Sexism in Sport

Sarah McMahon
6 min readFeb 27

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

“You’re fast now, but you’re young,” one of my high school teachers told me, “girls always slow down as they grow up.” I was a Sophomore, barely fifteen. So far, I’d had a good amount of running success, in a big-fish-small-pond sort of way. As far as growing into womanhood, I’d already done a lot of developing; I’d stopped getting taller, developed breasts, gotten my period (once), and didn’t really understand what he meant. As far as I was concerned, I was done growing up, physically at least.

The notion that girls slow down when they reach womanhood came at me from more than one direction, especially once I reached the college stage. We were encouraged to remain small, the lightest, most girlish bodies the ones that succeeded, temporarily. Woman in their early twenties almost always encounter a predictable performance plateau, one that men of the same age don’t experience. In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as an officially registered competitor. Sports have been around a long time, but women participating in sport is something that’s still relatively new.

I remember watching the 2010 Winter Olympics during one of my class periods in high school. Women were playing hockey and speed skating and snowboarding. They were strong and fierce, but I noticed that one of my favorite winter sports, ski jumping, was only done by men (2014 would be the first year women’s ski jumping was included in the Olympics). As we sat watching, one of my classmates remarked on a woman’s hockey team, joking about how the players looked “manly.” The bulk of televised woman’s sport was dedicated to figure skating, where the athletes were small and childlike and dainty. The world liked small, childlike, dainty women, I learned. Not just in sport, but everywhere.

The gender pay gap in professional sports has been widely debated. Women’s sports earn less overall, we hear, so they shouldn’t get paid as much as the men. Women are not usually the ones deciding what sports to promote and air, though. Phenomenal athleticism will always draw spectators, and according to this country-wide study done by Nielsen, 84% of sports fans are interested in women’s sports.

I don’t watch women’s basketball anymore, but I don’t watch any basketball…

Sarah McMahon

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