In recent years, women’s sport has been slowly gaining momentum in the mainstream media with increased coverage.
Women are finally regarded as sporting legends, paving the way and inspiring the next generation of female athletes. Young girls everywhere have sporting role models to look up to, and there’s a new sense of positivity around women achieving successful sporting careers…
Which leads to the question – why are we still pushing girls out of sports as soon as they hit puberty?
Eleanor Glen, is our newest writer at SW/S. She shares her journey in sports and discusses the disadvantages of being a young woman in sports.
I grew up as a very active girl and immediately took an interest in sports of all kinds at a young age, from dance to athletics and even rugby, there’s not much I haven’t had a go at, however, my main sport was figure skating, where I would go on to represent both Great Britain and Scotland between the ages of 13 and 15. I stopped skating at 16 after 10 years in the sport for a multitude of reasons – ranging from injury and financial issues to prioritising school work and mental health issues. This meant that eventually I also ended up uninvolved with the sport when approaching my late teens.
According to the BBC, most girls give up sports before their late teens. In recent studies, it was found that more than 50 per cent of girls between 12-16 aren’t involved in any kind of sport whatsoever.
This is completely disproportionate to their male counterparts, the majority of whom are involved in sports. There are many important discussions to be had about why young women make the decision to give up sports so young.
Issues from lack of opportunities to menstrual health, however, it should also be discussed that the subconscious biases towards female athletes as they get older, lead to discouragement, loss of support and a loss of confidence that eventually leads to women being pushed out of sporting communities altogether.
Coming from a sporting background, I have experienced first-hand the change in attitudes among peers, coaches, teachers and other adults around my early teens.
I was a competitive figure skater for a decade, with positive prospects in the sport. As well as this I was also incredibly active at school, competing in county athletics and football between the ages of seven and 12.
I remember being embarrassed about the way my achievements, especially in skating, were celebrated at school. Every time I finished on the podium at a competition or moved up a level I was made to stand up at assembly with boys and girls alike who had all achieved in their sport.
That’s not to mention the times that I’d been on a winning relay team or had done something at school that also constituted the same reward. At that point in time, it didn’t matter if you were a wrestler or a ballet dancer, male or female, everyone was worth encouragement, because you never know ‘we may see you in the Olympics one day’.
As unrealistic as that was, it was still the same level of support that the boys in my class would get for equal achievements. So it is easy to imagine how confusing it was for myself and so many other girls when suddenly you had to start being sensible when being a professional at your sport was no longer an acceptable answer to ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ while at the same time, the boys would still have the same encouragement they’ve always had.
It’s simple to say that I lost encouragement, especially when my main sport (figure skating) is notoriously difficult to get into professionally. But I didn’t only lose the support for skating, I was actively told to stop trying different sports at school. I had initially tried other sports in school as a youngster I was encouraged to try everything – which I did.
And of course, I thrived.
That quickly changed as soon as I was around 13. From that point on I was clearly only interested in the same sports that I always had been to “get out of class” or “impress boys”. I found this change so difficult to comprehend and survive within the spaces that I’d always existed in, instead of being encouraged I was laughed at because I came from a sport that was far too feminine to be taken seriously, and anything I did achieve was diminished because I was ‘never realistically going to make it’.
How is any girl expected to try to continue within their sport when the adults they look up to are completely belittling their experiences due to blatantly sexist mindsets?
I know for a fact that I didn’t get up at half past four in the morning, five times a week to train for hours on end just to get away with not doing my homework and certainly not to impress other people- nor do the thousands of girls who work day and night, sacrificing their time and energy trying to make it in their sport.
Research shows that universally, sporty girls in their early teens suffer from high rates of body image issues, lack of self-belief and confidence, as well as gender discrimination and discouragement from adults at a higher rate than boys. These issues stem from deeply-rooted sexism and show that my experiences aren’t unique.
We push women out of their own spaces based on outdated stereotypes, and when they eventually give up, as so many girls feel forced to do, it’s blamed on a lack of resilience, when it’s seemingly obvious that the key figures around us don’t believe that there’s even the slightest chance we can make it at all.
We have fought for years to get to the point within women’s sports that we are currently at, where female athletes are at least recognised for their incredible achievements and aren’t completely in the shadow of men. Women now have more opportunities than ever to make a professional career within sport, we need to stop forcing them out before they have the chance to prove how brilliant they are. When will we actually start believing in young women with potential?