Female Athleticism: A Cause for Celebration

by Amanda K.

The women’s rights movement dates back to 1884 when a group of women gathered together to fight for the equality of women. Since then, women have made great strides towards equal opportunities for females around the world. Girls growing up in today’s society are experiencing a very different world compared to women who were born in the 1800’s. While the movement has brought great change to the world, women are still fighting against injustices they face on a daily basis. Although women are able to vote and be seen outside the home, they are still viewed as the inferior sex, especially in the sporting arena. Although women are able to participate in sport which wasn’t always the case, they are paid less and as a result are given less opportunities to pursue professional careers in sport. Because of the inequalities between male and female sports, females in sports are not taken as serious as competitive male athletes; basically, they viewed as less feminine women.

On average, in professional sports, women are paid only 77% of professional male athlete’s salaries. Although this percentage varies among sports, it is consistent that males are paid higher salaries. Due to lower salaries, in order to support a comfortable lifestyle female athletes must find other sources of income to make ends meet. For some female athletes this means sexualizing their bodies by posing naked in order to make extra money on the side. Although posing naked has received negative opinion of the general population, posing naked not only benefits the wallet of the athlete, but has created a movement to accept female athletes and their body image.  Amongst these females are Gabriele Reece; a professional volleyball player who posed for playboy in 2001, Hope Solo; a professional soccer player who posed for ESPN in 2013, and Lolo Jones; Olympic track and field athlete who posed semi-nude for ESPN in 2009.

Women participating in sport challenge the image of femininity. According to the definition of femininity, females are supposed to seemingly have feminine qualities at first glance. This means having petite bodies, smelling nice, and ultimately being weak. Females who participate at the highest level of sport spend hours in the gym to build muscle in order to compete against the best athletes in the world. As a result, female athletes are considered less feminine due to their large muscles and aggressive behaviour while playing sports. Since female athletes don’t traditionally fit the feminine role they are stereotyped as “butch” or “lesbian”. Female athletes posing naked sends a message to the public demonstrating that the female athletic body type is nothing to be ashamed of but instead something to celebrate. I think this message is very important to portray to young female athlete growing up with body image issues.

Personally, growing up an elite athlete I always struggled with body image. While all my friends were very petite, I had large thighs as a result of playing soccer and figure skating. I was always self-conscious wearing shorts or finding the right pair of jeans that fit my thighs properly as well as my waist. Over the years’ companies such as Nike have brought attention to this issue with their “real women” campaign that highlights the acceptance of having big thighs, shoulders, etc. This campaign was a pivotal for me and allowed me to finally begin to accept my athletic body type instead of being ashamed of it.  Instead of trying to hide my muscles it became a cause for celebration. I think it so important for female athletes to continue to empower young female athletes in this sense to increase the acceptance of females in sport. Growing up, I wish there were more female athletes who stood for what these campaigns are standing for. As a result, females will be able to further themselves in sport and bring more positive attention to female sports.

 

http://www.infoplease.com/spot/womenstimeline1.html

http://www.adwomen.org/2011/06/controversial-nikes-campaign-for-women/

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The Girly-Girl Doesn’t Play Sports, Youth Categorization of Girls as Preventative Sport Participation Measures

By Haley M.

The cultural meaning of the female body and how it is regulated and controlled takes on a particular meaning when discussing women‟s participation in sports because athletic endeavours require women to engage their bodies in practices that are typically associated with masculinity…sports play a powerful role in the reproduction of patriarchal gender regimes (Adams, Schmitke, Franklin, 2005, p. 19).

When I was a little girl, I was put into the “girly-girl” box. I often question what exactly it was that I did that earned me a spot in this particular box. I believe that this label was only partially earned as a result of my personality. My favorite color was pink despite having a blue and yellow room when I was little, and my sports of choice were dance, skiing, and swimming, despite having tried soccer, softball, and hockey. My parents quickly learned that I was more interested in making a bouquet of flowers than actually kicking or hitting a ball. I was far more interested in doing crafts and learning how to bake than I was going to play on the jungle gym or in the sand box.

