a guest blog article by Jim Gosciniak (student, world citizen)
Sports culture has been a male-dominated realm for much of the past as women were historically limited from assuming the roles that men played. Thus the culture also entailed certain behavioral characteristics in athletes which reflect a complete rejection of any feminine qualities since to play a sport is seen as a common source for a young person to develop socially and psychologically into a man. This is still the common perception of what the ideal athlete should display: the number of female athletes gives the culture presently a diversity in its individuals that rivals the traditional and still contemporary perceptions that sports are made by men and for men. The changing in the culture now reflect more equality between males and females and “the number and variety of such structural changes increase as the institutions within which we live become more embracing and more intricately connected with one another” (Mills, 3). The ways of the culture of sports is to degrade any thoughts or actions considered not masculine; therefore homosexuality is often attacked and used as a playful or harmful method of communicating. That the culture now is including more women and homosexual individuals makes it essential that people reevaluate their perceptions of the normal sports athlete.
Biology plays a large role as to why males are in general more prone to athletics and develop into comparatively larger physiques. When reviewing the early life of mankind it appeared that the gender roles were set based on the need for survival, for example males were the hunters while women tended to be less muscular and more nurturing than aggressive as males they had to be in order to come back with food. The biological uniqueness from individual to individual however explains why some women are larger and have more muscle mass than some men as well. As a result of biological traits there developed social traits which held with it the behaviors and thought processes that solidified the role of sports and displays of athleticism in the development of manhood. There are still alive today cultural practices that involved the hunting and killing of an animal as an initiation for a young man to make the transition into manhood. The biology of the human body renders an explanation for the discrepancy between men and women in terms of hormones; testosterone which is much higher in men than women is responsible for advanced muscle development and also a quicker predisposition for anger and aggression. Estrogen which is in much higher levels in women is responsible for more dynamic emotions and feelings of interconnectedness. Despite the biological facts women still are just as capable as men are at making it into the realm of sports though stereotypes about women in sports oftentimes degrade the accomplishments of female athletes since they are held up to a standard set my males in the historically male dominated category.
To not be strong and manly while participating in a sport is to not be completely a man according to the sports culture. Homosexuality has long been a punching bag for male athletes to degrade; “homophobia and misogyny were the key bonding agents among male athletes, serving to construct a masculine personality that disparaged anything considered “feminine” in women, in other men, or in oneself” (Messner, 49). But is being masculine really a requirement to be successful at a sport? Recently, several professional athletes have taken the plunge and admitted that they were homosexuals. These men that made it to the pinnacle of athletic accomplishment all along were not the stereotypical heterosexual burly male but rather had a much more unique and complicated story than what is generally expected of them. The sporting world places immense pressure on men to perform to their highest capability and it is expected that they neglect nothing in order to defeat their opponent: dominance and triumph are the keys to strive for and a lack of an inner drive to go out and take it is considered unmanly. However the rise in the homosexual athlete, and the growth in women’s athletics, should be realized and interpreted closely as counterexamples to the traditional stereotypes that exclude and degrade women and put unnecessary pressure on men.
Messner, Michael A. “Sport and Gender Relations: Continuity, Contradiction, and Change.” Beacon Press. (1992). pp. 48-55.
Mills, C. Wright. 2000 (1959). The Sociological Imagination: 40th Anniversary Edition. Oxford University Press.