Sport and Gender - a Female Perspective

Back on the Ferry to Vancouver again today and the Olympic fever just seems to be growing. Doesn't hurt that our women won FOUR MEDALS yesterday. Spectacular and reminds me about how fortunate we are to live in a country that presents so many opportunities for women in sport. This in fact was the topic of conversation with two women and their four girls today, as my son and I sat on the ferry to Vancouver. They were concerned that Women's hockey wouldn't last in the Olympic Games. Wow, that would be a shame.

It seems to me that almost every sport has had the same challenge. When women first start playing, everybody complains it is not as competitive as the men's events and so on and so on. I heard it in rowing way back in 1988 . In that first Olympic Games I rowed in, the Women only rowed 1000m because there was fear that the women wouldn't be able to physically handle the race, that the length of time it would take for the women to get down the course would create problems in the race schedule, that the race itself would be boring to watch. All of these reasons seem ridiculous now, and yet there are still male athletes who believe their events are more competitive than women's. No matter what advances we see in our sport their remains a lingering attitidue that the men's events are premeir.

In certain events and sports there are far more men competing. This has a lot to do with the attitudes towards women around the globe. Sport is a place of empowerment for women, it gives women confidence, self-esteem and helps them believe anything is possible. There are many countries around the globe that would do anything to squash this kind of thinking. And then there are the muscles---when women pull on an oar, and sprint into a bobsleigh, and hurl themselves down mountains, they gain muscles, often big ones, which are seen in many cultures around the globe as unattractive. My mother had the same fear when she saw my sister and I squating weight by the hundreds in our makeshift gym in the furnace room. Girls, she ranted one day, you will lose your figure! Attitudes towards women's involvment in sport have a profound impact in girls participation in sport. If everything in a country's social fabric says that women shouldn't compete, that it is not attractive to be strong, that it is unfeminine to want to win: these countries will not produce female athletes competing at these games.

It was not long ago, that some of these same attitudes existed in Canada. As we watch the women win gold in hockey today (a little cocky but not much), let's celebrate how far women have come in our country and encourage and support other countries in supporting their women athletes so every girl can play!  --Silken