Certainly, my personality influenced the “box” that I was categorized into. Yet, I frequently wonder what other factors came into play when placing me within this box. For example, later in junior high I wanted to try new sports including basketball, volleyball, and karate. Upon announcing this both my parents and my friends, they all looked at me in disbelief. My friends even tried to convince me that it was a bad idea. While my parents were slightly shocked, they supported the idea that I could do anything I put my mind to. Allow me to slightly fast-forward, my volleyball career ended in less than a week, karate no more than a month, and basketball lasted about two years, and I was only really a decent player when we were on defense.

Despite all of this overwhelming evidence, attributable to my personality, that indicated that I really was the girly-girl everyone perceived me to be, I wondered if there were other factors that came into play when I was placed into this category. Physically, I already had the Barbie doll look, Caucasian, petite, blonde hair, and blue eyes. Financially, my parents had enough income to support me in any activity I chose to pursue, and it was my mother’s pride and joy to dress me extremely well.

Social norms dictate the way we engage in activities. My participation in sport was influenced by the “box” I was placed into, as early as primary school. The “girly-girl” and “tomboy” classifications are socially constructed labels. This dichotomy of stereotypes comes with respective privileges and consequences. Specifically the label girly-girl has been academically defined as “emphasized femininity” (Leahy, 1994). Meaning, to conform to this particular ideal means “to be traditionally pretty, to appear conventionally fashionable, and to pay constant attention to their appearance” (Cockburn & Clarke, 2002, p. 653). Adams, Schmitke, and Franklin (2005) indicate that “on the playing field, being a girly-girl is a challenge because being sweaty and physical is not typically associated with ideal femininity” (p. 23). It is further discussed how female athletes have been pressured to conform to the traditional notions of femininity. For example, to try and preserve the femininity ideal, girls who participate in sport are encouraged by coaches, teammates, and other social influencers to have long hair, wear ribbons and makeup while playing the sport, and to be wearing revealing uniforms (Adams, Schmitke, Franklin, 2005).

On the opposite end of the label spectrum, “tomboys” are described in academia as girls who do not limit their preferences for activities along gender lines and feel comfortable playing games traditionally reserved for boys (Plumb & Cowan, 1984). The literature indicates that there is an ambiguity associated with tomboyism because of lack of clear guidelines for what is appropriate and normative behaviour for girls. Further, ambiquity arises as a result of some scholars who associate androgyny with girls who are described as “tomboys” because they are performing both masculinity and femininity (Plumb & Cowan, 1984).

What I found to be the most interesting in all of my research was one particular study that identified certain activities that would be performed by the “girly-girl,” the “tomboy”, and what the study classified as neutral. The study indicated that the girly girls participated in activities including playing a musical instrument or doing crafts (Van Volkom, 2003). The tomboys engaged in activities including basketball, baseball, soccer, and wrestling (Van Volkom, 2003). A neutral females partook in running, swimming, or tennis (Van Volkom, 2003). I compared these activities to those that I currently engage in and those I used to participate in. Currently, I run and swim, and I previously played basketball and played instruments. Although I was place in the girly-girl box when I was little, my current activities indicate more neutral interests.

The categorization of girls creates constraints. If a stereotyped “girly-girl”did not feel the social pressure to learn how to sit tall, be polite, never to burp or swear, be poised, and conform to the feminine ideal, perhaps she would discover other activities she is passionate about. Labels are society’s way of forcing youth to conform and abide by familiar normative action. Although current society is moving towards a more all encompassing gender approach to activities, constraints are still dictating the choices youth are making about their chosen sports and leisure activities.

Sources:

Adams, N., Schmitke, A., & Franklin, A. (2005). Tomboys, Dykes, and Girly girls:Interrogating the subjectivities of adolescent female athletes. Women’s Studies Quarterly, 33(1/2), 17-34.

Cockburn, C. & Clarke, G. (2002). “Everybody’s looking at you!”: Girls negotiating the femininity deficit‟ they incur in physical education. Women’s Studies International Forum, 25 (6), 651-665.

Leahy, T. (1994). Taking up a position: Discourses of femininity and adolescence in the context of Man/Girl relationships. Gender & Society, 8 (1), 48-72.

Plumb, P. & Cowan, G. (1984). A developmental study of destereotyping and androgynous activity preference of tomboys, nontomboys, and males. Sex Roles, 10, 703-712.

