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.

 

 

 

Advertisements

“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.