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The Invisibility of Women In Sports

Many people know what it means to be ‘invisible’, to be present but not seen; to be concealed from public knowledge. But what if this affected over half of the world’s population, in numerous situations?


I want to open this article by saying that the invisibility of women in sports should be a discussion and an opportunity to shine light on some of our greatest athletes, heroes, and rule breakers. Whilst this is a very infuriating topic, I want to celebrate how many sportswomen challenge the status quo, and how we are changing lives through the power of sport.


As a woman who has practiced many sport types throughout my life, including football, swimming, and various winter sports, I’ve witnessed, firsthand, the disparities and challenges faced by female athletes. However, at the same time, it wouldn’t be fair to not point out that, because of these, I grew up with some of the most powerful role models in sports history.


To this day, still, there is an incredible sex data gap in sport and exercise research. Not to mention, the scarcity of health and safety research that considers women as a test subject. Today, women continuously remain significantly underrepresented in research, meaning that many results might only be applicable to one sex. This is a huge problem, as it can lead to major stress factors and longtime damage for female athletes who have been at the receiving end of negligence – both from research, and from brands. Serena Williams, for instance, is a tennis player who has loudly overcome the unfair gap time and time again. Others include the great Simone Biles in gymnastics, Megan Rapinoe in soccer, Naomi Osaka, Lindsey Vonn, and Allyson Felix to only mention a few.



From car racing safety procedures to basic equipment considerations such as football boots, women have been invisible for far too long. As Caroline Criado Perez writes in her book Invisible Women: Exposing data bias in a world designed for men, “Imagine a world where your phone is too big for your hand, where your doctor prescribes a drug that is wrong for your body, where in a car accident you're 47% more likely to be seriously injured, where every week the countless hours of work you do are not recognised or valued. If any of this sounds familiar, chances are you're a woman.”


Historically, and still to this day, car racing crash dummies have been modelled after male bodies, leading to safety features that are less effective for women. Plus, many sport equipment manufacturers not only produce limited sizes and styles for women, but many don’t even have a professional women’s line, leading to ill-fitting gear and increased risk of serious, long-term injury.



Ever heard of the ‘Pink Tax’?

Even financially, our professional athletes are being discriminated when it comes to clothing and equipment, from a very young age.


For example, women’s sports apparel and equipment is priced higher than men’s despite the being of similar, and sometimes worse, quality. A study in 2023 showed that women pay an average $2,300 more, for the same goods and services than men per year! As it turns out, consumer reports found that sporting essentials, such as antiperspirant, razors, and body wash directed at women —through packaging, description, or name — can cost up to 48% more than similar products for men. Not to mention the already-existing stress of body image and the toxic attitude or prejudice about sexuality. Even in sports apparel, there is a huge tendency to depict sportswomen as overly feminine, as a way to counter ‘hetero-negativism’, or 'unfemininity'.


There is also a large number of professional athletes who have been criticised about their open struggles with mental health. With professional basketball player DeRozan, saying "although I am encouraged by the number of people who have been coming forward about their mental health, an incredible stigma continues to be associated with mental illness, especially in sports. Despite the staggering statistics, mental health is a topic many shy away from in conversation and is not held to the same standard as physical health."


Surfing, amongst so many others, is another sport that has seen far too big of a divide for far too long. While men's surfing events dominate the spotlight and receive more significant sponsorships, women's competitions often struggle for recognition and equal pay. However, professional surfer Carissa Moore has been confronting discrimination and advocating for change since her early career. Her achievements and activism serve as a beacon of hope for female athletes worldwide.


So, as a society, let’s challenge these norms and advocate for equal representation and opportunities for women in sports. And as readers, let's be aware that girl and women athletes include straight, bisexual, and lesbian people, who might all like to see different kinds of images publicly. Role models can hugely help individuals who feel isolated and invisible to find strength and inspiration in pursuing their passions, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

 

It’s high time we shed a light on the invisible struggles faced by women and work towards creating a more equitable and inclusive athletic landscape for all.


Let’s hear it for our athletic heroes!

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