 

 

 

The Importance of Male Athletes in Cheerleading

by Janelle H.

Long since the days of cheering other athletes to victory, cheerleaders no longer sit on the sidelines. Performing flawless dances, powerful gymnastic passes and creative lifts and tosses, cheerleading has become one of the most exciting up and coming sports. The biggest news in cheerleading is that in December 2016, cheerleading was given provisional status as an Olympic sport. This news has turned the cheerleading world upside down. Normally the largest competition is held in Orlando, Florida every year and now, cheerleaders may finally have a chance to show their talents on the Olympic stage. If the petition to make cheerleading an official Olympic sport is approved, then Canada will be looking for Olympians, and since teams are often comprised of as many as 25 people, we will need a lot of them.

Any cheerleader will be able to tell you that the best teams are the teams that have an even mix of male and female participants. Although central Canada is doing fairly well at finding male athletes, more rural areas are having a hard time. Unfortunately New Brunswick is one the places in Canada struggling the hardest, with the majority of teams being all girl, and if the team is considered co-ed, it generally means there is one to two boys on the team.

This stereotype that cheerleading is a feminine sport develops early. Arguably, as early as the gender reveal. At baby showers, people tend to give male babies gifts oriented towards sports that are stereotypically male like hockey or football, whereas females receive the ballet slippers or in this case, the pom poms. Since it is more socially acceptable to encourage females to join cheerleading, they get the advantage of starting training much earlier than the male athletes that generally start in their late teenage years. Although women train longer, male athletes are almost always guaranteed a spot on a team because there is such a high demand, and so few athletes.

It is often thought that male cheerleaders are extremely feminine; however, recent research indicates that because of this stereotype, male cheerleaders generally feel, “the need to project a heterosexual image” ¹, and therefore act extra masculine. Therefore, to dispel the stereotype that male cheerleaders are overly feminine, many male cheerleaders are now some of the most masculine acting athletes. To prove themselves as masculine many male cheerleaders work hard to prove that they are the strongest or most reckless members of the team, making them assets for not only lifts but also gymnastics pass sections.

In conclusion, this notion that cheerleading is a feminine sport must be dispelled. Regardless of how male cheerleaders act, they are an asset to all teams. Urban areas have realised this and are doing a great job of encouraging male participation, but here in New Brunswick, we are failing. With provisional status as an Olympic sport, cheerleading can open up a world of opportunity for male athletes. So next time you are headed to a baby shower for a baby boy, be different, give him the pom poms. Who knows, you may be creating an Olympian.

¹ Bemiller, M. (2005). Men who cheer. Sociological Focus, 38(3), 205-222. Retrieved from https://login.proxy.hil.unb.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.proxy.hil.unb.ca/docview/60021165?accountid=14611

#nomakeupselfie

By Victoria R.

Recent days have found many of our Facebook pages overwhelmed with “no-makeup” selfies (#nomakeupselfie). Before diving in to how I personally feel about the photo fad, let’s look into the background of this new social network trend.

The trend initially started when UK models started donating money to cancer-research for the support of their bare-faced photos. This campaign has raised over $3 million for cancer research in just two days, states CTV news. Initially the trend had nothing to do with any cancer research association, but due to all the support – the campaign was sort of adopted. From there the trend caught fire. Eventually some people weren’t even posting the photos as a breast cancer awareness activity, but just as a nomination game with friends.

(Read more: http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/no-makeup-selfie-campaign-raises-3m-for-cancer-research-in-2-days-1.1741230#ixzz2wtM2flRg)

Okay, so now you have the background. Let’s start with my list of issues with this campaign that are rooted in gender.

First, many (including myself) have taken issue with the trend, and the parallels that have been drawn between breast cancer, and going make-up free. The money raised is a great thing – that is undeniable, as it can be used towards beneficial research; however, should a women going make-up free be deemed as brave, and then compared to cancer? Most people wouldn’t even put that much thought into the “no makeup” selfies, but if we are being critical consumers, isn’t that the message that this whirlwind fad is really delivering? I can understand that the parallel is trying to underline the struggle women with breast cancer face and compare it to the struggle women face from the stereotypical expectations of beauty… but it comes off slightly trivial and in bad taste.

