The gender games: setting sports free for youngsters
Despite a plethora of successful sportspeople, men and women alike, we would be hard pushed to claim that sport is free from gender-based stereotyping. Hockey is a girl’s game. Women can’t play football. Rugby is too rough for fair females. No matter the advances in gender equality, gender rules the roost from the ring to the sports field.
With rigid gender restrictions engrained into our culture, it begs the question of whether our children’s self-esteem and development could be at a disadvantage. Does discrimination in sports prevent our youngsters from pursuing a certain path, or even simply prevent them from enjoying a perfectly appropriate pastime?
Girls don’t score goals
Sport is, historically, male territory. Men, throughout time, have dominated games, from ancient chariot racing to contemporary entertainment-based sports in the vein of WWE. Yet while some sports are seemingly reserved for girls, including figure skating and gymnastics, more women are increasingly making their name in traditionally masculine pursuits.
Charlotte Flair, daughter of WWE legend Ric Flair, is currently one of the biggest, and skilfully adept, wrestling personalities. Nicola Adams OBE, was the first female to win an Olympic boxing title, achieving gold medals in both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. While, as five-time winner of the FIFA World Player of the Year award, scoring 15 goals across FIFA Women’s World Cup tournaments, Brazilian footballer, Marta Vieira da Silva, is an inspiration to women across the world. Who says girls don’t score goals?
Sports in schools
Generally, the younger the children, the more they enjoy a full range of sports, with almost no awareness of any attached gender roles. There is nothing to say that boys can’t belt the ball in rounders, or slam a goal in netball. Girls can compete in cross country, and score a last minute winner on the football pitch. Primarily, sports are a combination of games and physical activity. Surely then, with enough practice, it is possible to perfect your play, no matter your gender?
But schools say different.
The further youngsters venture through the education system, the more segregated sports become. While both boys and girls are encouraged to engage in all sports for PE, typically, football trials are open to boys, and netball teams consist of their female classmates. They’re ‘given a go’ on school time, but they never quite qualify to compete.
Essentially, childhood is about exploring the world and what it has to offer, with the safety cushion of parental guidance. A step towards gender equality in sports would encourage increased physical activity, social engagement, and a surge in sporting confidence amongst youngsters.
With forward-thinking notions surrounding gender neutrality taking centre stage in contemporary culture, it could be time to strip sex from sports. Perhaps empowering children, giving them the chance to explore what would be alternative avenues, will allow them to fall organically into fields of play that suit the individual, not the stereotype.