Everything women have today has been earned through a tireless fight, equality in sports included. Since the dawn of time, women have been fighting for their right to participate in sports, get equal opportunities to compete and earn equal wages. Thanks to early advocates, today we have heroines like sisters Williams, Simone Biles and Megan Rapinoe. But what do we know about this grueling fight for equality and the right to become champions?
Ancient female athletes
Commonly, women of the past didn’t participate in sports. However, in ancient Greece, there were sporting women. In Odyssey, Homer mentions Odysseus being woken up by the sounds of a princess and her handmaidens playing ball. During that time in Greece, women were allowed to enjoy running races and equestrian events (even participate in the Olympics in horse riding and jumping). In Sparta, women practiced the same sports as men—wrestling, javelin throwing, running races, discus throwing, etc.
In Victorian times, women were perceived as gentle and frail, so physical activity was discouraged. According to Victorian myths, sports would harm women’s reproductive organs, making them unattractive to men. Another myth was that women had a limited amount of energy, and they should save it for childbirth and motherhood instead of sports and education.
Even with these frankly stupid prejudices present, the late 1800s and early 1900s saw a lot of athletic clubs forming. The 1900 Olympics even had 22 women competing alongside men in sailing, croquet and equestrian sports. Tennis and lawn golf were designated as female events.
Fight for equality
The real sporting equality came with Alice Milliat. This woman born in 1884 in France believed that women can use sports to achieve better equality. She even went as far as to found an association, Fédération Sportive Féminine Internationale (FSFI), which would fight for more opportunities for women in the Olympics. FSFI organized the first Women’s Olympic Games in Paris in 1922. This competition has women competing in events like the 1000-meter race, shot put and many other physically strenuous events. This strong increase in women’s sports aligns perfectly with the first wave of feminism, which was fighting for equal voting rights and equal property opportunities for women.
While in the past 30 years, women’s sport not only became more accepted, but it truly blossomed. Not only are there equal events for men and women, but women are gracing more and more covers for fitness magazines and bodybuilding editions. These magazines aim to show women’s abilities and skills, while also telling the story that women can be strong and feminine at the same time. It’s not a surprise to see buff ladies with lush hair extensions for ponytail posing on the cover. Finally, we’ve all figured out that women can have it all—skills, results, figure, strength and feminine grace (if they want, of course).
But, it’s important to remember that the fight for complete equality is not over still. Until the late 90s, women who performed well in the Olympics were subjected to gender confirmation tests. And even the International Association of Athletic Federations required a test for high testosterone for women in 2011. On the other hand, there was no testing needed for male participants.
The 2012 Olympics
These games were iconic for many reasons, but the one we’re interested in today is the ratio of female vs male athletes. For the first time, all countries that participated sent both men and women athletes to the games. The USA did a historical thing in the 2012 Olympics, where for the first time ever, they sent more female than male athletes to compete. Also, out of their 159 medals won, 100 went to women participants—it was the historic Games for women.
The numbers might be getting better, but misogyny and endocentric systems still rule over the world of sports for women. Prejudice is still visible in the lack of coverage and sponsorship for female athletes. And many still think that women’s reproductive organs and cycles limit their athletic abilities.
In the last few years, pay inequality is also a subject present in the media, since women were earning lower wages than their male counterparts in respectable organizations like WNBA, Hockey associations, Wimbledon and the World Surf League’s Championship Tour. Women will undoubtedly continue to fight to achieve equal rights to show off their athletic capabilities.
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.