from puberty have not occurred. That means their ate no distinct physical advantages so sex segregated physical education classes would make no sense. This indicates their is a bias, but a process of socialization into cultural based gender norms. Women when examined in the context of the history of physical education were not expected to play games or sports in the same manner. The female model was to be less competitive and more of moderate level of activity. Women should not in this pedagogy of physical education not strain themselves or become competitive.
Girls in other countries may get the least amount of schooling, which explains some of the gender inequality globally. Obviously, not being school means they would not have physical education. Some countries have only just begun to offer it to girls. Saudi Arabia has done so as part of its Vision 2030 program. Conservative cultural convictions prevent women from becoming active participants in sports and fitness. Socioeconomic barriers also hinder both sexes. Poverty means less resources to participate in sports that require more equipment or related materials. Playing sports is a leisure activity, which is out of reach for the working poor. This doe not mean a person can not work their way to competitive ranks, but it shows how class has a major impact on life even in a society in which social mobility can be attainable. Women have been a part of sports since the ancient world. Women athletes have been documented in Ancient Greek civilization and indications of female participation in Ancient Egyptian civilization.
Women faced the same type of prejudiced attitudes and sometimes to an even larger extreme. Women were banned from watching the Olympic games and could be executed if they attempted to do so in ancient Greece. Even if women were athletes, there has been a long tradition of prohibiting or excluding women from sport. To say that the female athlete is an anomaly or a new phenomenon is incorrect. The peculiar dynamic is why sex discrimination has persisted for so long. While the numbers of women in sports are still lower compared to men, there has been a dramatic increase in total of women athletes. Sex discrimination exposes itself in a number of ways through unequal pay or limited media coverage. Another problem is just not having a venue or platform to compete. There are no professional leagues for women’s baseball or limited opportunities for women’s tackle football. There are some sports that remain limited for women. because the opportunity is not there.
Women have never been welcomed in sport and there is a culture of misogyny. To a more closed minded individual sports should be male only and women athletes are by nature “abnormal.” Women who perform at high levels are either accused of being mannish or having their sexuality questioned. This mix of homophobia and hetero sexism discourages women from being active in sport. The culture of exclusion is designed to alienate people of different sexual orientations, races, or religions. This type of exclusion does not only seek alienate, but erase history. It is common in sports historiography and entertainment to ignore non-white peoples. When discussing sports history the discourse mainly focuses on a Western narrative excluding other areas of the globe. China during the Ming dynasty had women as players in Cuju. The Nuba peoples of Sudan have a long tradition of wrestling dating back to the ancient world.
There have been women athletes all over the world. It is just now they have more venues to compete both at the amateur and professional level. There is a reason why women’s numbers are lower in sports and it is not always unintentional. Women traditionally were expected to give up personal ambitions for the sake of motherhood and marriage. Women had to present themselves as being lady like in the context of a conservative culture. This meant being passive, demure, and responding to male demands. Sports involve a level of confidence and assertiveness that at one time was seen as male only. This has changed over the years as more women challenge ridged gender roles. Sexism extends to a homophobia as well. Women who play sports well are often have their sexuality attacked. They are accused of being lesbians or masculine, because the wider culture has narrow definitions of what men and women can be. Simultaneously people of different sexual orientations are excluded and ostracized. Racism also intersects with exclusionary behavior. Normally white is considered the default presentation in media of the athlete. It ignore the fact that different races and women are part of the sports world. Black, Asian, and South American women have to deal with not only the burden of sexism, but race prejudice. White women do not have to deal with such a challenge. There are social as well as cultural barriers, but there are also institutional challenges.
