Gender Equality in Sports: Female Athletes Inferior To Male Athletes?

by Ashley LeGresley

Although female sports have come a long way in the last century, there is still much inequality between female and male sports in areas such as coverage, salary, and the portrayal of the athletes themselves.

Any sports fan who watches sports on television can easily see that male sports are predominantly featured over female sports. With women accounting for 40% of all sports participation, one would think that female sports would air, pretty much on par with that of their male counterparts (Hanson, 2012). In 1999, female sports coverage only accounted for 8% of all sports media coverage (Hanson, 2012).

Arguably one of the most popular sports news stations, ESPN’s SportsCenter , in 2004 only devoted 2% of its’ show to women’s sports (Hanson, 2012). A 30-day analysis of SportsCenter turned up 807 stories regarding sports, 778 of these were regarding male sports, while 16 were about female sports and 13 were about both female and male sports. These numbers, truly show how female sports are depicted in the sports world, as not important.

In regards to salary, male players and teams make a substantial amount more than female player and their teams, even though they may not win as much, or win as big a title. Reports in 1998 indicated that female players made 74 cents for every dollar that their male counterparts earned (Gettings, 2013).

In 2005, Sue Bird, the top ranked WNBA player made $87 000, which according to Insidehoops.com is the top salary for the WNBA (Seepersaud, 2013). Shaquille O’Neal in that same year made $20 million. These gaps in statistics can be seen in every sport.

Female golfer, Annika Sorenstam made $1.9 million dollars for winning her third U.S Open, while Tiger Woods won $6.8 million for winning the men’s U.S Open in the same year (Seepersaud, 2013)! David Fay, the Open’s Executive Director was questioned why there was such a difference in payouts between the men’s and women’s winnings,  his response was  the men’s Open has,  “more audience members, entries and press coverage”(Seepersaud, 2013).

Lastly, female athletes are portrayed in a different light than male athletes. Female players are exploited for their sex appeal instead of their ability as a player (Hanson, 2012). Male players are shown as strong, muscular, and athletic while female player’s bodies are viewed as sex objects.

A study done in 1990 looked at male and female athletes and the location of their photo shoots; 68% of male players were shot on their court while 51% of women were shot on court (Hanson, 2012). This study then looked at players and whether their pictures depicted them in their uniforms; 93% of males were photographed wearing their uniforms while 84% of females were photographed wearing theirs. A similar study in 1990 looked at athletes’ pictures to see if they were action shots or stills; 62% of male shots were taken while they were in action, and 41% of female shots were action shots (Hanson, 2012).

As seen in Sports Illustrated, a magazine known for its articles about sports teams, and players, female athletes are rarely featured, and when they are, their pictures are not of them in an action shot on the field but of them in very little clothing or none at all, in a location far from the playing field (Hanson, 2012). Starting in 1964, the magazine started issuing an annual Swimsuit Edition with erotic pictures of female athletes, which unless the reader is aware of her athletic capabilities, would think is just a model posing. Certainly this is not women showing off their athleticism, but their bodies.

Unfortunately, if female players are not the “model” physique, or possess female characteristics, then they are considered “butch” by society and are stereotyped lesbians because they play sport and are not feminine  enough (Hanson, 2012.) I have seen this personally in my softball career. Players on my team who didn’t wear makeup or “girly” clothing were deemed butch and many students outside of the team thought they were lesbian, when in fact, they were not. The ideas and stereotypes come from the way media shows female athletes. Most of the female athletes featured in magazines or news articles are the most beautiful and sexually appealing, emphasizing on their feminine characteristics instead of their ability to play their sport.

These pictures and articles are easily read and available to younger female and male athletes. By reading and looking at how female players are depicted, it gives youth the wrong idea of how female athletes should be treated and teaches young women that the only way to get ahead in sports is to exploit your body.

For future female players to feel that they are valued as credible athletes and not just seen as females, society has to close the gap between male and female sports, making coverage, salaries, funding and how the athletes are portrayed equivalent. Media must also be very careful in how female players are depicted as this shapes the minds of future athletes and fans.

REFERENCES:

Gettings, John. (2013), The Wage Gap in Pro Sports: Will equal pay arrive for women in the sports world. http://www.infoplease.com/spot/sptwagegap1.html

Hanson, Valarie. (2012), The Inequality of Sport: Women < Men. Undergraduate Review: A Journal of Undergraduate Student Research. 13. 1: pp. 15-22.

Seepersaud, Steve. (2013), Female Athlete Salaries. http://www.askmen.com/sports/business_150/190_sports_business.html

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3 responses

  1. Before i say this i’d like to state that i’m not trying to start a fight or anything and that I think that womens sports deserve as much respect as mens. Just maybe an explanation for viewing numbers and salary.

    Everyone knows that an athletes salary is based on the amount of money that their sport or team makes. This largely depends on how much people want to pay to watch this sport. We talked in class about how men were perceived to be larger and stronger, and in everyday life i believe this to be true. In professional sport however, as much as women train, men in general are going to be bigger and stronger. This being said, if an individual were to want to watch a sport, the version of said sport that has the bigger, stronger and probably faster individuals in it is probably going to be picked over it’s counterpart. Meaning that more people are watching and the athletes involved are going to get paid more. It’s just a matter of what society wants to see.

    Again, don’t want to start a fight, just playing devils advocate a bit to see another side of the matter.

    Devan Frigault

  2. I have to echo Devan’s comments. For me, would I rather pay $30 to watch a male team or $30 and watch a women’s team? Here at UNB I enjoy watching both our male and female teams. But I’m not paying to watch them (I get I pay tuition and that covers my ticket).

    I record the stats and attendance for the men’s and women volleyball and basketball teams here at UNB. From my observation, a lot of the fans attending the women’s matches are friends, family, or alumni. In fact men’s attendance numbers nearly double females. Thus far, women’s basketball has brought in 4,462 fans. The men’s team has brought in 8,407 fans thus far. In the AUS, UNB is first for home attendance for men’s and women’s basketball. However, here’s an interesting fact: our women’s basketball team’s home attendance is higher than six of the eight teams in the AUS men’s basketball conference. Only UNB and Acadia have higher attendance records.

    The choice of watching males versus females is one of the reasons the Varsity Reds Athletic Department dropped the females hockey program from Varsity status to club status. There are other issues which are currently being investigated. However, at the end of the day, if no one is coming to watch a women’s team play and the Athletic Department is losing money, the program generating the least amount of revenue will be cut. In case anyone is not familiar with this case, here’s the link: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/former-player-betrayed-by-unb-downgrade-of-women-s-hockey-1.2523734

    What is not mentioned is women’s hockey was not the only sport dropped from Varsity status at that time. Two male sports were dropped as well. However, no one seems to care about the male sports when they get cut.

    Jason Cress

  3. These statistics are very interesting and really shine the spot light on the differences at hand here! As Jason and Devan mentioned, athletes salaries are based on how much the teams make. The television contracts, endorsements, ticket sales for male professional teams are huge! Thus increasing the need to share that profit with the athletes bringing that money to the teams owners. Not only does this aspect of pro sports separate men from women, it also hurts male sports at the end of the day. These contracts and salaries have lead to lockouts and contact disputes in the MLB, NBA once and the NHL twice in the last 10 years.

    Considering this, professional women’s sports salaries would be greater if the media attention was greater for their sports. How do draw that attention, and why it is not there, is a question and answer I am not sure how to get to the bottom of.

    Very interesting post!

    Andrew Connors

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