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How Instrumental Sports Challenge Emphasized Femininity

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Abstract
  3. Femininity in Sport
  4. The Media and Femininity
  5. Physicality in sport
  6. Conclusion


It is safe to say that we currently live in a time that fights for gender equality. The “norm” is no longer the idea that men are superior to women in any way. There are now multiple genders and each one is becoming more widely accepted throughout our world. These are key things that cultivate humanity. The acceptance of others is key to ensuring a society functions at an optimal level. Although people are trying to push for equality, gender inequality is still very prevalent in the sports world. Since time began, it was very obvious that there were only two genders. Male and female. This is the way people lived for a very long time which is why this idea is still stressed even today. It separated men and women into two categories. Male being masculine and female being feminine. There is a traditional gender binary that clearly states that men are set out to be leaders, aggressive, powerful, strong, and superior along with many other things. It’s also clear that women are supposed to be passive, powerless, emotional, weak, followers and many other things (Lecture 5 Slides). This places a ceiling on both genders but mainly impacts the limitations on females.

You always see male athletes typically playing more physically demanding sports. These sports include rugby, football, UFC, hockey, and boxing. Although these sports primarily focus on physical contact between the athletes, there are many other sports that don’t necessarily require a lot physical contact. The level of physical activity in sports like basketball, baseball, and soccer doesn’t even compare to its counterparts that I mentioned above. But somehow it always seems that men find a way to make it physical even in sports that don’t require physicality. For women, often times the sports that are offered focus on elegance, expression, poise, and objectivity. As mentioned by Roth and Basow (2004), In sports like cheerleading, dance, figure skating, and gymnastics femininity seems to be engraved into the rulebook. In most of these sports, each competitor seems almost identical in their expressions, physical size, and their appearance. Even though their sports require them to have a lot of muscles and strength, their outfits still show their true femininity. The sparkles on their uniforms, the full faces of make-up, uniforms that reveal skin, these are all things that are used to show that the women are feminine.


Before I go too in depth about how instrumental sports challenge emphasized femininity, let me start by explaining some key terms that I will be discussing throughout this essay. There is this traditional ideology of femininity that all women should be beautiful, thin, small, and weak. This physically constricts female bodies and causes them to shape themselves based off of this idea that women must all be feminine. When watching female sports, emphasized femininity is very prevalent. How they are dressed, how much they exercise in order to keep a specific body figure, the removal of hair on certain areas of their bodies, the amount of make-up they put on, each of these things clearly shows how a woman is “supposed” to be but what they don’t realize is that all of these things can potentially have a negative effect on their sport performance.

Over time we have seen a rise in females participating in rather masculine sports. They are changing the game and how people view females in sport. Sports such as boxing, wrestling, rugby, weightlifting, and hockey are all seen as dominantly male sports. But each of these sports helps women truly show that regardless of their biological sex, they are equally as capable of participating in these sports as men are. The traditional feminine norms and values then become irrelevant and the focus shifts towards instrumental sporting femininities. The instrumental femininities focus more on the effectiveness of the body in a given situation rather than the emphasized femininities that focus on how the body looks. This allows women to showcase their true potential instead of letting femininity mask them (Lecture 6 Slides).

Femininity in Sport

In order for gender equality to become normal in sport, small changes must be made starting from the ground up that help this movement proceed in the right direction. One thing I’ve never given much of my attention to is the name of the mascots for each school. Whenever I was in high school, each school we visited for sporting events always had a big sign with the name of their school on it and then underneath it read something like, “Home of the Yellow Jackets.” At first you don’t think anything of it but whenever I really began to think about it seems like each high school also has another mascot for its women’s teams. Instead of just using the same name as the school’s mascot, they make it Lady Jackets. According to Roth and Basow (2004), 38% to 56% of college and university sports teams used some sort of sexism in their team name, logo, or mascot. With the school mascot being associated with the men’s teams, it gives an idea that the women’s teams are not normal and are superior to the men’s teams. For example, there was a school whose mascot was the Blue Hawks. Instead of referring to both the men’s and women’s teams as the Blue Hawks, they called the women’s team the Blue Chicks. Another school in the same situation were the bears and they referred to their women’s team as the teddy bears. This relates to the traditional gender binaries that are placed on men and women because Hawks and Bears are perceived as powerful, dominant, and aggressive while Chicks and Teddy Bears are perceived as cute and nurturing (Roth & Basow, 2004).

