The teenage years are a sea of change, rife with angst, disorientation and discovery. “Early adolescence is a time of physical and psychological change, self-absorption, preoccupation with peer approval and identity formation”. Why is that teenagers are no longer discovering sports? As I have recently been chosen as a sport leader at Wellington High School, I thought it was appropriate to look at why sports participation at my school is so low. Sport is a necessary ingredient in having a healthy, happy life. As a growing number of young people are opting out of sport, actions need to be made to try and combat this.
Femininity in sport Teenage girls still think sports are unfeminine. Sadly, there is still a belief in high schools today that it is not “cool” for a girl to be a jock. Sadly, it is still mostly true today. High school girls interviewed by Roselind Wiseman for her best selling book, Queen Bees and Wannabes, said girls can be athletic and have high social status but only if they have thin, “feminine” bodies, and that a large, “masculine” build was unacceptable (which is why many excellent female athletes worry about getting bulky if they lift weights).
Friendships are notoriously fickle and tumultuous during the teen years. For many, myself and included, the prospect of social isolation or not fitting in is terrifying. When adolescent females may want to rely on friendships or peer support the very most, female dyads or peer circles can become unstable or fragile due to a variety of social dynamics. The impetus for social conflict may include a difference of opinion or angst associated with interpreting one’s social value or self worth. Teenage girls still think sports are unfeminine.
Sadly, there is still a belief in high schools today that it is not “cool” for a girl to be a jock. Girls can be athletic and have high social status but only if they have thin, “feminine” bodies, and that a large, “masculine” build is unacceptable. Social stigma is one of the key elements in low sports participation. Discrimination females face is based on the real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of female athletes persists. During socially fragile adolescence, the fear of being tagged “gay” is strong enough to push many girls out of the game.
Picture a television advertisement featuring a professional female athlete. What does it look like? Odds are, the woman looks ready to walk along the runway, or sunbathe on the beach rather than score a goal. Top female athletes being sexualised and portrayed negatively in advertising, changes the way we perceive their athletic ability. The infuriating truth which still persists to this day; women athletes who receive large monetary endorsements and sponsorships are customarily the ones who look a certain way, rather than simply being the better athlete.
I would love to see more advertisements like the ones Serena Williams does for Nike, in which you are motivated to smash a ball over the net just like her. Every instant a female athlete is pictured in a sexualized way, it diminishes the perception of her athletic ability. In doing so, we as a society are restricting the number of female role models for our female teenagers in look up to, emulate and idolise. If today’s teenagers do not have any sporting role models, then how can we expect them to want to continue with sport?
One of the reasons I still play sport is because I want to be like my female sporting heroes, not because I want to be sexualised to earn a living. This lack of positive role models is a mammoth issue. Today’s girls are bombarded through various media platforms with images of external beauty, and not of confident, strong female athletic role models. Fitting in within this mold that they are pressured into is more important than standing out. Peer pressure is hard for girls of any age, if this pressure is not offset with encouragement to participate in sports, to promote a healthy lifestyle, the results may lead girls to drop out entirely.
The infuriating comments made by Sepp Blatter, head of FIFA, cements this negative portrayal of female athletes in our society. Blatter suggested that female football players should play in tighter shorts to promote “a more female aesthetic”. Marieanne Spacey, the manager of Fulham, believes that Blatter’s views were harmful. “Surely it’s about skill and tactical ability first and how people look second,”. I strongly believe in this but the harsh reality is that this is not the case. For women to receive recognition or endorsements in sport, they must look a ertain way. Take Lydia Ko, one of New Zealand’s top young female athletes .
She was recently given a makeover which was heavily publicised. Why should the New Zealand general public care about whether or not Ko is wearing glasses? This just emphasises that women need to be pretty to make it to the top sporting level, just being good at a sport is not enough. Many young talented females may be discouraged to compete competitively because they do not believe they are “pretty” enough to do so. Billie Jean King; an American former world no. 1 professional tennis player.
