Short History of Women’s Sports


Nowadays, many sports companies, clubs and federations try to engage female audiences and promote women’s sports. Because of that, there is a lot of debate around these complex dynamics of gender identity and sexuality. Female professional athletes are frustrated frustrated by the lack of equality with male professionals, in terms of TV exposure , pay, prize money and sponsorship, resulting to unfair treatment.

Though it seems tough today, there has been huge progress comparing it to the past, where women were not allowed to play sports. In the 1800s in the Victorian era, where Britain was a great power the first sport clubs and federations began to form. Women during that period were not allowed to play, because of the so-called “porcelain doll femininity”, which was insinuating that women are too fragile and delicate creatures to play (this is also portrayed in the paintings of that period).

In the late 1800s this attitude changed a little bit, women were allowed and encouraged to play some very gentile sports like golf, where they would not exert themselves, wearing always dresses in order not to show too much or be protected from the sun.

In the early 1900s women were allowed to play more sports like basketball, but with adapted rules, because women as it was referred above were considered delicate and fragile creatures. Women played basketball with 9 players in 3 different zones, 3 players on the one side of the court, 3 in the middle and 3 on the other side of the court, because women were considered too weak to run the whole court. Also, other rules were different like the one that women were not allowed to steal the ball from the opponent.

In the 20th century growth continued in women’s sports, especially in the 1920s, where the first female celebrities athletes started to appear. The first iconic female celebrity athlete was Gertrude Ederle an American swimmer, who was the first woman to cross the English Channel. Another more popular one was Mildred Didrikson Zaharias, or Babe Didrikson, a baseball player who hit the ball so hard that people compared her with Babe Ruth. For most people she is the greatest female athlete of the 20th century, with 2 gold medals in 1932 Olympics and many world records in various sports from swimming to gold and baseball. She was so great that she was facing a lot of criticism, because the world wasn’t ready for a female super athlete yet. The criticism was harsh, even questioning her sexuality, that’s why Mildred Didrikson tried to feminize her image by growing her hair longer, she started to wear make-up, she got married, she appeared in many magazines baking cookies and many more.

The last important period before today’s situation, was the period between the 1960s and 1970s. During this period the feminist movement took place demanding equal rights everywhere and this is the period in which women had a very forceful presence on sports. Of course this varied from country to country, but there was a general movement towards that direction, in the USA in 1972 the passed the Title IX law, in which women had equal rights to compete in sports. Also, in the Soviet Union women in sports were part of the communist propaganda machine allowing the USSR to showcase its superiority in sports over other countries). During the Cold War era favored women’s sports, producing female super athletes almost in every sport, especially in gymnastics.

What do you think about the present situation on women’s sports or the future women’s sports?