Sex verification tests are an example of institutional barriers harming women’s athletic performance. These tests are given to women and not men which demonstrates a double standard. Slowly they have been eliminated, however they have remained in the form of testing testosterone levels. Women who are deemed to have “too much” testosterone in their system are expected to take hormone therapy to reach what is considered an acceptable level. There is a problem with this. The first is that if a woman’s natural level just happens to be high that just an advantage unique to her physiology. The other possibility is that the athlete in question is either using a performance enhancing substance, which can be tested for. The other case relates to a condition known as hyperandronism in which high levels of testosterone are produced in the body. This condition is rare occurring in about at least 5% to 10% of women. The regulation in regards to unique physiology demonstrates the IAAF is uncomfortable with women competing in sports. It was not until 1992 that the IAAF ended sex testing. Sex verification tests have for most of their existence been unscientific. They do not account for genetic variation among women and fail to understand the nature of intersex people. The IOC and IAAF claim sex testing is done to protect women form men posing as women in contests. To date their has been few men captured posing as a woman in the Olympics. The only case of this was Dora Ratjen in the 1936 Olympics. Dora was actually a man in disguise hoping that he could win more medals for Nazi Germany. Sex verification became more prevalent when women got more involved in sports. International athletics officials standardized gender testing by having athletes present themselves in nude parades. Female athletes would be examine by doctors (specifically their genitalia) for male organs. This was a violation of privacy and then another test was created that examined chromosomes. This also created complications because human genetics and sex are more complicated than thought. The ruling on testosterone levels is another means of policing gender in sports. A natural physical advantage should not exclude women from sport. The argument is about fairness, however women with such advantage are discouraged form competing. Caster Semneya and Dutee Chand were either forced to take sex verification tests or be banned from competition.
After legal action, both athletes were able to return to competition. They have talent and a natural advantage, so there is no reason to exclude them based on endocrinology. Detractors claim that they are not “real” women and if they compete it is unfair to other athletes. If it were true that their bodies were more male like, then their performances would match that of male track athletes. They do not seeing as they still have women’s physiques in the structural and physiological sense. Wider pelvises, smaller hearts, and lungs means that their performances would not match a male track athlete. This exposes the problem with sex verification tests. Gender is a social construction and used in this context sex verification is in a pseudoscientific manner is defining what a proper woman should be. Biological sex is the product of millions of years of human evolution with genes interacting with the environment by means of natural and sex selection. The genetics of women can vary. The only purpose of sex verification is to create an uncomfortable atmosphere for women and humiliate them. It is impossible to ban women from sport, but there are mechanisms at the institutional level to stop progress.Sex verification tests are a symbol of that problem.
One challenge involves the science of exercise physiology. The problem is that most studies focus on male athletes, yet there are few done on female athletes as a whole. When women want to train seriously for a sport, they have limited information. Methods and techniques are still debated. Women are obviously physiologically different from men and in some case may have to have a training regimen adjusted to meet there physical fitness targets. It may still be more to discover about women’s full physical capabilities. There are few women in the exercise sciences and kinesiology , which exacerbates the the issue of lack of information. Sports medicine is slow to catch up in the study of effective training for female athletes. There has to be consideration in terms of endocrinology, the musculoskeletal structure, and metabolism. These vary between men and women including between an individual’s unique physiology. Studies have shown that carbohydrate loading may not have the same effect on women as it does on men. According to a study conducted by the University of Massey at the Institute of Food, Nutrition, and Human Health women utilize only half of the carbohydrates in their muscles. The experiment was examining recovery after exercise having subjects engage in cycling. The results were different for men and women, but this was only one study produced in 2010. There needs to be more done with female athletes, rather than using males as the default for exercise science investigation. Doing so can help discard incorrect myths about women’s performance during menstruation, physical capability, and biomechanics.
Access to training facilities is also critical to performance. Gyms or tracks are beneficial to an athlete trying to maintain fitness and improve performance. Women were for a long time denied access to particular fitness facilities. The reason the Soviet Union’s women athletes were outperforming the US in 1956 was because they provided them with training facilities. The only schools at the university level that did that in America was the Historically black colleges such as Howard University and Hampton University. It was not until Title IX did women in the US get access to gyms and training space. Normally when women entered these spaces they were faced wit intimidation and common sexist prejudice. This is also tied to class. Women who are in a lower socioeconomic bracket do not have the same opportunities to enjoy sports activities. A gym membership can be expensive. The cost to compete depending on what sport can be immense. The income of the female athlete is lower and many may have to have several jobs just to keep playing the sport they love. The financial struggle may cause some to quit. Access to particular facilities could be a problem coming from a country with limited resources. Nations that are unstable, war torn, or economically unstable put women in horrible situations. While biology, anatomy, and physiology demonstrate whay there is a difference in athletic performance, sociological factors are also important. Barriers and discrimination or conservative cultural attitudes still hold women back in sports. Once these issues are challenged, women can truly excel.
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