Christine Nordhagen told us a story. The women’s world champion wrestler says a title appropriately named “Ms. Lutte” is given to the prettiest female wrestler at certain tournaments. At the European Championships in France a couple of years ago, a Polish competitor won the award and with it a white poodle. That was the grand prize.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Nordhagen. “This shows the mentality of the people organizing our sport.
“The men vote on the prettiest girl,” she added with disappointment. “It has nothing to do with skill.”
With changing times and changing attitudes, more girls are involved in sport, more grow up to be fit women and many, like Nordhagen, compete at the highest level. But as the “Ms. Lutte”
example shows, there is still a long way to go.
Sport is pure. Sport doesn’t hate, discriminate or deny opportunity. People and their attitudes cause inequality, and women’s athletics is an area where inequalities prevail. For example, any volleyball fan can point out the difference between regulation shorts for men and women. Women’s shorts are much skimpier and tighter than men’s, and the reason holds as much water as a sieve. It’s just one subtle distinction in how society views men’s and women’s athletics.
“Longer shorts are associated with toughness and aggressiveness,” said Kinesiology professor Monika Schloeder. “The short shorts convey a certain helplessness. Really, the underlying subtleness is that media sells its sports-casting as an emotional outlet and it’s esthetic to see more flesh.
“We’ve made some improvement in the media but we still see the women portrayed in a passive stance, not grimacing in pain or exhausted,” she added. “Most males identify [female athletes] with sexuality, not competition.”
Aside from media portrayal, women also have problems with opportunity. While circumstances have improved, there is still ground to gain.
“You have a top-notch [female] high school player, [who] goes to university, and then what?” asked Schloeder. “They can maybe go overseas. But that takes the role model away and doesn’t bring her home.”
“Exposure is a problem,” agreed Carolyn Whitburn, head coach of the wrestling and rugby squads at Bishop Carroll High School in Calgary. “It would be great to see women’s sports get the press they deserve.”
Another of Whitburn’s hopes is more funding for amateur athletics. However, she’s unsure if the money will ever be equal for the two sexes, even if the athletes compete at the same level. There is still more emphasis on male athleticism in our society and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change. But there have been strides in how women view sport.
“It’s cool to be fit now,” said Nordhagen. “We have way more opportunities than before.”
But opportunities are not everything, especially when the media still looks at female athletes in old-fashioned ways. Anna Kournikova is a tennis player, not a model. But it’s Kournikova who gets airtime ahead of more deserving female athletes.
“Just compare the talent of [Martina] Hingis versus Anna,” smiled Schloeder.
“What [Anna] is good for is taking pictures,” added Whitburn.
Kournikova cashes in on her looks, which begs the important question: will women’s sport ever be separated from the confines of femininity?
“No,” answered Schloeder. “It’s against the natural instincts of mankind. Just look at Jackie Joyner Kersee versus Florence Griffith Joyner. FloJo has the nails, the sexual persona, but who’s the better athlete?”
A more serious approach towards female athletes in the media would be appreciated, but it’s hard for the press to resist focusing on attractive women.
“[Female athletes] are not doing this to be cute athletes. They’re doing this to be good athletes,” said Whitburn.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the way our world looks at women’s sport. Just look at the poodle-winning “Ms. Lutte.” The title is still around, and that’s maybe the best indication of how much women in sports still have to achieve in terms of equality.