Why is there a stereotype that gymnastics is a “woman’s sport”?

by Desiray W.

From as long as I can remember gymnastics has always been considered a “woman’s sport”. Although there are plenty of men that participate in this sport, the majority of people that participate is woman. In most cases boys usually get teased and made fun of when they are young if they are in gymnastics. Our society today is a bit more accepting of it then they were in the past. But yet we still see stereotypes. Different aspects of gymnastics may construct as “feminine” such as the leotards, apparatus and competition style. Therefore gymnastics is considered feminine because of structure and aspects of the sport itself. Although many that do not participate in the sport do not know what it takes how much hard work and dedication you have to to put in just in order to be a competitive gymnast.

The difference that many may not know is that woman’s gymnastics and men’s gymnastics is very different. Woman’s events include balance beam, uneven bars, floor and vault. While men’s gymnastics include, High bar, pommel horse, rings, Parallel bars, floor and vault. The only events that woman and men share is floor and vault which are power tumbling apparatus. Men’s gymnastics requires a tremendous amount of muscular strength, endurance, flexibility as do woman’s gymnastics. While both men and woman require strength, men’s routines focus more on displaying his strength through various holds. Women’s routines focus more on artistry and grace. Gymnastics is the sport with the most difference between the men’s and women’s competitions rather than any other sport.

Our society has been taught to think of sorts in terms of “genderedness”. Men are encouraged and taught to participate in strenuous, aggressive, competitive teams sports while woman are commonly steered towards individual aesthetically pleasing activities such as gymnastics (Schmalz & Kerstetter, 2006). When any gender goes out of their social norm of what is expected from them they often get teased by other young people their age. While we see that woman are becoming more accepted in what they would call “masculine sports” men are not near as accepted in what they call “woman’s sport”. Many male gymnasts are bullied or looked down upon by their peers, as gymnastics is largely seen as a sport traditionally “for girls”.

Studies have even proven that gymnastics is one of the hardest sports in the world it requires a tremendous amount of physical strength, flexibility, power, agility, coordination, grace, balance and control. This gender stereotype has to stop! Everyone should be able to feel comfortable participating in whatever sport they want to without being teased and labeled.

In conclusion I believe the sport of gymnastics needs to be largely re-evaluated mainly by the portions of the sport that perpetuate stereotypes regarding the femininity of men if they are in the sport of gymnastics. Something we struggle with stereotypes not only in athletics but in everyday life as well. This blog post I have made is not only for gymnasts themselves but for coaches, peers, family and especially for parents that are too scared to put their boys in gymnastics because they think that it may cause a harder upbringing for their child being bullied for it. Remember it’s not about what others think, it’s about what you’re passionate about.

References

Schmalz, D. and Kerstetter, D. (2006). Girlie girls and manly men: Children’s stigma consciousness of gender in sports and physical activities. Journal of Leisure Research, 38(4), 536-557

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2 responses

  1. Nice post, Desiray! When I was young, I participated in gymnastics, even went to gymnastics camps, and there were only ever one or two boys with us. Back then, I didn’t understand why one sport would be considered more feminine or masculine, it was more about trying to coordinate your body, learning the skills and having fun. Only through socialization did I understand that gymnastics, and other aesthetic sports were deemed to be feminine. But on the contrary, I think to be a successful gymnast, you need the power and strength that is associated with masculinity.
    This same argument can be used for figure skating. My brother and I both used to compete in figure skating, but he quit when he was teased and made fun of by his school mates and friends for doing a “girly” sport. There are different regulations for men’s versus women’s figure skating, just like there are for gymnastics, where the men are required to do more jumps (power and strength), and the women are required to do more spins (beauty and grace). But, to be successful in pairs, the man needs to have the qualities of a “masculine man” in order to do the lifts, etc. So is it really a feminine sport, after all?
    I think calling a sport “feminine” or “masculine” or expecting only girls or only boys to participate in them is a moot point, since most sports have both kinds of characteristics, and require a large array of skills. I hope that we will continue to shift our way of thinking, and allow boys and girls to participate in whatever they want to, because you’re right, in the end, it only matters that you are doing something you are passionate about!

    Erin

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