Gender Equality in Sports:
Does It Really Exist?
May 4, 2005
Much focus has been put on “equal education” and “equal opportunity” in the school systems today. Gender equality has been a major issue in the area of education, particularly in sports. Women have been struggling for the same opportunities and benefits that their male counterparts receive, for the past three hundred years. Milestones have been made such as Title IX, but women are still second place to the men. Title IX covers many areas of athletics where equality should be provided. Looking at these, one can see that they do not occur. The purpose of this paper is to cover the role of Title IX in the area of athletics, how inequality is still being encouraged in education and athletics, and practical solutions that can be utilized to bring gender equality into the schools again. Hopefully, more people will start to understand the importance of equality so more women can receive the opportunities they deserve.
Gender Equality in Sports:
Does it Really Exist?
Although Title IX of the Education Amendments was issued in 1972 to prohibit gender discrimination in all areas of education, females are still not receiving the same educational benefits as their male counterparts, particularly in sports. Equality is important in middle and high school. It is important to provide opportunities for women and change the perception that some sports are only appropriate for men (Priest and Summerfield, 1994). Despite all the news and focus on “equal education” and “equal opportunity” for all students, does gender equality really exist? What are we really teaching and modeling to our children because of this?
Women have been struggling with the three-hundred-year-old barrier of equality to gain full participation in education. During the 1700’s, women were instructed to learn household chores and domestic skills for becoming a wife. Schooling was not even an option for them because their major role in life was motherhood. To them, a women’s place was in the home. It was not until 1767, that women were offered the smallest opportunity to have schooling. The only catch was that it was offered before or after the men’s instructional time (Owens, Smothers, & Love, 2003). Athletics and participating with boys in after-school games was still forbidden. Separate schools were being built for women, and eventually single schools were built with the genders on separate floors. In the mid- to late-1800’s women’s colleges were formed due to the increased demand for women to further their education. After World War II, there was a tremendous increase in students entering college due to returning veterans and baby boomers. Previously all-male colleges were opened to women and the number of all-women colleges decreased dramatically (Harwarth, I., Maline, M., & DeBra, E.). Progress was slowly being made in a harsh environment, but what is important is that women were progressing towards greater opportunities.
In 1972, a milestone was made in the field of education. Title IX was issued by Congress as a part of the Educational Amendments. The Educational Amendments, which began in 1968, amended the Vocational Educational Amendments that established work study programs, eliminated control over vocational programs, and provided funding for vocational programs (College of Agriculture and Life Sciences). Title IX states that no person should be subject to discrimination or denied participation and benefits from any educational program (Owens, Smothers, & Love). This includes public schools, colleges, universities, or any school or program that receives federal funding. Many did not take the law seriously at first by still segregating classes based on gender. There are several instances where schools were taken to court for violating the law and were held liable for discriminating females (Owens, Smothers, & Love, 2003).
Most people think that Title IX applies only to athletics but it also includes career education, employment, math and science, sexual discrimination, technology, and medical services. Athletics is the major component under Title IX that undergoes the most disputes and has resulted in the highest increase in participation since the law was issued. Female participants increased from fifteen percent to thirty-seven percent in a twenty-five year span, with nearly 2 million females in the athletics programs at the high school level (Priest & Summerfield, 1994). The disputes raised against the participation of women numbered in the thousands. Complaints continued as more women were becoming interested in sports and were not given the same benefits as the men. So many have occurred that there are law firms that specialize in Title IX cases.
Complaints have been issued as recent as this past September. Bailiwick University approved a new women’s equestrian team. Before anything was set in stone, people started to complain. It was not mainly from men, but from women. The Board of Regents added the equestrian team because they wanted to comply with the Title IX law. What they did not take into account was what the women wanted; they did not poll the student body. The women wanted to be able to choose the sport, not have the board choose it. Another concern was elevating the equestrian program to a varsity sport. The Board refused, which made many female students upset; but they replied that at least the school is providing women sports (Brown, 2004). In the California State University System, a lawsuit was filed in 1993 citing that the participation of female students has declined drastically within a thirteen-year span. A year later, a decree required that participation, expenditures, and athletic scholarships must be within a certain percent of enrollment. Two years later, another lawsuit was filed with them stating that they do not provide sufficient opportunities or accommodations for female athletes. To accommodate their interests, several sports programs were added to the school (Joplin).
