Playing Like a Girl Might Not Be a Bad Thing

By: Hailey Foster

You find a comfortable place to sit down on the couch. You turn on the TV and start flipping through the channels. It’s a Saturday morning, the sun is shining and there is a cool, crisp breeze making its way through the mesh window opening. “This is perfect sports weather,” you say to yourself. Suddenly, you find yourself caught between two choices: women’s basketball championship, or just a regular season NBA game. You choose the second option. Why is it that women’s sports games such as basketball or soccer seem less interesting to watch than men’s? Or vice versa where particular sports such as women’s gymnastics may seem more appealing to watch over men’s gymnastics? The answer might shock you.

It is evidently clear that women’s sports receive less attention and coverage than men’s sports, which is a very significant issue. 

“Men’s sports are going to seem more exciting,” said Perdue professor Cheryl Cooky. “They have higher production values, higher-quality coverage, and higher-quality commentary… When you watch women’s sports, and there are camera angles, fewer cuts to shot, fewer instant replays, it’s going to seem to be a slower game.” 

However, this statement does not mean that women’s sports are uninteresting at all, despite Sports Illustrated writer Andy Benoit’s opinion who tweeted, “women’s sports in general [are] not worth watching.”

According to an article from The Atlantic, women’s sports that are identical to men’s sports, such as soccer and basketball, will never be popular because men are faster, stronger, and more athletic. On the other hand, sports that highlight different strengths of female athletes, like tennis, gymnastics, and ice skating, are popular. None of these examples are team sports, which could also add more to the argument. 

Shifting gears into the Olympics where both men and women compete in the same sports, some events are more interesting to watch than the others. Take the Olympics women and men’s gymnastics teams, both are talented, but there is an obvious gap in performance and ranking. According to an ESPN article, the U.S. women’s [gymnastics] women are magnificent and unbeatable. [However] it’s more competitive in men’s competition. The top six to eight programs are all magnificent. One or two mistakes in the men’s competition and [they] are off the podium. Another difference in male and female gymnasts is the age gap between typical performers. Women are usually in their teens to early twenties, with lives relatively uncomplicated, while men are often dealing with post-college careers while being married and some athletes that have children. There are also fewer boys than girls who pursue the sport in the U.S. because of fewer collegiate opportunities for males. 

Simone Biles competing at the 2016 Rio Olympics

With reference to an article from Bustle, a media company, the appeal of women’s gymnastics has to do with the ways in which it pushes the boundaries of gendered expectations. 

“The sport has come to emphasize lower musculature over a skinny stature, and has increasingly promoted strength and athleticism,” Chloe Angyal, the former Deputy Opinion Editor at the HuffPost, said. “Moreover, women’s gymnastics has worked to challenge the stereotype that femininity and athleticism are somehow not compatible. Female gymnasts amazingly pushing the limits of physics with their routines stops that stereotype dead in its tracks.”

Angyal also mentions that the sport challenges preconceptions about athleticism and femininity. Men’s gymnastics may not garner as high viewership because it does not seem to involve the aggressive competition stereotypically associated with male-dominated sports. Another point worth mentioning circles back to the main idea where women’s sports do not gather enough attention or coverage, so when females compete in gymnastics for example, people will sometimes focus more on the athlete’s physical appearance and what they are wearing rather than the actual performance. 

Some people believe that a reason why women’s sports receive less attention or that they might appear to be less interesting is due to propaganda and promoting viewers to watch men’s sports. In this case, propaganda can take many forms such as commercials, newspapers, and the radio, but oftentimes negative forms of propaganda garnered against women’s sports take place on social media. It is common for men and women to be compared to each other on a sports-performance level, and this ultimately leads to unfair conclusions between the two genders. For example in basketball, there are just as many women’s games being aired on television as men’s, but since this competition between the two occurs, there is ultimately more coverage and more outlets to spread information about the men’s games than women’s. 

A survey conducted across eight key markets around the world, which included the U.S. U.K., France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, and New Zealand found that 84% of sports fans are interested in women’s sports. Of those, 51% are male, which confirms that women’s sports engage a gender-balanced audience. The survey also concluded that interest levels in women’s versions of specific sports tend to be greater when men’s and women’s events are staged together. For example, some sports with this layout are tennis, track and field, the triathlon, mixed martial arts, and extreme sports. 

Photo courtesy of Nielsen Company

Sports allow inclusion and offer opportunities for both men and women to compete and portray their best abilities. It is unfortunate to discover that some women’s sports are not as highly received compared to men, and also receive less attention and coverage. However, this does not suggest that women’s sports are a waste of time and uninteresting. People usually always have a preference for certain activities, and in some cases, women’s sports garner more attention than men’s and vice versa.


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