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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Our strength is beautiful

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Shattering stigma around female athletes

It’s time to stop focusing on how female athletes look, and instead talk about how they perform. The greatest and most accomplished female athletes still face discrimination on the court, on the field and in the pool.

Society expects compliance from men and women to follow accepted gender roles, and thus women athletes do not receive the recognition they desperately deserve, both in the collegiate and professional sectors.

The stereotypes facing women in athletics is felt at every stage and can even influence their willingness to participate at a young age.

In her most recent season, Serena Williams emerged on the courts in various colorful and unconventional outfits. Whether or not she played a great game or won her match, her bold fashion statements were analyzed, criticized and even banned.

The following day, media outlets focused solely on her rebellious fashion statements rather than her game performance or the fact that she was bouncing back from pregnancy, playing in the top tournaments and winning.

Her choices of clothing sparked so much controversy for their departure from the traditional uniform for female tennis players that her actual athletic performance was disregarded and put in the shadow of her appearance. While this should not have been the main focus, her outfits were intended to push boundaries.

Williams’ catsuit ensemble was likened to a superhero, and while the French Tennis Federation considered the outfit disrespectful, it did not discourage her from coming back and proving to critics that her game will push the boundaries of athletics even further than her clothing.

Williams and many other women all over the world prove that you can take the superhero out of her suit, but you cannot take away her superpowers.

For those who may not know, Williams is a four-time Olympic gold medalist and a five-time Women’s Tennis Association champion.

In an interview with “Vanity Fair,” Williams was asked whether or not she considers herself the greatest athlete of our time. Her response is as follows: “If I were a man, then it wouldn’t be any sort of question.” 

The rhetoric around successful female athletes is usually framed by limits. By this I mean that when a woman is exceptional at a sport, she is considered a great female athlete. Contrastingly, when men receive compliments and accolades, they are considered incredible athletes overall.

While many may see rhetoric as a minute aspect of sport, language does play a large role in how athletes are seen and treated.

In Nike’s most recent ad, the company demonstrated that women are scrutinized for their actions in a way men do not experience.

Should a woman show emotion or get angry or frustrated with the game, she is called dramatic or even hysterical. Likewise, when women demand equal opportunity, they face doubt in their ability to match up to men and perform equally.

For all my fellow powerhouses in ponytails, do not get discouraged. While there are stigmas and barriers facing female athletes, women are dedicating every day to breaking those obstacles down. We have come a long way.

As I was standing in the St. Joe’s strength and conditioning gym, one of the coaches explained that one goal of their program is to show female athletes the advantage and empowerment that physical strength offers us.

He wanted us to see our physical strength and success in the weight room as a positive. Many of the female athletes he works with, including myself, come into the gym in the beginning of the season and express fears and concerns that their bodies will change or “get big” due to lifting.

This fear stems from our society’s rejection of muscle as a feminine trait. Strength is more often correlated to masculinity and therefore not “beautiful.”

Women are not supposed to have biceps like Williams or abs of steel like Simone Biles because it is considered intimidating and unattractive to men. This toxic and frankly inappropriate opinion has to go.

It is important to reevaluate and alter the way that we talk about ourselves as athletes and how we respond to the insults and blockades that are hurled at us.

Women who compete in sports are determined and strong in every sense of the word. They have grit and grace. We are just as emotional as men are when we do not perform to our best abilities.

Being passionate about your performance is what makes a successful athlete, regardless of gender. As Williams says, “If they want to call you crazy, show them what crazy can do.”

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