On the Bench: Female athletes deserve respect

You run like a girl. You throw like a girl. You kick like a girl.

Regardless of gender, everyone who has ever stepped foot on a court, field or playground understands that having your athletic ability compared to anything remotely feminine is not a good thing.

One would think that equating femininity to a lack of coordination, strength and agility would be outdated by now. Women have repeatedly exhibited their athletic prowess for decades, yet, if anyone, regardless of age or gender, was asked to perform an athletic activity “like a girl,” they would give a weak, halfhearted effort.

Although our society has evolved from our historically rigid structure, stereotypes and gender roles still hinder our ability to take female athletes seriously. Generally speaking, boys are pushed by parents and peers to play sports. In clothing stores, clothes for boys from newborn to young adult sizes include images of footballs, basketballs and baseballs. The boys section in any furniture store primarily consists of references to all things athletic, be it a baseball bat lamp or sports team memorabilia. For boys, playing sports is not just a preferred hobby; it’s a socially valued expectation.

According to our society’s gender roles, a man determines his level of masculinity according to his athleticism and strength.  Women, on the other hand, have been historically pressured to be “lady-like” — dainty, delicate and well put together. Even though the sharp line between masculinity and femininity is starting to blur, female athletes are still neglected by sports fanatics and unrecognized for their athletic achievements. For example, almost anyone in South Florida can name at least five Miami Heat players, if not the whole roster, regardless of their level of familiarity with professional basketball. Knowledge about WNBA teams and players is not nearly as common. The WNBA Finals are currently major sports news, yet only a few know the names of the teams that played in the finals or even when the finals were.

“Feminine” is not synonymous with “frail” and “delicate,” especially in the world of sports. Mo’ne Davis, 13-year-old pitcher, dominated the Little League World Series as the only girl in the entire league. Game after game, she struck out male competitors and proved to the world that throwing like a girl is not a bad thing. Yet, regardless of her obvious talent and passion for baseball, Davis cannot continue to pursue baseball in high school, college or professionally because it is still considered a man’s sport. There are no high school, college or professional baseball teams — only softball, which is a different game entirely.

Here at NSU, our female athletes are seriously talented and could definitely give male athletes a run for their money. Our women’s basketball team is easily one of the most accomplished sports teams we have. Let’s be real: there are several female athletes here at NSU, in our state, in our country, even around the world who can play just as well as men, if not better.

“Throw like a girl” does not mean weak. “Run like a girl” does not mean dainty and slow. In reality, gender has absolutely nothing to do with athletic ability. I dare those who believe otherwise to play a basketball game against a female NSU basketball player, go head-to-head in a soccer game against our national girls’ soccer team, or even catch with 13-year-old Davis. It’s time we took gender out of sports and acknowledged athletes, male or female, on their athletic ability and their athletic ability alone.

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