Also, when considering breast cancer awareness programs we have already deemed the pink ribbon as its indicator, so adding make-up (or lack thereof) to the campaign scheme is just the next step. Many women feel that breast cancer threatens to take away what many of us feel makes us feminine (our breasts), so I understand the parallel that is drawn between hyper-femininity and breast cancer awareness. However, it also goes to show that in the context of a disease (which you think would have nothing to do with gender), we still perpetuate gender stereotypes of what it represents to be a women. Aren’t there women in the world that contract breast cancer who detest the colour pink? Or the wearing of make-up? Making a campaign based on female stereotypes does not do well to serve all women.

Leaving behind the connection to breast cancer, as many Face Book users have, there are many other issues that come from these “no-make” up selfies. These selfies make for a lot of confusion, whether we choose to critically think about it or not.

Beauty, and our perception of being beautiful is a place where things get really complicated. Personally, I love make-up. Before writing this blog post I decided to look at the number of make-up products that I personally own. 7 mascaras, 5 blushes, over 20 eyeshadows, 3 foundations, 4 primers, 14 lip glosses/lip sticks, and 20+ brushes… When I counted up what I would have spent on my makeup products that I have right now, the number hovers somewhere around $700. When I look at it this way, I feel crazy! Shopping at Sephora, and purchasing make-up that I can use to create a different image of myself is a way that I truly enjoy to spend my time. I even have several make-up tutorial guides and books that I love to experiment from, it’s a hobby. I can honestly say that I use make-up because I enjoy it, but I can also admit that I am not 100% comfortable in my own skin (without makeup).For me, make-up allows me to channel all of my inner confidence by making sure that my blemishes are hidden, and any features that I love about myself are further enhanced. I feel that make-up helps my outside match my inside. Where it gets complicated for me, is that I realize that the only reason why make-up becomes an outlet for me to express myself is because I have been socialized to be interested in the art of make-up and make-up products. Shopping for makeup/putting makeup on has been an activity my mom and I have shared for a very long time. Would I feel better about my own “natural” features if I hadn’t been socialized to always be seeking improvements? I’m not sure, and I guess I’ll never know.

From a very young age the majority of women are exposed to an extreme pressure from the media, peers, and sometimes even family to conform and fit under traditional beauty norms. Not only are we expected to fit a certain mold, we are told to do so in a very clever way. The media not only provides us with examples of how we “should” appear, they also deliver the messages in a way that make us feel like we really should be interested in it for enjoyment as well.

Now… back to the “no-makeup” selfie. After we have been told our entire lives to wear makeup (and be interested in makeup), some impossibly gorgeous models in the UK decide to kick off a “no-makeup” selfie campaign that makes the rest of women feel guilty for wearing makeup in the first place… Women everywhere in pursuit of social acceptance and praise are throwing their natural selfies on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to receive said praise and social acceptance from peers. Comments on the pictures are stating: “You don’t need makeup,” or “Natural beauty,”… further adding to the idea that because you are a women you should be beautiful by nature… So I am supposed to love make-up and want to buy make-up, but I don’t really need it because I’m beautiful anyway? WHAT?

Campaigns like this sure help sell confusing makeup products that offer a “soft, natural look”. Too Faced even offers a makeup kit called, “The no makeup, makeup kit.” (Media scamming strikes again)

http://www.temptalia.com/too-faced-the-secret-to-no-makeup-makeup-face-palette-review-photos-swatched

An example of the “no makeup, makeup”

Putting aside the media, WE also perpetuate ideas about beauty in our everyday conversations. How often do we tell our best friend that they are beautiful when they are sitting on the couch watching a movie? Do we tell her she is beautiful when we just get done a yoga class? Or do we tell her she is beautiful when she posts a done-up “selfie” before she heads out on the town? I think many of us can admit that we are more likely to tell our friend she is beautiful when she is all glammed up. How confusing is it now that we are all being rewarded by posting our “no-makeup” selfies? Maybe we all need to take a step back and realize that confusion about beauty and our self image can stem from our words not matching our actions. If we are spreading the message that the big bad media started in the first place, then aren’t we to blame as well? (Guys, you may or may not be guilty of doing this as well – to your girl friends, girlfriend, or wife.)

