When I look at an athlete, all I see is an individual who strives for greatness. Someone who pushes their body to perform exceptional tasks, and ultimately accomplishes a triumphant goal. As a young kid, I assumed that was generally the same perspective everyone had. Over time and through various experiences, it was hard to accept that not all athletes are treated the same way. It was difficult to process that gender is the divide that dictates societal perceptions of athletic greatness.
As a fifth-year varsity volleyball player at Acadia, I had the opportunity to write a thesis. I decided very early on that I wanted to write a thesis on gender inequality in sport at Acadia. My first interaction with gender bias in sport came when I was in the fourth grade, when I was directly excluded from playing soccer with my friends at recess because some little boy walked up to me and said, “because you are a girl.”
After learning about this athletic bias from academics, the media, or even from first hand experiences, I knew this was an area I wanted to expose. As Acadia was a huge part of my life, I knew that if there were issues of inequality present, I wanted to unveil them and raise awareness for all athletes at the school. My ultimate goal was to present an opportunity for Acadia Athletics to represent something more than championship level teams: equality and respect.
For my thesis, I wanted to look into the history of sport and recognize where issues of inequality grew. I found that throughout history, men and women were fundamentally differentiated based on their sex, that through scientific classifications, men and women were inherently different. This created the illusion that men were more physically capable than women of accomplishing tasks, and any woman with a dominant personality or superior skill was cast aside. Even being a woman with an interest in sport shook the very foundation of societally expected femininity, ultimately leading to the impression of overall inferiority. Although these views represent a very old frame of thought, the underlying bias has translated into current day platforms that impact people’s interpretations of athleticism. This can be seen in the media when female tennis players are asked to twirl and show off their uniform, compared to male hockey players who are asked about their pre-game routine. This can also be seen in the comparison of the financial compensation female athletes earn, compared to their professional male counterparts.
Gender bias in sport is a known issue. What I wanted to discover is whether or not this unfortunate bias has been established within the foundation of Acadia Athletics. In my study, I conducted interviews with female athletes, as well as administrative staff members. To gain a larger understanding of Acadia Athletics as a whole, I sent a survey out to all athletes, with 73 total participants. Fortunately, I had one athletic representative from each varsity team partake in the survey. I eventually concluded that Acadia Athletics had succumbed to the greater gender bias in sport in relation to double standards, financial support, and media coverage.
The gender bias and double standards were displayed mostly in the treatment and privileges given to male athletes over female athletes. Many female participants emphasized their frustration with feeling of lesser value compared to their male counterparts, whether it was through having less than optimal field times, having fewer Acadia bus travel benefits, or having less respect regarding their team’s overall equipment management. The majority of female participants in the survey felt this was a significant issue, while the majority of male participants didn’t note this as an issue.
Media coverage was another significant factor supporting the notion of athletic gender bias at Acadia. Many female athletes reflected on past experiences where their team had seen little or even zero recognition on the school’s social media platforms. Even in the visual representation of online promotion, some female teams noted not feeling the same support that other male teams received based on how they were promoted.
Finally, financial support was also an issue recognized in this study. Although there are certain systems in place aimed at helping raise funds for women in sport, many female athletes recognized the additional work they had to put in to raise money for their own sports team, unlike the male teams, whether this was in relation to funds for new equipment, locker rooms, or money for travel.
Ultimately, the presence of gender inequality was found within Acadia Varsity Athletics. However, my study did show signs of growth towards equitable treatment with athletes. For example, in the weight room, everyone is pushed to become their best athletic self regardless of societal standards of masculinity or femininity. Financially, our administrative team is working to make the athletic scholarship range equal for male and female athletes. As well, there is an event every two years at Acadia called “Women in Sport,” which aims to raise awareness for female representation and equality in sport.
Acadia is an institution that strives for greatness and has the potential to be at the forefront of innovation towards gender equality in sport. Although there are certain issues of gender inequality within Acadia Athletics, I am a firm believer that with foundational changes, more can be accomplished towards propelling gender equality in sport forward. I believe taking larger strides towards gender equality in sport can have a lasting impact so that future generations of girls can successfully play any sport without having anything standing in their way.
Sarah Ross ’18 is a former member of the Acadia Women’s Volleyball team