Women in American Sports: Why a Female Athlete Cannot be Just an Athlete
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was passed into legislation with the original intent to help women in the workforce of higher education with equal pay and to suppress gender discrimination. Because of the social history of the time in which there were more instances of success for female athletes as well as several low state court cases for athletically talented girls in junior high, Title IX had been reformulated by congress members to focus on female participation in sports. Today, Title IX is best known for its regulations in ensuring equal athletic opportunities for men and women. With the passing of Title IX by Federal Law makers in 1972, the number of female athletes dramatically increased. Since 1971, the NCAA has had an increase of over 450% of female athletes, and in high schools, an increase of over 900%. Prior to the 1970’s and Title IX, it was not common in America to be a female athlete. This caused more participation of women in sports than ever before in American history, and new magazines launched for this new population, such as Women Sports. But despite the increase of participation in athletics, females continued to be portrayed as passive and feminine in advertisements used in Women Sports. For women, the word female became an adjective instead of a noun when it came to athletics and sports. Because being athletic was, and is, a manly attribute, the increase of female athletes during the period after the passing of Title IX broadened the role of women in American society, yet the definition of female and the definition of athlete remained the same. Other historians and researchers have analyzed the origins of female participation in exercise and sport. In Tim Delaney and Tim Madigan’s book, The Sociology of Sports: An Introduction, they explained female participation in sport during the Victorian Era as limited to upper class women participating in calisthenics in school, and also most Victorian women participating in social or leisurely sports such as croquet, golf, bowling, or archery. Daniel Delis Hill, in Advertising to the American Woman 1900-1999, agrees, and argues exercise for women has been historically acceptable, even during the Victorian era. The purpose of exercise for women was to promote health because the exercise would prevent a nervous temperament. The belief was women were not to, “ever become an athlete, which, as we know is converting mind into brute force. Nervous girls, then, should be strengthened… it is certain they will remain clever.” While the involvement of women in sport increased into the 20th century, Hill argues the reason behind participating remained similar to the beliefs during the Victorian Era. The purpose of physical activity was for the health of mind and body. Hill identified competition as what separated men’s athletics from women’s athletics historically. But as more women entered into competitive athletics including Olympic events in archery and swimming, Hill argues that the acceptability of competitive female athletes was because of their undeniable beauty appeal, and this image of a vivacious athlete has been used throughout the 20th century for products irrelevant for athletics. On the other hand, Stacy Landreth Grau, Georgina Roselli, and Charles R. Taylor argue that the representation of female athlete endorsers in magazines has remained small in comparison to male athletes. In, “Where’s Tamika Catchings? A Contact Analysis of Female Athlete Endorsers in Magazine Advertisements,” the researchers studied ads of athlete endorsers in several sports and non-sports magazines from 2002-2005. In their research Grau, Roselli, and Taylor found female athletes in advertisements were underrepresented and were posed in either sexually suggestive roles or partially nude in comparison to the usual male demure portrayal. The vivacious female bodies used in the...
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