by Katie Poor, Intern,
National Women’s Law Center
When is a soccer team more than a soccer team? Well, in my opinion, always. Having written my senior thesis on the role that sports played in integrating immigrants in France, I thought a lot about how equality among players on the field can translate to equality among individuals under the law. The idea that sports can result in social change has, I admit, been noted before (“Remember the Titans,” anyone?), but I still think that sports remain a powerful tool to look at larger social issues.
Applying this research to women in America was, admittedly, a bit complicated. Certainly, looking at gender in sport in America is very different than race in sport in France. Some of the big ideas, however, are the same. Equality on the field can still be seen as loose metaphor for equality in society. Title IX, though important, has not ended real discrepancies in the treatment of men’s and women’s sports. Girls represent half of the high school population, for example, but only receive 41% of the total sports opportunities. I think that when women are treated equally on the playing field, commanding equal resources and equal respect, this will represent more than a victory for women in sports. The ongoing struggle for equality in this country is paralleled by the fight of female athletes – that is to say, we’ve come a long way, but we’re not there yet.
A more personal reason makes writing about sports for women important to me, and that is because I see sports as inextricably linked to self-image. I, as many (dare I say most?) women of my age, have always struggled with body image. I don’t think that this experience is particularly exceptional, and many young women can lose sight of the power of their accomplishments in their desire to be valued for their appearance. Part of the power of sports, in my opinion, is that it allows women, especially young women, to see their bodies as functional, rather than purely decorative. It is this important shift in self-perception that makes sports for women so personally impactful.