In the Western world, not only have men dominated the playing fields, but athletic qualities such as aggression, competitiveness, strength, speed, power, and teamwork have always been associated with masculinity.
Consequently, the controversy surrounding female athleticism introduced fundamental questions about what exactly was considered manhood and womanhood.
Would women engaging in a traditional male activity become more manlike?
Would they still aspire to become mothers, be considered attractive, find men attractive and desire feminine attire?
These are just some of the questions female athletes have had to challenge and endure and continue to do so over the years.
Nineteenth-century medical science characterized women as the physiologically inferior sex, weakened and ruled by their reproductive systems.
Formally educated doctors at the time, eager to secure their professional status took a special interest in women’s health problems and sought to emphasis women’s “poor health”. (Lol!)
Special negative interest was placed on women’s chronic fatigue, pain and illness, mood swings, and menstrual irregularities.
Experts at the time even theorized that the cyclical fluctuations of female physiology caused physical, emotional, and moral vulnerability and debilitation.
Even critics at the time believed that sports posed dangers to the female reproductive system and a loss of sexual control or perhaps even a loss of sexual desires altogether.
The above sentence I had to read a few times and even check the validity of the book, “Coming on Strong, Gender and Sexuality in Twentieth-Century Women’s Sport by Susan K. Cahn” where I received the information. Lol!
Susan K. Cahn has done a serious study of women in sports and at the time when the above-mentioned book was published in 1994 she was an assistant professor of history at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
I felt she effectively captured the challenge women faced on all fronts.
From the women who were being accused of being poor imitations of male athletes to the Athletic Directors, Coaches and Physical Education Teachers who were known for imposing constraints through dress codes, off-field behavior codes, and “girls’ rules” that limited physical contact and reduced the size of playing courts and fields.
Cahn even touched on the perceptions of sexual danger for women in sports and that such perceptions were fueled by widespread societal fears about female passions running “red hot” and becoming unleashed and out of control. (Lol!)
According to the library of Congress, during the 1928 and 1932 Olympics, critics objected to women’s high-level strenuous competition as physically and mentally injurious, they even attempted to eliminate track and field from regional and national events.
However, Betty Robinson, a Chicagoan who in 1928 won the first-ever Olympic women’s 100-meter sprint, thankfully ignored them.
By the 1930s, it was the “masculine” quality of track and field rather than its effect on women’s health that drew the most criticism.
Thank the Lord- Now I actual feel during my research that the criticism might actually have some merit because the initial objections were just too hilarious!
Further in my studies I learnt that African American interest in track and field and the growing tolerance towards women’s athletics set the stage for the emergence of black women’s track at the precise moment when the majority of white women and the white public rejected the sport as undignified for women.
African American women compiled their record of excellence while suffering the constraints of racial and gender discrimination.
However, despite these obstacles black women’s track and field survived and even thrived.
I’m very proud of my home country Jamaica and the wealth of talented athletes they have produced over the years.
Jamaican sprinter Elaine Thompson is one of the fastest women in the world and at 25, I believe we still haven’t seen anything yet!
I strongly believe she’s a force to be reckon with and truly epitomizes what our Caribbean young ladies can aspire to become like one day.
Many other beautiful and gifted athletes like Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Veronica Campbell-Brown, just to name a few, are actively forging ahead and creating wonderful examples of what an athletic woman can become, even though they are continuous scrutinized.
However, they must endure and show the world the enormous strength it takes to be a leader in the realm of sports that was once considered “just for men”
The 100m specialist Shelly-Ann first caught the world’s attention at the 2008 Olympic Games when she became the first Caribbean woman to win the 100m gold at the Olympics. At the time she was only 21 years old. Imagine that young ladies!
In 2012, she then successfully defended her 100m title, becoming the third woman to win two consecutive 100m gold medals again at the Olympics.
Then, after winning bronze at the 2016 Summer Olympics, she then became the first woman in history to win 100m medals at three consecutive Olympic Games.
She has also won seven World Championships gold medals across the 100m, 200m and 4X100 relay events.