Female athletes playing basketball, tennis, running, softball, and vollyball.

The Uphill Battle of Women in Sports

4 mins read

WNBA. NWSL. WTA. When discussing a women’s sports league there is always a W. Why do we not have an M for male sports? The distinction insinuates that men’s sports are the “default” and women’s need clarification. While many strides have been made to level the playing field, women still face enormous inequality in athletics.

In professional sports, a common misconception is that the higher the viewership of the sport, the higher the pay wages. Despite most women’s sports having less viewership, there are some sports, like tennis, in which women’s viewership is relatively similar or even higher. In 2021, ESPN revealed that women’s tennis garnered 17% more viewers than men’s tennis. Yet in that year, the average salary for the ten highest-ranked men’s tennis players was $5,982,539, while the average salary for the top ten women’s tennis players was $2,811,484. This stark difference is even more notable given that both leagues were profiting similarly.

Sports inequalities are also seen in advertising, specifically behind each World Cup. During the 2019 Women’s World Cup, $96 million was put into advertising, while in 2022 for the Men’s World Cup, a total of $350 million was put into advertising. Most people were aware of the Men’s World Cup due to the money dedicated to advertising on social media. However, I hardly saw any advertising for the Women’s World Cup. It was rarely advertised on streaming platforms, social media, or during other games. There is a general lack of knowledge, and if people do hear about the games, finding streaming platforms to watch them on is exceedingly difficult. As a result, 82.18 million watched the 2019 Women’s World Cup, while 1.5 billion people watched the 2022 Men’s World Cup.

On a global scale, differences between women and men are clear and represented in uniforms in popular sports events, like the Olympics. In beach volleyball, women are expected to wear sports bikinis and fitted sports bras, while men wear loose shirts and shorts which are far less revealing than the women’s skin-tight uniforms. On the soccer field, this issue remains, even on a larger scale. In a 2004 interview, The FIFA President commented on women players, saying, “They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so.” Former English goalkeeper, Pauline Cope, responded to the press, “It’s completely irresponsible for a man in a powerful position to make comments like this.” More recently, the new olympic track and field outfits have been released, and are receiving a lot of backlash. The men’s uniform has longer half tights, with a jersey top, which is the normal racing outfit for mens’ track and field. However, the women’s uniform is a one-piece with a thin band connecting the front and back side, which leaves the pelvic bone partly exposed and is not as secure as spandex for running. Generally, women race in jerseys and spandex or race underwear (shorter spandex), however, this is much more exposed and less practical than the normal outfits. The overarching trend is that women are consistently sexualized in society, even through sports uniforms.

Another prevailing issue in women’s sports is a lack of viewership due to the few streaming platforms. During the 2022 Men’s FIFA World Cup, streaming was free and available on Fox, as well as several other online streaming services. During big games, numerous teachers would play the matches on the big screen during class to appeal to student interest. At lunch, students and teachers were watching on their laptops and phones. However, while Fox streaming was available for the 2023 Women’s FIFA World Cup, it was difficult to find many other platforms that advertised or even offered streaming for the games. On our campus, student interest in the men’s competition was not present in the women’s, and most people did not even know the women’s games were happening, resulting in lower overall viewership.

While global trends persist, these inequalities have begun seeping into the M-A community. M-A displays this trend with 12th Man and 6th Man. Sophomore Brea Trujillo said, “It’s the 6th Man, not the 6th Woman.” 6th Man shows school spirit at all Boys Varsity Basketball games but tends to be absent from the Girls Varsity games. 

Sophomore Luisa Tava on the Girls Varsity Basketball team said,  “I sometimes stay to watch the boys’ games [after our games] and it is definitely louder and there are a ton more people at their games. The stands are usually packed,” she said. Tava continued, “I also feel like people like to watch the boys because it’s ‘more entertaining.’ It is fun to watch, but having more people come to our games would be cool too.” Favoritism to men in sports is present in our community, despite there being opportunities for girls in school sports. This lack of student section support could deter girls from wanting to try out for teams, bringing further inequity to our sports community.

Despite the countless challenges faced by women in sports, we have made remarkable strides from a time when women were barred from participation. Efforts are currently underway to achieve equal prize money for the World Cup and to increase overall screen time for women’s sports. The planned introduction of a female team by the Warriors in 2025 is another beneficial development. This will be a step closer to equality in the WNBA, pushing for equal opportunities beyond just college basketball.

Media representation is also improving, exemplified by recent breakthroughs such as the University of Iowa basketball player Caitlin Clark becoming the first Division I athlete–male or female–to surpass 3,000 points, 1,000 assists, and 800 rebounds during her college career. Also, the March Madness Elite Eight game of LSU vs. Iowa was one of the most watched games in any sport this year excluding the NFL, at 12.3 million viewers. Also, the percentage of women athletes on college teams has risen from 15% in 1972 to 44% during the 2020‐21 academic year. This upward trend demonstrates clear improvement and suggests that progress is ongoing.

As for M-A, many changes must be made. One simple fix is to have 6th Man also attend the Girls’ Varsity Basketball games and have themes for the girls games to encourage more students to attend. In the same way 6th Man posts for upcoming games, they can post for the girls games too. An additional adjustment is to more widely publicize girls tryouts for sports, as much as possible, through posters around campus, social media announcements, and M-A Today. Unconscious bias is also a critical point that needs to be addressed. Many of us, without realizing, have an unconscious bias towards men’s sports. For example, many people talk about “The World Cup” without specifying gender, but often imply that it is the Men’s World Cup. Through repetition of conscious language, we can break this barrier of bias in our community. These are a few concrete actions that we can make in order to see a positive shift in our female sports community.

Riya is a sophomore at M-A. She joined journalism as a chance to meet new people and write about issues that she is interested about. In her spare time, she enjoys writing songs and running with her team.

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