Gender inequality continues to be an issue when it comes to women in sports, and one that affects girls from a young age when they are constantly treated differently and offered less than their male counterparts. This is something I became aware of in high school, seeing very clearly how the boy’s teams were always offered more, treated better, and held in higher regard than any of the girl’s teams were. Sexism and misogyny are very present in women’s sports, and the issue it seems is going nowhere, no thanks to the very sexist ideals that exist in society today.
Equal Pay in Women’s Sports
The conversation around equal pay in women’s sports is often one that comes with its own set of the same rebuttals used over and over; women aren’t as strong as men, they aren’t naturally gifted at sports and don’t belong, they can’t expect to make as much as their male counterparts, etc. I could probably recite these and more by the time I was 13, and while these have all been debunked, since well, anything a man can do a woman can also do, they really have nothing to do with the argument that female athletes deserve a living wage for spending their time playing a professional sport. There is absolutely no reason that a professional athlete cannot make a living wage simply because she is a woman.
I’d like to point out the U.S women’s soccer team, which has won four World Cup titles, as well as four Olympic Gold Medal. The team holds several well-known names of extremely talented athletes, such as Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Emily Sonnett. These are all women I have looked up to for the past almost 10 years of my life, as have millions of girls around the world. The U.S women’s soccer team has set a great precedent in the fight for equal pay against the United States Soccer Federation and the U.S men’s soccer team. It is unequivocal the difference in talent between the women’s and men’s soccer teams, yet they still face a pay gap as well as a lack of resources and accommodations. These are four-time FIFA World Cup Champions being compared to a team that rarely qualifies for the world cup, the sexism truly shows.
The Media’s Role
The media have undoubtedly played a role in the kinds of coverage women in sports receive. To put this into perspective, as of 2020, women’s sports only received around 4% of total sports media coverage, even though they make up close to half of sportspeople. The lack of coverage for women’s sports has a direct impact on their pay, and in general, the way that people interact with women in sports. They are seen as “different” because the media treats female athletes as if they are different and less worthy of media coverage than male athletes.
I encourage you to read the comments of the next article you see about a woman in sports, the objectification and lack of respect these women experience is just the tip of the iceberg.
The Wrongful Treatment of Women in Sports
If you haven’t yet heard of Caster Semenya or Dutee Chand, you are in for some wild stories.
Caster Semenya, a two-time Olympic Gold medalist who has identified as female since birth has been forced to undergo sex verification testing due to her appearance and her outstanding performance in the 800m competitions. She has been pushed to undergo hormone therapy because of a rare genetic condition causing her to have higher testosterone levels, which she has refused. Semenya has continued to fight against the World Athletics Organization and has refused to allow them to change who she is, who she was born as. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for the regulations put in place by the World Athletics Organization to be revoked. Semenya is still fighting to maintain her 800m title.
Dutee Chand, an Indian sprinter has also been subject to discrimination because of her body’s natural level of testosterone. Chand was barred from competing against women unless she underwent hormone therapy to reduce her testosterone levels. Chand has emphasized the harm these regulations have on people, that she was born this way and should not be expected to change, “I am not changing for anyone” she has said.
These are only two examples of women and their identities being questioned and threatened in the public eye. Their titles being forcibly taken away and their rights being disregarded. Even the Human Rights Watch has called the treatment Semenya, and Chand received stigmatizing and discriminatory.
When will this change for women in sports?
This is a question I often wonder about. Although I cannot provide a single answer, I do have a few ideas about what could really change the sports industry for women.
Firstly, women’s sports need better broadcasting, more coverage, and female-led discussions. We are tired of being compared, belittled, and objectified by the media, and mostly, by men in the media. Female athletes have proven time and time again that they deserve a place in the sports industry, and they have the championships, gold medals, and achievements to prove it.
Speaking of female-led discussions, there are more women needed in sports media to create an equal environment and to lead in the change to the industry. We need more women supporting women, women interviewing women, women upholding women. We need more women in the industry who will provide unique perspectives and amplify female voices.
As well, we need better allyship from men within the industry. Women have been fighting against sexism and it often feels as though we are in this alone. The sexism and misogyny present in the sports world need to be challenged by everyone, not just those who experience it.
I truly hope I can see the industry change one day. It’s been my dream to see women in sports treated fairly, respectfully and to flourish like I know they can. Women in sports deserve so much better than the ways they are treated today.