“You Throw Like a Girl:’’ The Effect Stereotypes Have on Women in Sport

by Cassie S.

From the beginning of a little girl playing peewee sports all the way to a young adult playing at a professional level, women are always stereotyped by society. They are viewed as the weaker sex and they are valued more on the physical appearance of the body and less on their actual performance. These stereotypes come from the traditional gender roles that have been created by today’s society. The stereotypes that young children are exposed to at such a young age and are raised into believing can have a huge impact on their athletic performance. Much research has been done on the correlation between stereotype threats and the under performance of female athletes.

A stereotype threat occurs when a person performs worse at a task due to extra pressure that is added because of a negative stereotype associated with their group’s performance (Hively & El-Alayli, 2014.) Women often underperform at an athletic task when thinking about gender stereotypes related to athleticism. When females begin to think about the negative stereotypes related to their gender and sport, it causes them to worry an extra amount about their performance. If they perform poorly, it would only (falsely) verify the negative stereotype associated with their group. This extra amount of worry leads to a large gain of pressure which leads to a poor performance.

These negative beliefs are preventing women from performing to their full potential in sport. Hively and El-Alaylo (2014) compared female athletes’ performance against that of male athletes under two circumstances: when a stereotype reminder was present and when the threat of a default stereotype was specifically removed. The study consisted of both male and female basketball and tennis athletes who performed at an elite level. All athletes were asked to perform two athletic tasks within their sport. At random, the participants were either told that there was a gender difference in performance or that there was no gender difference in performance on the tasks.

Results from this study determined two things: When participants were told gender affects task performance, women performed worse than men and when told there was no gender difference, women and men performed equally well. Results of this study show just how powerful these negative stereotypes associated with women and sport can be. Women have come this far in sport, yet still struggle with the stereotypes that society continues to attach to their sex. The facts are that women CAN throw and catch, kick and score goals. It is hard enough for women to breakthrough in sport without the extra pressure added to their performance due to these stereotype threats.

I believe that a great way for women to overcome the barriers that they face with stereotype threats is to look up to some of the amazing athletic female role models in sport today. For example, Olympic gold medalist Jennie Finch is an amazing role model for any girl to look up to. She makes boys wish they could throw or run ‘’like a girl.’’ She is one of the best pitchers in softball history and an all around amazing softball player. You can watch the links below to see Jennie and Team USA in action!

http://larrybrownsports.com/everything-else/jennie-finch-blew-fastballs-by-adrian-peterson/235957

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPO1jWLZZrA

Although Jennie has retired from her softball career, she still continues to run camps and coach teams. She is still providing guidance, inspiration and motivation to girls of all ages to work hard to accomplish their goals and achieve their dreams. There are so many other positive female athletes in sport today that provide hundreds of examples of how strong females can be in the sport world today.

When someone tells me that I throw like a girl I don’t take it as an insult, I take it as a compliment. Throwing like a girl, to me, means throwing like Jennie Finch, which is something any female or male should be extremely proud of. Girls can perform just as well as boys in any sport, regardless of any stereotypes associated with their gender.

References:

Hively, K., & El-Alayli, A. (2014). ”You throw like a girl:” The effect of stereotype threat on women’s athletic performance and gender stereotypes. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 15, 1, 48-55.

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3 responses

  1. The study you referenced led me to consider other questions. First of all, I wonder if the threat posed by gender stereotypes would have a more significant effect on novice or younger athletes. In the study of interest participants were either told that there was a gender difference in performance or that there was no gender difference in performance on the tasks. As we have discussed in class, these stereotypes have been socialized from such a young age. These stereotypes have been an enduring intra-personal constraint for women in sport. I can only imagine that these stigmas may impact female performance regardless of being told of gender differences or equality in performance.

    It is widely acknowledged that experience plays a major role in our activity choices and building our leisure repertoires. Bearing this in mind, stereotype threats leading to poor performance will result in a negative experience, which in turn, will deter young females from sport participation. Quite the vicious cycle of oppression I’d say.

    I think it is also important to recognize that men also experience oppression and stereotype threats in the world of sport. Men are ridiculed if they engage in activities that fail to assert their masculinity.

    These stereotypes that exist in sports prove to reinforce and perpetuate gender inequality in our society. I am hopeful that professional athletes, both male and female, continue to inspire young athletes to resist stereotypes and chase their passions.

    -HV

  2. Great Post Cassie!
    I think you touched on some very valid points regarding the effect that stereotypes have on women in sport. Some of the points made me consider how it must be for some girls to feel while participating in sports. Growing up, I have always been involved in sports and was always the one hanging out or playing sports with the boys. However, I did receive different comments from the boys such as “you throw like a girl, you can’t kick as far because boys are stronger, you’ll never beat me because boys are faster than girls”. Those are a few of the comments that I would get from the guys I was hanging out with. Although, I would just shake it off and ignore them, but like you said it’s comments like that which lead to females dropping out or prevent females from participating in sports.

    I agree with your statement that a way to overcome these barriers is to look up to the amazing female role models in sports. If you have a passion and desire for a sport, I have no doubt that you can find a role model to look up to. Jennie Finch is a great example of a role model, and after watching what Jennie has done girls of all ages should be motivated, as well as want to be successful and achieve their dreams. I hope we continue to see the work being put in to end stereotypes in both male and female sports, and instead we continue to inspire younger athletes to get involved and chase their dreams.

    – KP

  3. Loved the links showing Jennie in action and a great insightful post Cassie!
    I think it was awesome that you suggested that girls seek an athlete in their sport or in the sport world to look up to. Showing them that the “impossible” can be done and those limitations can be broken by any gender, especially a female! I know as an athlete I always looked up to more male athletes instead than female athletes because they weren’t as “popular” so I am happy to see more female athletes receiving the attention they deserve!

    I thought it was really interesting how in the study when told there would be a difference based on gender that the females did do worse verse when it wasn’t mentioned that it would be an affect. Makes me question do females have more insecurity in competition? Do they automatically feel inferior to men based on stereotypes so when told it will affect them they let it get inside their head? Are men equally as nervous when competing against a female but just address the anxiety better than females?

    I know for myself growing up in being the only girl in the house with two older brothers (5 and 8 years older) to play with I was constantly trying to match their speed, strength and athletic abilities in regular sports/ motor cross. However when thinking back I was never told “you can’t do this because you’re a girl” I was often told I wasn’t as strong because I was younger! Not that that comment didn’t irritate me then but reflecting back I think being told I couldn’t because I was younger definitely was more positive than because I was a girl.

    I agree with Hannah’s comment that it “it is also important to recognize that men also experience oppression and stereotype threats in the world of sport. Men are ridiculed if they engage in activities that fail to assert their masculinity.” I think in order to eliminate stereotypes that will then allow society to instead encourage young females to be proud/confident of who they are as an athlete we in turn need to do the same for men.

    Hope to see a future where on talent and ability is seen rather than gender!
    – MS

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