Still waiting for the respect they deserve: Women in sports
February 18, 2023
There has always been a very noticeable difference in the respect shown to men’s sports over womens, especially at the collegiate level. From more funding and scholarships to more game exposure and viewers, men’s sports always come out on top.
In 1972, Title IX was passed stating that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Over 50 years later, there still isn’t full equality for women in sports.
While Southern Illinois works very hard to uphold the standards of Title IX, there are other institutions that don’t take the equality of their female athletes into consideration as much. Because of this, in more recent years, the subject of inequality between men and women’s sports has become a popular topic of conversation, but not much has changed.
SIU volleyball players Tatum Tornatta and Peyton Plant both agreed that, while they have never had a bad experience in their sport at Southern, there needs to be something done to get rid of the inequality between men and women’s sports.
“Compared to other situations and athletes I’ve probably had more of a good experience,” Tornatta said.
Plant followed with, “I have never had a bad experience here, but previously I have felt a lack of support for my team and myself from the student body,” she said in comparison to the support given to men’s sports.
Sam Dodd, a junior on the women’s soccer team, participated in co-ed soccer in the years leading up to her time at SIU. In this time, Dodd said that she was often spoken down to by her male teammates.
“It used to upset me because we should support our fellow athletes, our gender shouldn’t matter,” Dodd said.
Aside from inequality in support among womens sports, women are often over sexualized and viewed in ways that no one would view male athletes. In sports like cheerleading and volleyball, uniforms are designed so they are more comfortable for constant movement by the athlete. Because of this, they tend to be more revealing than those of other sports which often leads to conversation surrounding the athletes’ bodies.
This is also very prominent in co-ed cheerleading teams when stunting is done with male teammates. In these stunts, the male teammate is often the back spot for the flyer, when the flyer is lifted up, the back spot has their hand underneath them to hoist them up.
“There have been times when my team was doing stunts and I’ve heard people say things along the lines of, ‘He’s smart for being a cheerleader, he knows what he’s doing,’ in relation to how we stunt and the contact that our male teammates have with us,” SIU cheerleader Abby Clemens said.
Clemens followed with, “[male teammates] don’t think of it like that, they just know they’re doing a sport they love, some viewers just over-sexualize it.”
This oversexualization of women’s uniforms is not only an issue at the collegiate level, but was recently magnified at the professional level as well. A protest discussed on NBC helped to accelerate the uniform modification the Norwegian Handball Federation had been attempting to make since 2006, when its president Kåre Geir Leo recognized the handball team’s protest as a turning point.
Three months later, on October 3, the rules were updated for women to be required to wear “short tight pants” and a “body fit tank top.” Lio informed NBC that female athletes told him they played better in the tighter shorts, and they were satisfied with increased freedom to choose the length of their shorts. He added that the uniform change was a “real and symbolic step to combating gender inequality in the sport.”
Female athletes have been fighting inequality in their sport for decades, prominently in compensation disparity between themselves and men.
On International Women’s Day in 2019, every member of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for a similar reason. They filed claims of discrimination in terms of pay and working conditions that were discrepant from their male counterparts. Adding to their case, the women’s national team captured a considerably bigger TV audience, more revenue and did more winning than the men’s team.
Later that year in the Women’s World Cup, they won the tournament for a second consecutive time. The team contributed to over 1.1 billion global viewers of the World Cup. Almost three years later, a settlement was announced of $24 million awarded to current and former members of the women’s team.
One team member, Alex Morgan, spoke with Andrew Das of the New York Times on their accomplished goal: “We set out to have equal pay moving forward for us and the men’s team…and we achieved that.”
When it comes to change being made surrounding the disparities of female athletes and collegiate women’s sports, there is a lot that needs to be done.
“According to a report made public in 2021 that analyzed the differences in treatment of men and women in college sports, the NCAA spent roughly $1,697 more per men’s participant in Division I Sports than their female counterparts. This disparity is well documented through a long 112 page gender equity study, written by KHF (Kaplan, Hecker, & Fink) and shows the continuous disparities among compensation for athletes by gender across collegiate sports.”
“I think that better media coverage of women’s sports and influential people in the sports world showing support for women’s athletics can help bring more awareness,” Plant said.
Tornatta agreed with this saying, “I think social media advocating for women that way can be a good start, men’s sports are often posted and talked about more on social media than women’s sports.”
At SIU, there are a lot of incentives related to attending men’s sports. There are often free tuition raffles at the men’s basketball games, free pizza provided for the student section an hour before the game, and different types of promotions at half times and timeouts, all of which are advertised on social media prior to the game. These are things that women’s sports don’t have.
“I think something that athletic departments and schools can do to help the inequality is to promote both mens and womens sports equally and allow the same benefits for both,” Dodd said.
Not only is Dodd an athlete at Southern Illinois, she is also majoring in sports media, so she gets a look at women in sports from an all around perspective.
“Being a female athlete and a woman in sports media is challenging at times. On one hand, I understand why women’s sports don’t get as much game exposure and media coverage as men’s sports, but being a female athlete that is something that I want to work toward improving,” Dodd said.
There have been recent attempts at promotions for women’s games. On February 4th, a free tuition raffle was scheduled for the Women’s Basketball matchup against Valparaiso at the Banterra Center. However, due to the low number of students in the dawg pound, the raffle never occurred.
Throughout the disparities that female athletes face, the majority of them say that their experiences help them grow and learn new things about themselves. It also gives them the opportunity to help make a change for future generations of female athletes as we push towards equality for women in sports.
“I’m very big on being the change you wish to see, so being part of such a small number of women who get to do their sport at this level is amazing because I am being that change and advocating for women in sports as a whole,” Clemens said.
Perhaps one day the disparities amongst men and women in sports will fade along with the same inequalities between men and women in everyday life. However, that day hasn’t come yet, and with so much progress to still make, the solution starts with all of us.
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