As part of Title IX, equal athletic opportunities are required for both genders. In the area of funding, the same amount of money for males and females is not necessarily required. The quality of each program is what is important; funding must be provided to ensure equal quality. In the area of equipment and supplies, equivalence is measured by quality, availability, amount, and replacement. For example, when the men’s program buys new jackets every year, the same must go for the women’s program. The same applies to locker rooms, facilities, and medical/training facilities. Equivalency for these is measured by quality and availability for each gender. In the area of coaching, coaches must have equal qualifications, training, and experience. Their pay must be equal in comparison and qualified coaches must be hired for both men and women teams. Scheduling times must be appropriate for each gender and equal length of practices must be given. Prime practice times must be given for each gender. The last area, and most demanding, is the equal opportunity for women to participate in the same sports as the men when they have the interest and ability. This applies to contact and non-contact sports in all seasons (Priest & Summerfield, 1994).
Looking at these opportunities, it is obvious that they are not equally represented in the educational environment. Men’s programs receive more money, spend more money on the participants, and provide more opportunities and offers for the participants (Priest & Summerfield, 1994). Inequality is not being addressed in the appropriate way. In fact, inequality is still being encouraged in some areas of the school systems. The differential treatment of boys and girls is ultimately shortchanging girls by not giving as much attention to them. This is resulting in lower self-esteem and independence (Priest & Summerfield, 1994). Teachers encourage stereotypical passivity and femininity since this is the message most are receiving from the media and society. Even when women are interested in math and science or go out for a predominantly male sport, teachers feel sorry for them and suggest that the women change their minds (Priest & Summerfield, 1994). Yet, there are many literary figures, sports figures, and scientists such as Elizabeth Browning, Mia Hamm, and Dorothy Hodgkins, that have become well known and respected in the media. What message are teachers giving these women? Teachers are supposed to model what is correct and appropriate. Students pay attention to every detail of their teacher’s body language, facial expressions, and gestures; that is why teachers need to present a positive attitude to everyone. They are in a position to assist students, both male and female, and help them develop into young adults with a positive character who value and respect themselves.
In an interview with a former softball coach from the Emmorton Recreation Council, I asked if he had noticed any inequality between the softball and baseball programs. He stated that he had resigned from coaching girl’s softball because the program was not getting fair treatment from the recreation council. The baseball program was receiving funds to buy new equipment and expensive jerseys every year. The softball program, on the other hand, received barely enough funding to buy cheap uniforms and received hand-me-down equipment used by the baseball program the previous year. Additionally, he added that the baseball program had paid, experienced umpires while the softball program relied on parents and coaches to umpire a fair game (W. Hudson, personal interview, March 31, 2005). When asked if his female players noticed this unfair treatment he replied yes they did, but they could not do anything about it. His players did not like it but they were too young to have it corrected (W. Hudson, personal interview, March 31, 2005). This interview shows that inequality is still evident in the area of athletics and even outside the educational/school setting. Someone needs to be taking a stand and making a difference in young women’s lives.
