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Changes in Gender Inequality in Canada in Sports Essay

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Society expects males and females to fulfill specific gender roles – “attitudes and activities that society links to each sex”. Males are expected to be ambitious, strong, independent and competitive, which “encourages males to seek out positions of leadership and play team sports”. And females are expected to be deferential, emotional, attractive, quiet and obedient, “supportive helpers and quick to show their feelings” (Macionis and Gerber, 2011:300). These traditional stereotypes have been challenged and confronted by many women and feminists, and in this paper we are going to look specifically in sports and physical activities.

My thesis statement will be that gender inequality has been decreasing over the last 100 years. Women were slowly starting to participate in all sports which were considered to be masculine, and were only available for men to enjoy.

One of the first factors which could be linked to the emancipation of women in sport in late 1800 – early 1900s is the safety bicycle. It not only caused a revolution in women’s fashions: women’s sportswear was finally being designed to accommodate more vigorous activity, but “was also a “vehicle” through which women broke with traditions and asserted their independence” (Hall and Richardson, 1982: 32-33).

Slowly more organizations, sports clubs and tournaments were opening up for women. In the early 1900s, women started to participate in most forms of sport, but were still prohibited from activities there body contact was possible.

Period after the World War I and throughout the 1920s was really exciting for sportswomen in Canada and their fans. “This often called the “golden age” of women’s sports, it was time when popular team sports like basketball, ice hockey, and softball became sufficiently organized to hold provincial and Dominion championships; when the best athletes, especially in track in field, began to complete internationally and eventually at the Olympic Games; and when women leaders and administrators took control of women’s sports, claiming they knew what was the best for girls and women, although the advice of the man was still needed” (Hall, 2002: 42). In the 1928 Canadian women have joined Olympics in Amsterdam for the first time for the track and field competition.

In the mid 1930s “depression tightened its grip on Canada and the were signs that the Golden Age was over. Reactionary attitudes towards athletic competition for females was taking hold; commercialized professional sport for men was on the rise, meaning that men’s sports were given priority of access to public facilities. Spectators were drawn away from the women’s games to the exclusively male professional sports like ice hockey, football, baseball; it became increasingly difficult to find sponsors for women’s amateur sport” (Hall and Richardson, 1982: 36).

World War II took its toll on both men’s and women’s sports. Although many of leagues continued to exist, nobody took athletics seriously. Olympic Games did not start again till 1948. ” Post war conservatism has been described by Betty Friedan: women should desire “no great destiny than to glory in their own femininity”. Careers or commitments outside of their home were unnecessary for their personal fulfillment and undesirable for the satisfactory performance of the housewife role” (Lenskyj, 1986: 83)

For the duration of war women were occupying men’s jobs and were laid off as soon as men returned home to resume the rightful place. It was still alright for women to participate in “beauty producing” sports like figure skating, synchronized swimming, or gymnastics and as long as they looked pretty and feminine on the tennis, badminton courts, golf courses, and ski hills, they were not criticized. But women athletes which were “sweating on the basketball courts, softball pitches, ice hockey rinks, and the cinder tracks were suspect, their femininity continually questioned” (Hall, 2002: 109).

Participation in school, university and community sporting programs however, was hardly likely to pose a threat to femininity. Basketball continued for the most part to be played by girl’s rules. Softball, an already simplified version of baseball, was in some cases was modified further for girls and women.

In the 1960s not only women’s femininity was being questions but also their sexuality. In the 1966 the first official “sex tests” were introduced, with three gynecologists visual examination to confirm that athletes genital sex was, in fact female. “The introduction of sex tests coincided with significant advances for women in terms of their participation at the Olympic Games, with number of them increasing dramatically throughout the 1960s and 1970s.” For example at the summer Olympics, the 800 meter running was reintroduced in the 1960s. Women’s volleyball, the first team event for women was introduced in1964, along with pentathlon and 400 meter individual medley, swimming event.

