Reframing the Role of Women in Sport

Written by: Li

Edited by: Minkyu 

Visual by: Xiatian

Sport is a form of popular culture that is deeply rooted in society and perpetuates a divide between men and women. There is a huge double standard that exists in terms of participation and how girls and boys are socialized into sport. More specifically, from a young age, girls are expected less of and therefore trained to a lesser extent than boys are. This ultimately prevents them from progressing as effectively or as fast. However, once they grow older, they are expected to do just as well as their male counterparts. If they don’t, it is almost always attributed to the biological differences between the sexes, rather than to how they have been nurtured or taught. 

Most people have a general understanding of what makes up a sport. But that definition varies greatly depending on culture and location. Despite this, according to sports sociologist Jay Coakley, there are some things that are almost always consistent when it comes to sports culture: strength, power, speed, competitive success, “playing through pain,” perfect bodies, and opponents as enemies. Former elite Australian Rules Football Player, Chyloe Kurdas, who is part of  Play By The Rules (an organization that works to make sport more inclusive, safe and fair) confirmed this by saying, “They [sports] are often centered around the idea of “I win or you lose”, which showcases how the natural psyche is built on two things: War and sport. Both of which have historically excluded women.” This describes the idea that sport has historically preferred masculinity over femininity, as male excellence has been encouraged and demanded- even from women. This is especially true when talking about contact sports such as rugby, which involves muscularity, and is still being questioned when it comes to women’s abilities. This greatly impacts the culture around women’s sports as it asks them to assimilate rather than reframe what sports are about. In other words, they are not given the opportunity to break down the masculine framework that focuses so much on the scoreboard and being the biggest, fastest, best, or strongest. 

There is a huge number of people that unfortunately subscribe to this dominant ideology, and find it difficult to understand the concept of a more cooperative approach to sports. This is likely because many of us have grown up with the idea that a sport must be extremely competitive in order to be considered “real” or legitimate. In other words, it’s all about winning. Kurdas wrote more about this by sharing her experience in athletics as a woman: “It’s been 10 years since I have been at AFL Victoria… there are a lot of challenges of course. But probably the two biggest challenges were those masculine frameworks, with a language that was all about outcome and all about winning and was all programmatic based as we’ve heard today. It wasn’t about cultural change internally.” There are also many other barriers that prevent female involvement in sport, and even exercise. This includes body image concerns, which coincide with time pressures, familial roles or responsibilities, and financial costs. All of these expectations contribute to the disapproval women face in sports. One specific example could be a woman who has had to give up her dreams to be a female athlete in order to conform to the cultural and societal pressures that she must start a family “while she’s still young.” Not only this, but even when women are able to fulfill their dreams of having a profession in sports, they are given less attention in the media due to gender bias. They are then paid a significant amount less than male athletes although they have put in the same amount of effort. 

Increasing the participation of women and girls in sport is an integral part of the world’s social and cultural development. It is a matter of both good health and the right to take part fully in social life. It is important, though, that the success of female athletes is not based on their sexual attractiveness, as it has been in the past. They should not be objectified or praised for their bodies but celebrated and empowered for their skills and hard work. Especially in professional sports, where there is still a huge disparity between men and women, as it is mostly men watching high-income men playing with other men on behalf of sports organizations/companies run by or owned by men.

In the words of Chyloe Kurdas: “Sport has been built by men, for men, according to the needs of men,” and that needs to change

Works Cited

Kurdas, Chyloe. “Cultural Change and Gender Equity through Sport – Play by the Rules – Making Sport Inclusive, Safe and Fair.”,

Roper, Emily A., and Katherine M. Polasek. “Gender, Sport and Popular Culture.” Gender & Pop Culture, 2014, pp. 151–173,, 10.1007/978-94-6209-575-5_7.

University, Western Sydney. “Women in Sport, Gender in Society.”, Accessed 24 Apr. 2022.