I hope this post isn’t taken the wrong way. I think that letting women know their natural appearance is “good enough” is a good thing (I think deep down, it even makes me feel a little better). However, I think we need to be careful about letting beauty be used as a tool to meet an end, and the damage that can be caused for some women when this “no-makeup” campaign is forgotten in a couple weeks. I hope that it isn’t, and I hope that there is a more significant movement for more realistic advertisements and promotion of beauty products. If I am being a true critical consumer – I am not so sure that a significant, long-term shift will really happen – not unless more people become exposed to the conversations and topics that this entire blog brings forth.

It’s complicated to feel passion and enjoyment for something while also knowing that you only feel that way because of how you have developed and grown through societal norms. I don’t think I will be putting down the make-up brush any time soon, but I think it is important to be a critical consumer of beauty, and our thoughts/actions/words about it.

 

 

 

LumberJack vs. LumberJill – Who would survive the great outdoors?

Kaitlyn W.

Before getting into detail about gender socialization, and the many variables that affect women’s decision to participate in outdoor activities, I would first ask you to close your eyes and picture the last extreme outdoor commercial or video that you witnessed. Most likely the flashback that you just had involved men participating in some form of outdoor activity. I recently attended the Banff Mountain Film Festival at the Playhouse, which featured the best outdoor enthusiasts and environmentally conscious films from the past year, all of which lacked women’s involvement. I contribute my observation to the recent classes in gender that I have attended, which have opened my eyes to how few women there are who participate or facilitate outdoor activities.

A prime example is our local Tree-Go in Mactaquac, which includes an outdoor aerial adventure course run by males. It is not that the company only allows male employees, there is just a lack of female interest. Could it be fear, social pressures or just DNA that intimidates women from participating and leading outdoor activities? An article published in 2006, underlines studies and other written work in an attempt to explain women’s lack of desire to push their boundaries in the outdoors. The article indicates that there are technical outdoor skills that are described as “the process of manipulating equipment to accomplish a physical task in the outdoors” (Warren & Loeffler, 2006), which are intimidating to women.

It is my opinion that societal influences play a large role in how women and men perceive outdoor activities. It begins at a young age, when boys and girls are classified into two different gender groups, they are placed into activities that emphasize their differences and teach them stereotypical characteristics. A prime example of gender socialization that occurs with youth activities is the Boys and Girl Scouts Organization. In 2004 the United States provided both Scouts programs with handbooks, where gender influences can be observed on both their covers. The cover of the Boy Scouts handbook displays boys white water rafting and men mountain climbing, whereas the Girl Scouts version has a collage of feminine articles such as ballet slippers, sewing machine, clothing, art supplies and a compass.

It is these types of images and activities that influence females in believing that they are traditionally required to become domesticated. Warren and Loeffler (2006) indicate that a feminist approach to the lack of women’s participation in outdoor activities is contributed to a “historically hegemonic male-based system of outdoor adventure education”. Within society gender appropriate behaviors in children are continually praised, whereas gender inappropriate behaviors, such as female participation in male sports is socially penalized. Females are socialized as the weaker sex and when they do have the capabilities to outperform men, they are ostracized and accused of emasculating men.

Is it possible that history plays a role in where we choose to participate in physical activity? After all the outdoors has always been men’s territory, as it was their duty to hunt, build and use the great outdoors to provide for their family. My inquires regarding women and our choices for physical activity come from the development of my views on gender since I was a child. Growing up in a traditional nuclear family, which consisted of a stay-at-home mom, a working dad and a little sister, our gender roles were stereotypically defined. Both my sister and I participated in female sports, and helped mom with household duties, although we rarely had the choice or the desire to pursue more “male activities”. It was not until my late teens that outdoor activities became an interest. I have realized that there are few females who are willing to spend time outdoors, and learn physically demanding skills in order to do things without a male present.

Reference:

Warren, K., & Loeffler, T. A. (2006). Factors that influence women’s technical skill development in outdoor adventure. Journal of Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning6:2, 107-119. doi: 10.1080/14729670685200791