Year 10 Da Vinci Programme on Women’s Sport: Sexism, Stereotypes & Missed Opportunities
Women’s sport has come a long way in the UK in the last few years, particularly with fantastic national team successes on a global level in football, rugby, cricket, hockey and netball and many standout individual performances in athletics, gymnastics, rowing, cycling and swimming to name but a few.
But has this success had the media coverage it has merited? If our men had achieved the same levels, how would that have been celebrated in the press? Would more sponsors have been clamouring to associate themselves with their achievements? And if not, why not?
Our Year 10 Da Vinci Programme set out to find out last week.
Why is it more likely that male sportsmen are more widely recognised than females?
Our students were divided into two groups and debated why men are usually better known than women for sport.
Looking at print and digital media (UK, USA & worldwide) ,we discovered that incredibly women-only sports stories account for just 3.5% of all sports stories in the four major US newspapers. We conducted google searches and compared the results – looking at the types of articles, style of reporting & imagery.
We used top class tennis and football as our points of comparisons – looking at Novak Djokovic vs. Serena Williams, then discussed how the men’s football World Cup had £22m prize money against just £630,000 for the women’s tournament. The monetary contrasts were even starker in club competitions for both football in England and basketball in the USA. We also spoke about Australian netball star & captain Caitlin Bassett, who is a heroine to many girls & women, yet earns a fraction of what a football hero like Ronaldo does. The huge funding disparity between male and female sport means that women have had fewer opportunities to play sport, have suffered from inadequate coaching and facilities compared with those enjoyed by men, and have been paid meagre sums, even for playing international sport. This has damaged the quality of sport – and therefore the attractiveness of the product to fans and broadcasters.
Pierre de Coubertin on women’s sport – “the most unaesthetic sight human eyes could contemplate.”
Is History to Blame?
Women have historically been either prevented from or actively discouraged from taking part in sport, starting with Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games through to national sports bodies run largely by men – notably football, cricket and golf. On a more positive note, some progress in gender equality is being made off the pitch with women now making up 30% of those sitting on boards of sports organisations funded by Sport England, but almost half of National Olympic Committees surveyed by the IOC have Executive Boards with women comprising fewer than 20%.
We read how men are on average stronger and faster than women, particularly in sports such as swimming or athletics. However, we argued that female achievements in sports can be as impressive or more than those of men. There are also other sports, such as gymnastics, synchronised swimming and ice skating, where women can achieve things men cannot. Is it possible that men perform better than women because they have been mainly created by men and for men? What if new sports played on the strengths of women minds and bodies?
Many argue that comparatively speaking women’s sports are often not as competitive as male sports, which makes it more difficult for women to become professional athletes. Yet, many women train as hard and make as many sacrifices as men.
We concluded that one reason why men’s sports are more popular and generate more income may be down to the fact that it has been men who have traditionally practiced and followed sports more enthusiastically than women. But now, increasingly more women are playing and watching more sports, so we hope that young girls will be growing up in an environment in which sports are not just “a man’s thing,” so that the gender gap in sports will narrow.