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Gender Marking in the Sports World

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By Holly Pak and Marjorie Sanders |

Women are perceived as having little interest or involvement in sports—whether as experts, coaches, athletes, or as fans. Yet this perception does not represent the reality of sport; it only represents and demonstrates the gender bias and gender marking that continues to sideline the visibility of women in sport. Gender marking in this context is the practice of promoting men’s sports as the standard and women’s sports as inferior to the male sports world. Consider the media coverage of women who take on sport officiating positions: there is significant focus on those women’s personal lives, whereas male officiants do not face such intrusive reporting. Women are also not credited as being as authoritative or considered experts in a sports role, regardless of their demonstrated experience, education, and/or expertise. This type of biased language and representation is harmful to women and girls who are interested in sport, particularly as a career field. Imagine being a female student studying sports management; if all the course content uses exclusively male-centered language, imagery, and references to relay the concepts of the profession, that female student will likely feel as if there is no space for her even in her own program of study. 

Gender marking in sport is also evident in the way that athletes and their events are identified. Men’s events, leagues, and tournaments are the default and are frequently free from gendered language, whereas women’s events, leagues, and tournaments are identified as such. For example, the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) is the default league for golf and is exclusive to men, yet the title of the league does not denote any gender; the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association (LPGA), on the other hand, uses gender-specific language to identify the association. And, as if gendering the title of one league was not bad enough, it uses outdated language (Ladies’, instead of Women’s) at that.  

While achieving true equity in representation for women in sport will require an ongoing and widespread effort, there are steps that we can take now to aid in those efforts: Using equitable language in reporting, commentary, and coverage of sport; using neutral and equitable language in education, including course content and discussions; and using accurate titles for men and women as professionals.  

Holly Pak is an instructional designer, human geographer, Taekwondo instructor, ESL teacher, and avid drummer. She has owned and taught in a Taekwondo Academy and currently serves as an Academy instructional designer, as well as a faculty member teaching Philosophy of Kung-Fu. Holly also serves as a faculty member at the University of South Alabama. Her research interests include motivation of higher education, contemporary immigration patterns, and Agile instructional design. 

Holly Pak, M.S, M.Ed., Ph.D(c) / hpark@ussa.edu 

Marjorie Sanders is the Academic Resource Coordinator at the United States Sports Academy, where she also serves as a faculty member. She is a creative writer whose work has appeared in multiple anthologies and literary journals; her first chapbook will be released in 2022 from Finishing Line Press. Marjorie’s research interests include the representation of women in literature, and higher education accessibility, policy, and leadership. 

Marjorie Sanders, M.A. / msanders@ussa.edu 

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