Women throughout history have made extreme progress in expanding their rights and freedoms. They have also made it a point to prove that they are as equal as men through their careers, lives, and their athletic abilities. Women have come a long way in becoming well- rounded athletes, but the discrimination is still present. Although they have substantiated themselves in many ways, women are still viewed as inferior to men, especially as athletes.
Women have always participated in extracurricular activities, and some even in sports. However, because women were the members in the households who cooked, cleaned, and took care of the family, they were limited to their activities. Women were to be seen and not heard, or so men thought.
Women were present in sports, as far back as 1500 b.c. Here they did such things as fight bulls and wrestle other women. But it was not until the 1930s that women really began to present their athletic abilities to society. From that decade on, women have been slowly increasing their interest and participation in sports.
Amelia Earhart, in 1932, flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean. This helped dispel the myths of the lack of bravery, confidence, skill, and competitiveness that society believed women lacked. Earhart paved a path for women who wanted to prove they possessed the abilities to become athletes. Although Amelia Earhart helped in the progression of female athletics, there was no better female athlete than Mildred Babe Didrikson (Rader 207).
She was the first superstar in womens sports, and the greatest multiple sport athlete. Didrikson excelled not only in one of the sports she participated in, but in all of them. She held records in every sport she played, and even the sports she did not participate in professionally, she overshadowed most athletes. For example, she was known to be able to punt a football 75 yards, bowl a 170 average, and in short distance, swim world record times (Rader 213). A journalist once asked Didrikson, Is there anything at all you dont play? A quick-witted Didrikson promptly answered, Yeah, dolls (Cahn 117).
Among the records she held, Didrikson surpassed American, Olympic, and world records in five track and field events in only two years. In a matter of three hours, she won six gold medals and broke four world records. As a golfer she won 34 of the 88 tournaments she entered. She led her Basketball team, the Golden Cyclone, to the AAU national championship in 1931. However, despite making a name for herself, as well as a way for other emerging female athletes, she was criticized for her lack of femininity. Because of her short hair, dislike of wearing make-up and dresses, her tomboy appearance, and her candid speech, there was much controversy about the effects of athletics on females. This started the vicious circle of discrimination towards female athletes that is still present today.
Helen Stephens, the 1936 American Olympic winner of the 100-meter dash, was another prominent athlete who was apparently admired by many, including Adolf Hitler. According to a French historian of track and field he found that Hitler was, apparently subdued by the virile beauty (Guttmann 188). Hitler gave her his autograph. However, this was not the attitude of Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games. His last words on the subject of womens sports was, Let women do all the sports they wish—but not in public (Guttmann 188). And so the discrimination continued.
In 1947, the All-American Girls Baseball League was started with the hopes of dispelling the myths of there being no feminism in womens sports. Thus, the girls wore skirts, make-up, long hair, and had to dress and act feminine even off the baseball field. This proved to work in the short term, as the league existed for twelve years, however, in the long term, it promoted womens baseball as a spectacle of feminine nice girls who could play like a man (Cahn 141). So, as a result, it widened the gap between athleticism and feminism.
Among other influential female athletes throughout history were Althea Gibson, Wilma Rudolph, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Nancy Lopez, and Olga Korbut.Althea Gibson was the first African-American woman to win at Wimbledon, breaking the all white-barrier in womens sports. Wilma Rudolph was the first African-American female Olympic hero. She also overcame polio and enabled others to face racism in athletics, as well as in life. Billie Jean King first challenged the publics view of female athletes being less able than male athletes to deal with the responsibilities that athletics brought. She also first brought womens rights and feminism into the world of sports.Martina Navraltilova was the first female athlete to openly acknowledge her sexual preference and to challenge the myth attached to female athletes about the use of their sexual preferences to belittle their achievements, and deny their rights as athletes. Nancy Lopez was the first prominent Hispanic female athlete. Olga Korbut became known by her Olympic coverage of womens sports (Womens 2).
The women previously mentioned established the foundation for the progression of the athletes known and admired today. Since those athletes broke ground, many barriers were overcome in modern womens athletics. For instance, many more age, sex and race barriers were broke, as well as the combining of male and female athletes into many sports.
Florence Griffith Joyner and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, sister-in-laws, helped in the emergence of African-American female athletes. Florence Joyner, formerly known as Flo-Jo, set world records in the 1988 Olympics, and there she also won three gold medals. She also holds the notable distinction of being the fastest woman in the history of track and field (Lifetime 1). Flo-Jo unfortunately died in 1998, at the age of 38 from was thought to be heart-related complications.
Much like her sister-in-law, Joyner-Kersee excelled as an African-American female athlete. She is a two-time world champ in both long jump and heptathlon. She won two heptathlon gold medals at the 1992 and 1998 Olympics, and a long jump gold medal at the 1988 games. Joyner-Kersee has been the only woman so far to receive The Sporting News Man of the Year award. She has been inspiration for many black athletes, as well as female athletes of all races.
In 1997 and 1998, Tara Lipinski set a new world record and at the same time broke yet another barrier for female athletes. She became the youngest female world champion at the age of only fourteen years old. And then the following year she captured an Olympic gold medal in Japan. In the same year, the U.S. Womens hockey team debuted in the Olympic games. Out of everyones expectations, the team brought home the gold medal. However, this was not the first time women had appeared in ice hockey. Manon Rheaume became the first woman to play professional hockey. She tended goal for the International Leagues Atlanta Knights for two games. Although her professional career was short-lived, she made a mark in history, proving that women could compete on the same level as men.
Many other female athletes have also made their marks in history. Some will be recognized, while others names will never be known. In spite of that, through any female athletes eyes, every woman who contributed to the overcoming of the obstacles is notable, and worthy of praise and admiration. If women see how far female athletics have come along throughout history, they will realize how very important is to become active in sports. Not only are athletics great for your physical health, but they are advantageous for your mental health as well. And as long as more and more women begin to participate in sports instead of sitting in the bleachers, the more likely female athletes are to be excepted and respected by both men and women. Thus, the circle of prejudice and discrimination will continue to dwindle, and hopefully, soon enough, no longer exist.
Works Cited Page
Cahn, Susan. Coming on Strong: Gender and Sexuality in Twentieth-Century Womens Sports.New York: The Free Press, 1994.
Guttmann, Allen. Womens Sports: A History. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.
It wouldnt have happened without her. www.lifetimetv.com. Lifetime Entertainment Services, 1999.
Rader, Benjamin G. American Sports. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1996.
The Most Influential Achievements in Womens Sports. http://womenshistory.about.com. Womens Sports Foundation.