­­­Stigma of women in sports

Changing attitudes toward female athletes with Bison athletes

Women’s rights are a topic that has been covered more than ever in recent years. Throughout history, women have been battling for equality. The Equal Rights Amendment was enacted by the United States Senate on March 22, 1972, then was forwarded to the states for ratification. The Equal Rights Amendment was first proposed by the National Women’s Political Party in 1923, to ensure legal equality between men and women and prohibit discrimination based on gender.

While there were some advancements for women in sports in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly at the Olympic level, it wasn’t until the passage of Title IX of the Education Act in 1972 that women were given equal opportunity in education and sport.

March was designated as Women’s History Month by Congress in 1987. Although March is labeled as Women’s History Month, the fight for change in attitudes is far from over after the 31 days are up. Women have campaigned for equality in sports from the dawn of organized sports, from equal pay for male and female athletes to just the opportunity to compete.

Now more than ever, female athletes have left their mark on the issue of women’s sports stigma and the negative influence it has on women’s athletics. With prominent female athletes like Simone Biles and Serena Williams (the list goes on), these modern-day superstars have been using their platforms and voices to make a difference.

There are no better people to talk to about sports stigma and bring awareness to female athletics than our Bison. I sat down and spoke with Cameryn Maykut, a senior softball player; Olivia Lovick, a freshman soccer player; Syra Tanchin, a junior volleyball player; Kelby Anderson, fifth-year track and cross country and Maddie Herzog, a senior golfer.

What needs to change for sports to be taken as seriously as men’s?

“Women are starting to advocate their voices more which is a huge step for change and it’s starting in the right direction,” said Lovick. “Individuals using their platforms, especially anyone in the NCAA, being able to stand up for what they believe in is a start.” There is so much respect towards any athletes who use their platforms to advocate for change. Athletes are put to a higher standard in the media, and it isn’t easy to post about a social movement. However, what I have noticed in recent years is that it is more common for individuals to be targeted if they don’t share a stance on change. With women’s sports being such a hot topic in the media, Tanchin responded with “I see this as an opportunity to be able to use my voice.” With the help of media, female athletes have been able to advocate for change through social media platforms.” Lovick also mentions “big steps have been made for change. Hopefully, this inspires girls to continue to use their voice.”

What is the general stigma toward women’s sports?

When asked, what is the general stigma toward women’s sports, most, if not everyone, said it’s uninteresting to watch because women move at a slower pace. As a result, women’s sports do not receive nearly as much media attention as men’s sports, which has a negative impact on female athletics. “It is better than it has been, which unfortunately isn’t saying much,” said Tanchin. “Within the media, it’s a big notice how much the men’s athletics get covered versus women. The general stigma that has been around for a while is that women’s athletics aren’t as entertaining which isn’t true at all,” said Tanchin.

All of this might lead to frustration among female athletes. Due to a lack of coverage compared to male sports, attendance may be low, which can contribute to a loss of confidence among players. When discussing the struggles they face as female athletes, players have found themselves begging people to attend their games. “In high school, I remember my teammates and I had to beg people to come to our games,” said Maykut. “Every Friday we would be at the boy’s football game, no questions asked. But when it came down to our sporting events, we had to beg people to attend. Sadly, that hasn’t changed much coming to college,” said Maykut.

I’ll be the first to say that I’ve seen it firsthand. As an intern at NDSU Athletics, I’ve worked a variety of sporting events for both men and women. Not just among competitors, but also among spectators, there is a significant disparity in attendance. Attendance for sports like football and soccer cannot be compared, but I have observed who is present and who is not. Tanchin, too, had a similar response. “Same as high school, it shows in college that we are constantly begging people to attend our games. A lot of the women go and support our men’s athletics and it’s not as equivalent for the men coming to our games.”

NDSU Athletics | Photo Credit
From left to right, top to bottom: Cameryn Maykut, softball; Syra Tanchin, volleyball; Kelby Anderson, track & field; Olivia Lovick, soccer; Maddie Herzog, golf.

More than just being part of a team

Sports, in general, have far more importance than simply wearing a jersey for a game. Most children are encouraged to take part in at least one sport. Sport provides a unique environment for children to play, learn, engage in activities and make friends they might not have met otherwise. Maykut has found it to be really empowering. “In college, it is much more than just being in the sport. You grow as a person, get some thick skin. Especially as a woman, we face our own challenges and sports has taught me a lot of lessons,” said Maykut. In sports, you obviously grow stronger on the physical side, but athletics also provides you with opportunities to advance in a lot of other skills too. “The mental game is such a huge part in sports as well, and that has gotten stronger. Even in school, my organization skills, overall, I’ve grown a lot in my time in athletics,” said Herzog.

The athletes provided advice to any girl out there interested in joining a sport. “Keep working hard. I know there are a lot of things you do as an athlete that people don’t see,” advised Anderson. “All the hard work and sacrifice you put in, pays off in the end,” added Tanchin. “Don’t let anyone rip you off the mountain you are climbing, because people will try, and just remember to stand your ground.”

The start to change is by sparking the conversation. Education and information about gender equality and equal rights are now more generally available, accessible and discussed. I’ll be the first to admit that the athletic industry is on the right track. There is, however, still a long way to go. Athletes are increasingly using their platforms to speak out about the issue, and that is one small step toward change. When looking down the road, in about 10 years, these Bison athletes are hoping for continuous growth in a movement toward women’s athletics. “Women are being more vocal about the issues surrounding women in sports,” said Maykut. “Getting our voices heard has helped tremendously. I have a lot of hope that it will be better.”

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