Why this matters
When girls don't see women coaches or athletes as role models it can hinder their ability to identify themselves and other women as athletic.
Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw called out the lack of women in head coaching roles in the sport at the Women’s Final Four.
“Women need the opportunity. They deserve the opportunity,” she said to ThinkProgress.com. Asked whether she plans to ever hire a male coach again, she said: “No.”
Her media conference at the Final Four addressed problems women face in sports and society today.
Forty-two percent of girls play high school sports, a 35 percent increase from 1972, which was before the enactment of Title IX.
Muffet McGraw: A voice for women.
— NCAA WBB (@ncaawbb) April 4, 2019
Alaina C. Zanin, an assistant professor in the Arizona State University Hugh Downs School Of Human Communication, conducted a study about how girls identified themselves. The study featured two groups: one consisting of athletes and one consisting of nonathletes.
All were girls ages 8-11. They were asked to draw a picture of an athlete, a picture of a girl and a picture of themselves.
“Girls who currently or recently participated in sports were more likely to draw a girl as an athlete than the non-sport-exposed girls,” Zanin said at the Global Sport Summit in Phoenix on March 29. “And something that was more interesting that we didn’t expect to find is that there was convergence among the three drawings.”
Girls in the study who were athletes generally drew a picture of someone in their lives who was a female athlete, a picture of a female athlete and a picture of themselves as an athlete. The girls not in athletics tended to draw males as athletes.
The disconnect can be traced to identity. Girls are having a difficult time identifying with athletics because in certain situations they see a lack of representation in sports.
“We shouldn’t expect these identities to develop prior to their exposure,” Zanin said. “We should build access systems. So that they can enact these identities and see themselves as athletes not seeing themselves either feminine or athletic.”
Eric Legg, an assistant professor in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions at ASU, conducted a similar study to Zanin, but his produced different results.
“They drew sports where the skill sets were balance, agility and grace, not speed, strength or power which I think is fascinating,” Legg said.
The identity characteristics are parallel to several social norms in society and to how women are encouraged to express their femininity.
Social stigmas make it harder for women to get the respect they deserve in the sports world. Women’s basketball is a sport where women are seen as being inferior to their male counterparts.
Pay and viewership for the WNBA is vastly different from the NBA. Two-time NCAA champion McGraw discussed the lack of women in the basketball world and sports.
McGraw’s criticism is in many ways warranted. Female basketball players constantly have to defend their sport. Junior guard and NCAA all-time triple-doubles leader Sabrina Ionescu addressed the internet trolls in an Instagram post.
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Meagan Kukowski the Executive Director of Girls on the Run discussed how her organization encourages young girls to use their voices.
“We teach girls that their voice is their super power,” Kukowski said. “And they have the power to change the narrative. And they have the power to accomplish big things.”
Lamar Smith is a graduate student in the sports journalism program at Arizona State University