Women are also struggling for funding and fan support for their athletic programs. Funding has been a major issue and will continue to be as long as women are participating in sports. Research shows that female athletic programs do not receive the alumni and school support that the men’s teams seem to automatically receive. According to Canadian Interuniversity Sport, out of the $4.3 million award money given to athletes, almost 70% went to the men’s athletic programs (Henderson, 2003). Over 80% of St. Francis Xavier Universities award money was given to males (Henderson, 2003). Marietta University female athletes were complaining about the condition of their softball field. One athlete states:
One of the issues for me is the softball field compared to the baseball field. I know that the baseball field is funded by Major League Baseball players, but something could be done for the softball field. The dugouts are nonexistent, the fences are rusted and are liable to injure people. All the softball field has is two portable bleachers. The rest of the fans have to bring lawn chairs. (Drain, n.d. cited by Jones, 1999)
It is not very enjoyable to play or watch a game on a field that is not properly maintained. The least schools could do is strive to create the best environment they can provide. Lack of fan support can also be difficult for women athletes. They take the time to practice and put hard work into doing their best, yet no one attends their games. This problem was evident at Boise State University and Marietta College. Some fans stated that they just did not care about seeing the women play. The games were not as exciting and fast-paced (Jones, 1999). Lack of fan support can have a tremendous impact on coverage of the games, both locally and nationally. Most coverage is done of the men’s teams because that is where the action and fans are located. Sometimes it is an endless cycle. Teams need the media’s help to attract fans, but the media will not cover the game unless they get more fans to come watch (Trujillo, 2002). There is usually more coverage of the men’s teams because they are considered major sports compared to the women’s field hockey team. In the fall, football is the dominant sport and attracts the biggest crowds. This is what the media calls a “money maker” sport because it brings in the most money and fans. Why would the media waste its time covering sports that do not bring in money for the coverage and school?
Another issue that is affecting women’s athletics is the coaches. This includes the lack of women coaches, the scarcity, and the unequal pay between men and women coaches. Research done by the Pittsburg Tribune-Review discovered that 90% of coached were men. Women only made up the majority of coaches in volleyball, field hockey, and gymnastics (Prine, 2001). Some say this is because of the stereotype that women are not competent and skilled enough to coach athletics. Others think it is because directors tend to hire their own gender. Because most directors are men, most coaches end up being men. Women are scarce in the area of coaches, but women athletes want women coaches. Female coaches provide a role model, someone who is accountable and cares about her students as women and athletes. The women that do have the opportunity to coach earn less than their male counterparts. Some earned as much as $150 less than the men and $3000 less than the football coaches. That is a huge gap between people who are essentially doing the same thing (Prine, 2001). The shocking thing is that this wage gap is not illegal as long as the school can prove that the duties of the coach outweigh the duties of another in difficulty and severity (Prine, 2001). This is hurting not only the women currently coaching but also the opportunity for women to start coaching. It is tough knowing that they are going to receive less pay, less prestige, less support, and unfair treatment for coaching a women’s team. Despite all they endure, there are women coaches who are doing what they love for the benefit of and heart they have for their students.
There are many practical solutions that teachers and educators can utilize to bring gender equality into the schools again. Textbooks should include the “contributions, experiences, and scholarship of women” (Owens, Smothers, & Love, 2003). Teachers need to start writing publishers to change textbooks into a more gender-balanced reading and need to carefully choose books appropriate for teaching. Along with this goes providing equal teaching strategies, and recognizing gender equality in instructional material. Women also need to start taking more leadership roles. Young girls are realizing the authority in certain situations; but what girls really need is a role model in which they can relate to and strive to become. Teachers need to start encouraging both women and men in taking courses or participating in sports not widely accepted by the opposing gender. Support their decisions and provide help with any questions or struggles they may experience (Owen, Smothers, & Love, 2003). Parents need to be involved, as well, to understand the impact society and culture are having on the child’s education and to understand how their encouragement and support could make a difference in their child’s life (Owen, Smothers, & Love, 2003).
As mentioned, women do not receive the same benefits and education opportunities that are given to their male counterparts, particularly in sports. Long strides have been made for women to get where they are now. However, it is still not enough and women have a long way to go before they will be totally equal with men. It is very important for women to have equal opportunities because of the benefits it provides, such as higher grades, higher scores on tests, and lower rates of teen pregnancy. Schools need to comply with Title IX and report any educator that does not follow the law. As a future educator, it is important that I understand and follow these standards, as well. If more people start to understand the importance of Title IX, equal opportunity would not be as major an issue in education today. More women would be able to receive the opportunities they so equally deserve.
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