Grace in Sport: Why Feminine Traits are Also Needed in Sport Today

It is fairly obvious that sports today are dominated by masculine qualities.  Traits such as muscular strength and power on the field are often considered synonymous with sport; and who do we think of when we think of athletes demonstrating these attributes? Men, of course.  Though there are separate women’s leagues for most sports, the press coverage and distribution of reward favor male sports.  To further rub salt in the wound, often when the public sees a woman demonstrating feats of strength and power in sport—like bodybuilding for example—she is considered manly and shunned for not exhibiting feminine beauty.  However, this discrimination also affects men, as when a man performs an activity that favors grace and flexibility—like ballet—some might question his sexuality and belittle him much in the same manner society looks down upon masculine women.  Society is constantly asserting that all women should act feminine and all men act masculine, even though these are two qualities that we all possess. 

Opposite gender qualities

Opposite gender qualities

These contrasting gender expectations likely arise out of human history's dominance by men.  Hunting and fending off enemies required masculine traits like strength and fortitude for human survival.  In turn, the importance of feminine traits like empathy and gracefulness were greatly diminished.  Since men were the ones that usually exhibited masculine traits primarily due to physiological differences, they gained the role of the hunter, the soldier, and the leader.  Hence men have held leadership since the dawn of civilization, and masculine traits have been a major indicator of superiority over others. 

Sport has been a tool for men to practice and develop their masculine skills, often in preparation for war and hunting.   Since men held the leadership role, and were the primary exhibitors of masculinity, women were not even considered as potential participants in sport until the eighteenth century (See this timeline of early women in sport for some idea of the first women in "sport").  Hence, our modern society—even with a growing level of equality between sexes—still favors men in sport, and in addition, sport reinforces the idea that men should be masculine and women feminine.  Whereas men in sport are usually judged by their athletic ability, female athletes are often judged on aesthetic appeal and beauty.  I hope to highlight the weakness of these two societal trends—the and expectation of men and women to show only their gender qualities, and the association of beauty as a primarily feminine trait—while advocating a balanced mix of gender qualities in sport. 

To start, it is ridiculous to think that men will always be masculine and women always feminine.  These are two complimentary qualities that all humans possess.  To encourage men to only act masculine and women only feminine can be very damaging to individuals that naturally favor more of the opposite gender quality.  Even for those that do favor their gender quality, encouraging just expression of their gender and ignoring the opposite quality brings about a very unbalanced lifestyle.  The list of masculine and feminine qualities is extensive but I will list those I feel are most prevalent in sport. 

Masculine traits: strength, power, speed, endurance, aggressiveness, tall, large, individualistic. 

Feminine traits: gracefulness, flexibility, balance, precision, passiveness, short, small, cooperative. 

What woman should not have strength, speed, or endurance? What man should not be balanced, precise, and flexible? Day to day men and women tend to exhibit a mix of gender qualities, yet in sport we expect men to be masculine and women feminine. I would assert that sport would benefit if there was a greater balance of the two qualities. In many ways, the focus on masculinity which leads to brutal force and aggression in sports like football could be tempered with elements such as grace and precision.  Rather than only training athletes to get big and hit hard, additional training in balance and flow could be administered. Greater control of the body and reduced chance of injury would be two likely benefits.  

Since women have already begun to exhibit masculine traits in order to be effective in the various woman's leagues, they would likely gain greater acceptance as men started displaying more use of feminine traits as mentioned.  Ultimately, I envision male and female athletes utilizing masculine and feminine traits at the appropriate times for greater more diversified sport.  Strategies would change, women would have a greater role, and the harsh divide and between masculine and feminine qualities would diminish.  

Pretty significant uniform difference in beach volleyball.

Pretty significant uniform difference in beach volleyball.

On a second note, beauty is an idea that should represent both men and women, and their actions in sport.  Our society has turned beauty into a primarily feminine and superficial idea of sex appeal in sport, and made it a requirement of most female athletes—at least for those that want to make more money.  Some of the most obvious example are Beach Volleyball, Legends Football League (lingerie football), and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.  However, most women's sports have more revealing uniforms, and typically the greater the sex appeal, the greater the media coverage.  Clearly, with such a focus on sex appeal in female athletes, their actual sport abilities are belittled. 

True aesthetic beauty in sport stems from the athletes actions and feats of performance rather than the superficial look of the body.  When we judge beauty in athlete actions in rather than the athletes themselves, the gender does not matter.  A perfect play in football can be deemed beautiful just as a divers perfectly executed dive.  It is fine to respect the form and physique of athletes, but such should not be the primary indicator of beauty in sports.  What an athlete does on the field should be far more important than how they look, otherwise we diminish not just the athletes, but sport itself.  

In close, I want to advocate sport that incorporates a healthy balance of the gender qualities of masculinity and femininity.  Since both promote skill and abilities that are essential in sport, female and male athletes should not be expected to act primarily with their respective gender quality.  Further, I promote beauty as a quality evident in both male and female athletes, especially when it comes to the skill and flow of their actions.  With these two changes, sport will become a better reflection of human performance, and further based on merit rather than superficial appeal.