Society is riddled with stereotypes so it’s hardly surprising that stereotypes, like gender roles, are also rooted within sport. Typically, men are viewed as the athletic and physically dominant sex with “strength” being viewed as a masculine trait.
As a result of this, girls, who already have this prior judgement of being less active and “weaker”, find it harder to establish themselves in the sporting world. Even in school, which is traditionally the first place that encourages sport, everything is still so heavily weighted towards the boys.
Growing up, I found that if I didn’t want to be chosen last in anything I had to prove myself. Sport was no different. However, unlike academic class projects, my ability wasn’t the only thing being judged, my gender was too.
At the beginning of my sporting journey I played football. During this time there was always this added pressure of being a girl playing a boy’s game. I also knew that many of my opponents would not just view me, but my whole team as lacking due to me being a girl.
It took a while for others to appreciate that I was on the same level as them, if not above them. I got used to this pressure and just stopped caring as I got older, but I know that there is still a pressure that exists for girls when playing sport, one that is much less prominent for boys, and there are many factors that can account for this.
One is exposure. I discovered my talent for football in primary school purely because my friends, who happened to be boys, played it and that’s who I spent time with. I know that other girls at the time were steered more towards ballet, dance or gymnastics because that’s what their friends did.
Another factor that aids this influence is social media. There is an expectation for girls to look a certain way. Images of girls playing sport are more focused on appearance than their actual physical involvement. School is also so heavily filled with judgemental teenagers and early societal expectations.
The fact is that many girls are not going to want to get sweaty and tired in front of boys who will judge their looks, especially when there’s the option to just not bother with sport. Instead of promoting this outlook, girls should be taught to appreciate their talent and excel, not shy away because of the pressure of appearance.
Sport promotion is important in school because it’s much harder to continue sport when juggling university, jobs and general adult life. Moreover, sport doesn’t just physically benefit you, it increases confidence and promotes team building which can socially and mentally benefit you in later life.
No one, especially girls, should be made to feel like they can’t compete or participate as a result of pre-existing stereotypes. You are only as weak as your mentality and no one’s ability should be judged before they are given the chance to perform, especially if this judgment is based upon social constructs.
Verity is an influencer for Project 51, Women in Sport and Sported’s joint programme which aims to help girls from the most deprived areas of the UK fulfil their potential.