Even in sports that aren’t traditionally feminine (Bodybuilding and weightlifting), you can see that although the purpose of these sports is to gain muscle it is still important to maintain your appearance and look as a female should like. First of all, when females first started bodybuilding, I’m sure it didn’t get a lot of recognition and people probably weren’t very accepting/welcoming to the idea of a woman lifting weights and gaining muscles. As stated by Dworkin (2001), Women’s bodybuilding is a pretty contradicting sport. It challenges emphasized femininity but it also incorporates some ideas to emphasize femininity because “the increasing size of the female bodybuilder is only acceptable once ‘tamed’ by beauty.” If you have ever seen a female bodybuilding competition you’ll notice that this is why the women still have make-up on, their hair is done, and they are wearing a tiny bikini that reveals a lot of skin. Even though the competition is supposed to be based on their muscle mass, size, and symmetry, the judges have been known to reward the women for their feminine attributes. This includes the way their hair is dyed, breast implants, their make-up, and even their painted nails. This proves that even during a competition where the goal is to have the biggest, most muscular looking body out there, they are still being sexualized and judged based on their feminism (Dworkin, 2001).

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The Media and Femininity

One of the main reasons why emphasized femininity is included in sports is because it is influences by the media. Since one of the purposes of media is to inform, people often take this information and incorporate it into their own opinions. This is how the media ultimately shapes one’s ideas or views about someone or something. According to Hagerman (2001), the relationship between the media and sports is not a one-way street. Instead, this relationship is reciprocated by both parties and they both feed off of each other. Hagerman (2001), also tapped in on the relationship between the media and the female athlete and later mentions that,

“although women were receiving more coverage than before, the type of coverage they receive reinforces all of the ancient, oppressive stereotypes. By spending an inordinate amount of coverage equating the modern female athlete with traditional notions of femininity (e.g., the female athlete as physically attractive or sexy) the media serve to trivialize and thus downgrade the importance of the female as a serious athletic competitor.” (p. 49)

Although the media can be very helpful in getting people the information and entertainment that they need, it is also detrimental to women’s involvement in sports. In order to get views and publicity, the media portrays women as sex objects and focuses mainly on their attractiveness. Whenever there is an article written about a female athlete or a video about them, there are always pictures included of them playing their sport. These may look like normal pictures but the photographer’s main objective is to get a picture that shows off the woman’s body in a sexual way. They do this so that it will catch the attention of the viewers which not only helps the media, but it also helps the sport as well. More viewers bring in more revenue. Even though it almost seems unethical to use this as a way to get business, it goes to show that the media and sports do have a two-way relationship.

A woman having an attractive appearance almost gives them an advantage over their competition as far as “TV time” is concerned. Big brand name companies often times look for athletes that aren’t only good at what they do but ones that also look good while doing it. Thinking back to lecture, there was a female weight lifter that we briefly discussed and there were two things to take into consideration. The first being that, although in my opinion everyone is beautiful in their own ways, she wasn’t necessarily pleasing to look at through societies spectacles and the second thing is that she is a female who is weight lifting. Even though she was breaking records and completely dominating her sport, no one gave her the recognition that she deserved because she didn’t fit the mold of a feminine athlete. With this being the case, it almost makes women feel like they must be feminine in order to be successful in sports and feel appreciated.

Physicality in sport

Since people associate women with being nurturing, passive, and weak, we automatically assume that they should not participate in the same sports that men do and if they do participate in these sports they should be feminized in one way or another. But women are also very emotional and sometimes need to show their emotion through the same things that men do. Women don’t get a lot of opportunities to be aggressive in sport. That’s why some women choose to do boxing or rugby or weight lifting. They use these sports to let out some of their feelings and emotions the same way that men do. Going back to topic 6 in the lecture, there is a video of a teenager who uses rugby as a way to express herself. She has always been “big boned” and she never really knew how to use the talents that she had. Once she got older she decided to try out for the rugby team. Before she was on the team she thought of herself as fat and did everything she could to lose weight. She was bulimic and would purposefully regurgitate and food that she consumed. She also tried to overdose on Aspirin and Tylenol because she wasn’t happy with her life. She saw rugby as a way out and a way to get all of those built up emotions out. By doing this she uses her body in an instrumental way rather than it being judged or seen as an object. She was able to be herself and not have to worry about putting make-up on and looking good for this sport. She just used what she had and used her body in an effective way.


The idea that women should be feminine is completely detrimental to their careers in sports. They should be able to be who they want to be without taking any of their recognition away. The focus should not be about judging the women on their performance or making sure they fit the feminine norm, but rather their effectiveness in their sport and how good they are at it. By having a standard of what women should be like puts a limit on their true potential. Once all gender is accepted regardless of their biological sex, we will truly see who some of these women and men really are. The glass ceiling that was once over the gender norms and traditional gender binaries will then become limitless. The only way for this to happen is for women to keep following their hearts and dreams and to not let an idea or norm get in their way of achieving those dreams. The number of women that are playing more masculine sports has risen drastically and by doing this it will eventually eliminate the idea that women must be feminine while participating in sport.

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How Instrumental Sports Challenge Emphasized Femininity. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 4, 2023, from
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