The Weaker Sex?

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Women + Sports. It’s not something that always went hand in hand and even to this very day, women face the struggle of being taken seriously in sports that are looked upon as a ‘man’s place’ in society.

However, if you look back through the (condensed) history of women in sports that we have provided here, you’ll see that although men have ‘ummed’ and ‘ahh’d’ about a woman’s place, women have ALWAYS been able to bring it when it comes to matching and even exceeding the strength, stamina and athleticism of men. 

Whilst white, middle-aged, upper-class men debated what the ‘role of women’ should be, thinking of us as weak, fragile and controlled emotionally by our reproductive organs, women were fighting for the right to represent themselves and be on an equal footing with men. 

Women + Sport

There have been some notable women over the years that have opened the gate for women in sport. We can’t write about every single one in this issue of SOCIALight so let’s take the Olympics as a starting point, as it is such a large and famous sporting event. 

Alice Milliat, born in 1884, believed that women could achieve greater equality through sport and took it upon herself to set up the FSFI (Fédération Sportive Féminine Internationale.) The organisation launched the first Women’s Olympic Games which was held in Paris in 1922. Here, women were able to compete in strenuous and physically challenging events such as the 1000 metre race and shot put.

The IOC (International Olympic Committee) and the IAAF (International Association of Athletic Federations) were immediately ruffled by the success of the FSFI and in 1926 an agreement was struck so that the FSFI agreed to follow IAAF rules, and the IOC added track-and-field events to the Amsterdam Games for women.

Eleven Wretched Women

For something that seemed like a big win for women in sport, follows a series of frustrating events that have taken place over the years that have often felt like two steps forward and one step back.

The 800-metre race, for example, the longest distance women were allowed to run, became a point of contention after the Amsterdam 1928 Olympics, where the female competitors crossed the line sweating and out of breath. The audience were said to be shocked at this and the distance was labelled as ‘too much for women.’ 

Ignoring the fact that many accounts of the race have been proven to be factually incorrect… the newspapers reported ‘Eleven Wretched Women’ on their front covers and the distance was then banned from the Olympics until 1960. Subsequently blocking women from long-distance running for 30 years. Yep, you read that correctly. Thirty Years.

Unsurprisingly, The Daily Mail with its passion for spreading sensationalist clickbait articles, preached that “women would be desexed and their reproductive capability impaired by such terrible exhaustion.” They said women who raced longer than 200 metres would age prematurely. {Insert eye roll emoji here.}

One Rule for Men, Another for Women

Some sports were (luckily) not seen as too strenuous for women. Swimming fell under this bracket, likely because you cannot see the physical exertion this activity has on someone, especially not sweat! 

However, that doesn’t mean women didn’t come up against societal expectations that were expected of them that men simply did not have to deal with. For example, when women trained in swimming, they were expected to wear stockings to look presentable on a beach or poolside. 

To get around this, women would swim out to jetties, remove their stockings and tie them to rocks or something else and then once their training was completed return to put them back on before coming ashore.

The Soviet Union

The 1952 Helsinki Games inadvertently changed things for women in sport, without that being the intention. With the pressure of needing to achieve a great victory, Soviet athletes – both men and women – were expected to compete and win for their country. 

With the female wins counting just as much as the men’s, other countries were left with little choice but to also allow women to openly compete equally with men if they wanted to emerge victorious in the medal tally.

The soviet female athletes sparked a different outroar altogether though, with their muscular appearance and what turned out to be steroid pumped bodies. Nonetheless, women have since been inundated with ‘gender’ tests and more over the years, whereas men were simply not put through the same aggressive testing. 

We could write pages and pages about the injustices some people have experienced, so we recommend reading the suggested articles at the bottom of this page if you want to find out more about this topic.

Women in Science Paving the Way for Sportswomen

So now we reach the 1960’s, with more women entering scientific fields of study, research into the biology of women was undertaken and closely looked at for the first time. This research smashed through the old Victorian stance of women being weak, delicate and controlled by their reproductive organs.

It’s with this valuable research that helped prove that menstruation wasn’t a way to justify restricting women in sports as well as day to day life. In fact, some studies in the 1960s found that women were stronger and had more stamina after bearing children. 

The passage of Title IX of the Education Act of 1972 opened up opportunities for women athletes and the researchers who studied them. The historic legislation required that women be given equal opportunity in education and sport, marking the most significant turning point in the history of women’s athletics.

The Road to Equality

Women are a huge part of sports nowadays. It’s 2020 and the likes of Serena and Venus Williams, Aly Raisman, Alex Morgan, Ronda Rousey and many other kick-ass sportswomen are the trailblazers for the next generation just like the women before them. 

There is still a long road ahead to equality, but the discussion and conversations are happening which is a step in the right direction and everything that SOCIALight Magazine is about. 

We look forward to seeing what women do next!

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