Spectating Gender Roles and Value Barriers

As a University of Michigan student and a sports fan I try to make it to as many Wolverine sporting events as possible.  In all, I project that I have been to over 15 or 20 sporting events in my first semester at the University.  However, two specific sporting events struck me when Mika talked about gender, and some of the barriers it carries with.  They were a men’s soccer game (vs Detroit on 10/20/14) and a women’s field hockey game (vs Maryland on 9/26/14).  Though they are two completely different sports, it was easy to see how gender affected the way both games played out.

Michigan Soccer, via flickr

For starters, gender roles were evident in the physical nature of both games.  The men’s soccer game was by far more physical than the women’s field hockey game.  Although soccer is considered by most sports fans to be a less physically aggressive game than field hockey, it was in fact the soccer players who played more aggressive.  The men were trying to cleat each other on every play and were pushing each other around throughout all 120 minutes of the game.  Although, this type of contact is illegal according to soccer rules, the referees were letting them play and not penalizing anyone.  In addition, to the “in the moment” contact their were many instances of after the whistle violence and there was even at one point a small fight between players from Michigan and Detroit, only resulting in two minor penalties.  I was astonished by the physicality I was seeing, as I usually think of soccer as a generally low contact sport.

While I was surprised by the physicality of the soccer game, I was also surprised at the lack of physicality in the field hockey game.  I had never watched a field hockey game before, but I had heard from multiple people that it was I very violent sport, especially at the women’s level.  I had heard stories of girls hitting each other with the sticks and the rock hard ball pelting girls and leaving them with multiple bruises.  However, when I watched the game I was surprised by the lack of physicality; it seemed as if every time a girl made even the slightest contact with another girl the referee blew the whistle to call a penalty.  In addition, the way the girls were dressed diffused any aspect of physicality they wore skirts, some even wore heavily protective face guards.  Overall, the soccer game was much more physical than the field hockey game.

Michigan’s Women’s Field Hockey Team, via Wikimedia Commons

The fact that the soccer game was much more physical than the, anticipated, field hockey game bothered me for weeks.  Was it that men are just tougher than women?  However, after learning about value barriers, I can confidently say that this is what caused the games to be played in this manner.  We have a value barrier that women’s sports cannot be as physical as mens sports because they are socially seen as not as tough or not as strong.  Thus these values cause the referees to blow the whistle when women make slight contact, but hold the whistle when men make contact.  It is what makes the rules that women must wear extra padding and protective gear in sports, while men go full commando.

2 thoughts on “Spectating Gender Roles and Value Barriers

  1. Men’s and women’s sports are very different. I do not necessarily think men are more skilled than women or necessarily tougher per say, but the differences both athletically and mentally are sizable.

    Perhaps men are more athletic and a bit more tough, but I think that is a stereotype made by society; men are tougher in different ways. Additionally, women aren’t supposed to be tough like men are. While they may not be as tough or as gritty per say, they do bring other things to the table.

    This might sound cliche, but as an athlete, I appreciate women’s sports because have a good idea of how much work it took for them to get to compete athletically for like Michigan.


  2. This article really addresses the inherent problems present in how women’s sports are viewed by society. The idea that men are tougher than women is definitely a stereotype made by society and because it was made by society, it should be able to be changed by them. Just the fact that women playing field hockey and other sports like lacrosse wear skirts is one way society has made a distinction between women’s and men’s teams. Why should women wear skirts when playing an athletic sport when men wear shorts? The type of clothing female athletes wear should not influence the opinions formed about their sport, however, it clearly has some impact. As stated in this post, women’s sports are less physical than men’s sports. From my experience as a female athlete, women can be just as physical as men and just as tough and athletic and they should not have to work harder to be noticed. They may be smaller in physical size, but this should not be a reason that society thinks they do not have as much athleticism. Just because an individual is a woman should not in any way influence how they are viewed in an athletic event and should not limit the amount of physicality they are allowed to bring to the game.


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