I played basketball from the time I could walk through high school. But it wasn’t until high school and college that I realized just how many negative stereotypes surrounded women’s basketball.
Women are strong and athletic
Although women began playing basketball in 1892, a year after it was invented, the women who played had many more restrictions than men. Men were shocked when women took off their corsets to play because it was perceived as unladylike. The women were still required to wear floor length dresses that came all the way up their necks though. I can only imagine the injuries that let to! Until 1918, women played with a closed hoop, which released the ball with a pull chain. At one point, women were not even allowed physical contact during the game. All of these and more restrictions were enforced because women were seen as fragile and weak. Men thought they did not belong in sports. Many man still have that perception.
Even though women’s basketball is now played almost exactly the same as men’s basketball (with the exception of the size of the ball and placement of the three-point line), many men resent the women’s game. The WNBA audience is only a fraction of the size of the NBA audience and receives only a fraction of the media attention compared to the NBA. Overall, women’s sports receive less than five percent of all sports media coverage.
Many men and women believe that girls and women are simply not as good at basketball as men. Perhaps this perception is the reason why women’s sports receive less coverage. While there may be male basketball players that are indeed better than some female basketball players, there are also females who are better than their male counterparts. Debate.org poses this question: “Should women’s sports get just as much media coverage as men’s?” I find this particular response despicable:
“Men are better physically than women. It’s just how it is.” Is that right? I don’t think so. While extremely athletic men may have more physical capability than extremely athletic women, I am willing to bet that almost all women’s NCAA and WNBA basketball players, take Candice Parker for example, are better than the vast majority of men who do not play basketball and are not athletic.
The responder also poses the question, “Why not have women play in men’s sports leagues?” Obviously men and women are physically different. No one would force ten-year-olds to play against 20-year-olds because of the difference in height and strength. The average height in the NBA is almost 6’7″ while the average height in the WNBA is 6′ (that’s a huge gap)!
So who is any male (especially men who do not participate in the sport) to criticize the female basketball players?
Women are viewed through society’s judgmental eyes
Aside from the false stereotype that women are weak and just not good enough to play basketball, there are the ugly, masculine and lesbian stereotypes. This is a great blog post covering these annoying stereotypes. Personally I am heterosexual, consider myself femininely attractive, yet strong, and not aggressive. I’d rather watch and listen before giving my opinion.
In my 11 years of playing competitive basketball, I came across a few girls who were gay, but who cares! Wouldn’t that happen in any sport or even in daily life? I was there to play basketball, not question who liked boys and who liked girls (palm to forehead). I think the stereotype that female basketball players are ugly stems from being sweaty, in loose-fitting clothing and wearing no makeup while playing a sport that men also play. Society tells us that women who are not wearing tight dresses and makeup are ugly. Lastly, women who have muscles are still feminine. Muscles are awesome. They make you healthy, strong and attractive. Why do women have to be soft and curvy to be considered feminine?
Ultimately, these stereotypes are a result of society telling us what is and is not acceptable. The media virtually ignoring women’s basketball only supports the stereotypes. If the media created more equality in airtime, newspapers and magazines, perhaps things would begin to change. So when will these barriers be broken? A woman is running for president, professional football players are coming out, we currently have a biracial president and same-sex marriage is legal. There is no such thing as “normal” anymore.