Historically, people idealized woman’s femininity and frailty, frowning on female participation in sports that threatened to destroy those coveted qualities. However, in spite of that, there were always sporting outlets for women to participate in. Certain sports like tennis, croquet, archery and swimming were available for women ever since the Gilded Age. While today we have women participating in every major sport, times were not always so thrilled with equality. Here’s a brief history of women’s sport.
Even before the ancient Olympic Games, there were sporting events designed for women, called Heraean Games dedicated to the goddess Hera. This festival organized races for maidens of various ages. Traditionally, they raced on a 500-feet long course and ran with their hair down dressed in a short tunic. Every victor was awarded a crown of olive and some heifer to sacrifice to Hera.
During the Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties in China, women even had professional teams that competed in Cuju. However, in spite of that, women were not even allowed to compete in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. However, since feudal times and early Olympic days, things have gotten much better for female athletes.
19th and 20th century
During the French Revolution, schools provided education that was the same for boys and girls in every aspect, sporting included. Germany was especially into providing women with physical education which included the measurement of performances of girls just like boys. This led to women’s sport being more developed in Germany than anywhere else in the world in the early 19th century. Still, women’s sport of late 18th, 19th and early 20th century were highly recreational and focused on beauty, grace and health. Most sports lacked the traditional competitiveness associated with modern sport.
Since the first participation in the Games of 1900, women’s participation in the Olympic Games is quickly growing. Today, we have sports that are reserved for women only while others allow both sexes and only men. The number of women athletes is approaching 50 per cent and all new sports added in the Games must have women’s events.
International conferences and awards
Women in sports are getting more and more recognition and the events have a wide and loyal audience. Since 2000, The Laureus World Sports Awards also have a Sportswoman of the Year category as one of the seven constituent awards. Many exclusive dress stores make dresses suitable for such events and each participant gives her 100% to look amazing on the big screen and represent her sport in the best way possible. The event today is covered with great media attention and the ceremony is considered to be the counterpart to Oscars in its significance and glamour. Even the award itself, the Laureus statuette, is designer (made by Cartier).
Today, women have competitions where they compete professionally and as amateurs in almost every sport in the world. However, some sports like violent contact sports (rugby, American football, boxing, wrestling) by men. Luckily, we see new schools and leagues and associations starting their work with girls and women every year. Also, as more women take interest in those “men-reserved” sports, non-participation habits are noticeably evolving. For instance, in 2003, Katie Hnida became a pioneer in woman’s sporting history when she kicked two extra-points for the University of New Mexico in a Division I NCAA American football game.
Modern sports have seen higher participation rates for female athletes in other historically male sports (golf, marathon, ice hockey) as well as other events. This rise in popularity allowed better exposure for female athletes and increased the popularity of sport in general. For instance, as of 2013, the only sports that are professionally played by men and not women in the United States are baseball, American football and Ultimate Frisbee!
As it seems, the gap between men and women in sports is getting smaller and smaller each year, especially when we considered that troubling women’s sports history. But, we still have a lot of issues that have to be solved when it comes to women’s sport. Athletes who wish to raise children find it hard to balance their athletic careers and personal life and the ration of female coaches and executives in organizations is still small. However, things are getting better each year and we have so much good to look forward to!
Diana Smith is a full time mom of two beautiful girls interested in topics related to home improvement, DIY and interior design. In her free time she enjoys reading and preparing healthy meals for her family.