The woman who won the famed 1973’s “Battle of the Sexes,”. The woman who struggled to get even one mere endorsement deal at the peak of her game, while the gorgeous all-American tennis player Chris Evert became the first female athlete to earn $1 million in endorsements. Being a female athlete does not usually pay much, especially compared to their male counterparts. WNBA players’ salaries started at $37,950 a year and maxed out at $107,500. While, the minimum NBA salary for the 2013 season was $490,180, with some players signing contracts worth up to $19 million.
Endorsements are important as it is consistent pay for athletes (especially those who compete sporadically) but is it ethical for endorsements to be given out based on a females athletes looks? Is it ethical for our society to marginalise and objectify top female athletes and to portray them as sex symbols? The digital age: We can now communicate, discover and share information instantaneously. The mass adoption of the internet is the driving force in a new digital age that is rapidly transforming the ways in which we live our lives.
It is ironic how the more we are connected to people and information, thanks to Google, Youtube, Instagram and Facebook, we are also spending more and more time alone. A teenage girl recently admitted to The New York Times, that she sent 270,000 texts per month. That is 900 a day. I find it hard to believe that a girl who is spending upwards of 7. 5 hours a day texting, has the time to participate in a sport. Although this example is extreme, it is not an isolated case. Many of today’s teenagers have an addiction that consumes their entire being.
The irresistible, alluring chime, chirp, bing or beep of an incoming text or message is a noise that we crave. After posting a new status of profile picture on Facebook, the urge to constantly check to see how many ‘likes’ or comments is has eats us up. Media: Mass media plays a mammoth role in the negative portrayal of women and the ‘ideal body image’. This may drive people away from sports such as athletics and water sports where people may not feel comfortable wearing togs or crop tops as they have not yet reached their “ideal body weight” or they do not have “the bikini body”.
The media plasters these photos of fit, toned, scantily clad women. There is a strong correlation between exposure to the thin ideal body image in mass media to body dissatisfaction, eating disorders and internalisation of the thin, toned body regularly seen in the media among women. Women are not alone in body dissatisfaction as a result of the media. Pressure from the media through images of ripped, toned and muscular bodies is related to body dissatisfaction among men. This in turn, reduces sports participation for fair of what others may think of their body.
Women’s sport is not publicised as much as men’s sport, girls don’t see sport as a normal activity for women By publicising glorified, unattainable standards of women, the media’s sexualisation of female athletes can diminish the self-esteem of female viewers at large, especially younger athletes. In fact, high school girls exhibit more self-objectification and negativity towards their own body when they view images of sexualised female athletes rather than images of their sporting abilities.
This is due notion of “anti feminist stereotype of Superwoman”. This leaves female athletes as incomparable idols of beauty and sex appeal. Female viewers may not only succumb to low self-esteem, but may also view the athletes as sell-outs, reducing the already minimal support and popularity from women’s sports. Because of the emphasis on sex appeal and objectification of women, the media’s actions tend to produce harmful self-objectification and alienation in female viewers, in turn reducing sports participation. Peer Pressure
Many athletes may drop out of sports as a result of peer pressure. Dr. Joan Steidenger, a psychologist, believes that young female athletes today, often give up sports as a result of pressure from their friends and boyfriends. Dr. Steidenger, who focuses on athletes, says the boyfriends of female athletes complain about the lack of time the couple spends together due to numerous practices and games. In addition, the girls feel that they are missing out on key social activities as a result, some decide to give up their athletic commitments.
Many young people in my life, have given up on sports purely because they are missing parties on Friday nights because of an early netball game the following day. Many young people do not receive the support they need from their family. Their home is the primary place where children learn about gender roles is the family. Families still tend to engage, perhaps unconsciously, in gender stereotyping, conveying a dangerous message to girls that they are inherently less athletic than boys, and that sports are less important for girls than they are for boys.
It is often emphasised by parents that girls cannot play rugby because it is too dangerous. This largely stems from historical assumptions about women not being capable of competing in arduous or risky activity. For me, I have always received 100% support to my sporting pursuits. Even when I played 10 sports one year, my parents made it to every game be it a final or a friendly game. Many parents promote sport as a boys activity, and give boys more recognition after success than girls.