The 1968 Olympics in Mexico City six more swimming events were introduced and in the 1972 at Munich, the 1500 – meter run, 4×400 meter track relay, and kayak slalom were introduced. So the number of women on Canada’s Olympic team has increased from 11.30 to 22.6 per cent for the Summer Olympic between 1960 and 1972, and from 21.4 to 38.3 per cent for the Winter Olympic Games during the same period. Sex testing at the Olympics originally was called “femininity control” and was trying to determine who was genetically female, because prior to that where has been a lot of men who were trying to pose as women, which was only found out after the fact and also women athletes were becoming more “masculine”, therefore it had to be proved that they were actually females (Hall, 2002: 153 -159).The sex testing did not stop until the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano.

By the mid-1970 all across Canada parents started noticing that their daughters were not being treated the same way as their sons when it came to recreational and sporting opportunities by the late 1970s there has been a lot of sports related complaints of sex discrimination. The majority of these cases were involving young girls who wished to play on all male sports teams. The main value of these human rights cases was to bring public interest, concern and “pressure to bear on eliminating unequal, sex discriminatory sport and recreation programs” (Hall, 2002: 163)

In March 1981 Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport(CAAWS) was established. It started providing women athletes with funding and support. And finally “in 1982 women were granted equal protection and equal benefit of the law in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms” (Macionis and Gerber, 2011: 305).

Beginning of the 1990s in the most areas of organizational life including sports, has been a subtle shift from “equality” to “equity”. “Gender equity is the principle and practice of fair and equitable allocation of resources and opportunities for both females and males. This eliminates discriminatory practices that prevent the full participation of either gender” (Larkin and Baxter, 1993: 4)

In the past decade Canadian women are participating almost in all sports on competitive levels. “ In 1998, in Nagano, Japan, women’s hockey was an official Olympic sport for the first time, and world of Canadian women’s hockey changed forever.

The game that originated in Canada had become part of our collective identity, continues to be our most popular sport and it is now played by women – legitimately!” (Macionis and Gerber, 2011:320) Canadian women Hockey team has won Olympic gold medal 3 times in a row: 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, 2006 Olympics in Turin, and 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. Their achievements have been absolutely amazing. They have showed that they force to be reckoned with. They actually have done better than Canadian male Olympic team.

In this 2012 Olympics Games in London, England for the first time women’s boxing is going to be introduced. And there has been controversy of women should wear shorts or skirts. The Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA) requested that female boxers wear skirts so that would make them more elegant – on the trial basis – at the European Championships and for permanent use in the Olympics. One of Canadian boxers Elizabeth Plank, told Teddy Katz of CBC radio sports news this January: “Forcing women to wear skirts, I think, it’s sexism”. Eventually AIBA have decided to have optional for female athletes to decide if they want to wear skirts or shorts. (CBC Sports)

As we are able to see gender stereotypes and discrimination in sports still exists. Women still do not get as much Media coverage as men do. They are still making smaller salaries than their male counterparts. Women athletes still have to look beautiful and attractive or they might be stereotyped as being lesbian, butch or masculine, if there are not.

What about the future? It seems that future for Canadian women athletes seems bright. There are much more opportunities that are coming up for women in sports, for example in the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014, Russia – the addition of women’s ski jumping has been approved. Women are going to keep fighting for the equal rights to participate in sports events without being criticized to be unfeminine. Daniels (2009) argues that femininity –masculinity divide still prevents women athletes to be taken seriously in their sports. And the best would be to embrace the polygendered way of being, which emphasizes the similarities between women and men, and that way female athletes will be given the chance to achieve their full sporting potential and be judged for performance, rather than their appearance.


1. Baxter, Betty and Larkin, Jackie.1993. Towards Gender Equity for Women in Sport. ON: CAAWS.

2. CBC Sports, Feb 19, 2002 (http://www.cbc.ca/sports/story/2012/02/19/sp-aiba-boxing-skirts.html)

3. Daniels, Dayna B. 2009. Polygendered and Ponytailed. Toronto: Women’s Press.

4. Hall, Ann M. 2002. The Girl and the Game”. ON: Broadview Press Ltd.

5. Hall, Ann M and Richardson, Dorothy A. 1982. Fair Ball. Ottawa: The Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

6. Lenskyj, Helen.1986. Women, Sport and Sexuality. Toronto: Women’s Press.

7. Macionis, John J and Gerber, Linda, M. 2011. Sociology.7th ed. Toronto: Pearson Canada Inc.

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