The social cultural factor of focus will be gender ideologies in society, including the participation in physical activity and sport. Due to the negative connotations and judgments with women and girls participating in sport or being physically active, there is a low number compared to boys and men. The reasons as to why there is a significant gender gap with participation of sport and physical activity is due to the gender ideologies society has placed on the certain roles and ways an individual should act or appear physically. There needs to be more encouragement women and especially girls to participate in physical activity in sports to help bridge the gap between genders. With the change in more women participating, it could help aid in change with other sectors of in society due to social cultural factors. Gender inequalities have been around for a long time now. The “roles” each gender has been assigned to and the activities of daily living has changed slightly with the influx of participation in physical activity and as well as sports with women, towards the early 1980s. From working full time jobs to having to do the motherly duties at home, there is no time for women to dedicate an hour to being physically active unless further planned out. In comparison men they are the “sole” bread makers and do not typically assist in household chores or taking of the children. Men and boys being the first individuals encouraged to try out multiple sports or forms of physical activity. Before then there was little to no participation, especially publicly. Even with the smaller percentage of women and girls participating in physical activity, it is not the greater population that has incorporated these methods into their lifestyle.
When women or girls do participate in physical activity or sports, there is a stigma that comes along with it as well. There are prominent physiological differences with men and women. “Researchers suggest that there appears to be less muscle hypertrophy with strength improvement in women compared to men” (Hodgson, Kamon & Lewis, 1986). Since there are gender physiological differences between men and women, it is viewed that women are lesser of the two. Since this judgment of women depicts them not being strong enough, there is no encouragement from society to continue with elite sports that are male dominant. For example, with Caster Semenya and her battle to prove she is a woman due to athletic ability her gender was put into question. Semenya had to endure vigorous and deeming gender verification test during the 2016 Summer Olympics. She was in last place at the beginning of her race but ended up winning the gold medal in her event many spectators as well as her competitors thought that something suspicious was occurring due to her triumphant win. The testing of her gender took very invasive approaches to try to prove that her gender is not what is said since her athletic ability was so mesmerizing. Her physical ability mirrored “male aspects” which lead individuals assuming that she could not be a woman due to the gender stereotypes of women being weaker than. With this story of Semenya, it shines a negative light with female athletes or participation in physical activity. There seems that there is always something to prove when being a woman in sports. In addition to the prominent physiological stereotypes associated with the aspects that stir women from participating sports.
The differences between genders in regard to the encouragement of continuous participation in physical activity and sports has a vast gap. Since boys are little, there is always an encouragement to run around and play and to try all and every different sport available. In contrast with young girls, the participation is usually limited to their first few years of being in grade school. Once puberty hits, the decline of participation for girls begins and continues on into their adulthood. “Early adolescence is a time when a transition away from sport and physical activity participation is at its highest level among female youth. The decline in girls’ participation in vigorous physical activity declined from 45.4 percent in the eighth grade to 34.1 percent in grade 12” (McGannon, Schinke & Yungblut, 2012). Not having to be in a physical education class and even been in one, there is not as much encouragement for girls to participate with the activities, like there is with boys.
The comfortability level with women and girls participating in sports and physical activity is not there as it is for their counterparts. Women have a lot on their agenda to get done throughout their days; from working a full-time job and then coming home to get all the chores and household/motherly duties accomplished there is barely any time for balance with them taking care of their physical activity. When there is participation there are still barriers that can affect them mentally as well as physically with barely any coverage or alternative changes to ensure that these situations do not arise again for women. The objectification of women in sports is high and the degrading nature turns women into objects which makes society seem that it is okay to treat them in such a way. “Sports media tend to view female athletes as sex objects rather than as powerful and accomplished athletes” (Frisby, 2017). When there are not positive role models or news depicting more of the good than the superficial objectification there is a subconscious switch that could stir women away from participating due to the fact they do not want to be objectified in that manner. In contrast with men athletes, majority of the time there are positives or at least constructive criticism directed towards their performance without how they look physically being embedded in the discussion, like for women. A change in the coverage of women professional athletes and more of an inclusion with women reporting than men so there can be a slow start for balance in this situation; a visible underrepresentation of women in positions of being on the field and covering the field. There is not much encouragement from girls to women for them to continually participate in some form of physical activity and the health statistics reflect. “Girls aged 11-18 years old exercise less regularly […] with only 8% meeting the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity everyday” (Gender Gap – Attitudes Towards Physical Activity in Teenagers, n.d.) With women there are higher rates of cardiovascular disease deaths, as well as diabetes which physical activity can aid in repairing; “Cardiovascular diseases account for 1/3 of deaths among women around the world […] and diabetes affecting more than 70 million women in the world and the prevalence is projected to double by 2025” (Physical Activity and Women, 2009). Physical activity participation can aid in helping with the health conditions and diseases many women face and help alter the statistics world-wide for the prevalence of these diseases.
The lack of a universal understanding of the differences between genders and being open-minded to anyone and everyone being able to freely be physically active in sport or solely is the overall message that us as a society needed to take steps to making a change. The comfortability for everyone to participate in physical activity whatever form it may be. As long as there is movement of bodies to ensure the health of our community is at its peak should be the main concern, not the gender or other differences we all embody as human beings. There could be different approaches to promotion of more women and girl’s participating in physical activity and sports and end the associated stigma. These improvements could aid in the statistics of inactivity levels to active levels drastically. The overall improvement of health of women and bridging the gap between the genders could be affected. Having consistent parent involvement in their child’s physical activity, especially during the early adolescence time frame is critical because the pathway of their adulthood physical activity participation begins then. When women are parents the self-responsibility for them to take care of themselves and participate in physical activity is also an approach that can aid in bringing the statistics for women participation higher. It would be a greater chance that children who have an active mother would also like to participate in physical activity and/or sports since they have a role model close to home.
The motivators for participation in physical activity are social, psychological, body image, and health. “Significant gender differences, women reported more psychological and body image benefits of exercise (with fewer social benefits) than men” (Hickey & Mason, 2019) even with the negative connotations that are brought upon women and girls, which also demonstrates a change with the gender ideologies related to physical activity participation. “Countries with greater gender equality are more connected and have better wellbeing” (The benefits of gender equality, n.d.). Bridging the gap between genders could help with the health and overall flow of the country, as well as making a more united front with one another.
- Frisby, C. (2017). Sexualization and objectification of female athletes on sports magazine covers: improvement, consistency, or decline? International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 7(6), 21-32. Retrieved from https://www.ijhssnet.com/journals/Vol_7_No_6_June_2017/3.pdf
- Gender Gap – Attitudes Towards Physical Activity in Teenagers. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.womeninsport.org/research-and-advice/our-publications/girls-active-stats-pack/
- Hickey, M. & Mason, S. (2017). Age and gender differences in participation rates, motivators for, and barriers to exercise. Modern Psychological Studies, 22(2). Retrieved from https://scholar.utc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1270&context=mps
- Hodgson, J., Kamon, E., Lewis, D. (1986). Physiological differences between genders. Sports Medicine, 3(5), 357-369. Doi: 10.2165/00007256-198603050-00005
- McGannon, K.R., Schinke, R.J. & Yungblut, H.E.(2012). Views of adolescent female youth on physical activity during early adolescence. Journal of Sport Science & Medicine, 11(1), 39-50. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3737842/
- Physical activity and Women. (2009). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_women/en/
- The benefits of gender equality. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.vic.gov.au/benefits-gender-equality