There is a strong bias around athletic performance by gender as men are commonly viewed as professionals, while female participants are primarily considered as engaging in sports for fun. In many countries, professionals are mostly referred to using their surnames. However, there is evidence that gender determines how people perceive professionals according to Atir and Ferguson (2018). In their study, the authors reported that there is a gender bias on how we refer to professionals with men being referred to using their surnames while women more likely to be referred to using their first name. Which contributes to the bias that men are viewed as professionals unlike their women counterparts.
In addition to this bias, there are also interpretation errors when it comes to evaluating the performance of the different genders. Research conducted in the 90s showed that if a man fails in sports that is perceived as bad luck or low effort from his side, while if a woman fails that is perceived as lack of ability.
The attribute that women’s bodies are not as muscular as men’s, also comes with the perception that it’s difficult for them to perform at the same level, even though they compete with other women who commonly have similar body mass, and not against man. Yet, in the media, they are naturally expected to perform more miserably than men in a lot of games that require strength and speed, thereby attracting a smaller audience for female sports.
According to Cranmer et al. (2014), ESPN Sports, for example, dedicated more minutes covering male athletes than female athletes as a result of the above. The article reported that female athletes were awarded 29 minutes of media coverage compared to over 200 minutes of male coverage. The fact that women are underrepresented in sports broadcasting further reinforces how people view female athletes. Many viewers do not think women can play sports as well as men because they have rarely seen them play and have only heard about their accomplishments secondhand from the media.
Atir, S., & Ferguson, M. J. (2018). How gender determines the way we speak about professionals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(28), 7278-7283.
Cranmer, G. A., Brann, M., & Bowman, N. D. (2014). Male athletes, female aesthetics: The continued ambivalence toward female athletes in ESPN’s The Body Issue. International Journal of Sport Communication, 7(2), 145-165.
Green, T. (2021, April 9). Why Are Men’s Sports More Valued Than Women’s? Dolphin Media. https://judolphinmedia.com/22438/news/why-are-mens-sports-more-valued-than-womens/
Bodenner, C. (2015, June 9). Why Aren’t Women’s Sports as Popular as Men’s? The Atlantic; The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/06/women-and-sports-world-cup-soccer/395231/