WOMEN’S SPORTS, NORTH AMERICA. Encyclopedia of World Sport

North American sports were once an almost exclusively
male domain; today girls and women are easily visible
as spectators and participants at all levels of sport.
1820–1880—Agrarianism to Marketplace
The foundations of women’s sport and recreation in the
United States were set down in the period from the
Revolutionary War to the 1820s, when most men’s and
women’s lives were interdependent and revolved
around rural living and shared tasks. Typical pastimes
and recreational activities for girls and women included walking, sledding, skating, horseback riding,
swimming (more like bathing in the sea), and simple
games. Outdoor sporting activities included hunting
and fishing parties, fox hunting, and boating (canoeing
and river boat races). For the wealthy few, there were
sailing and yachting. Occasional competition could be
found in horse races, foot races, spinning and corn
husking contests, and similar folk games. Shuttlecock
and 10-pin bowling moved toward more highly structured competition.
In the decades from 1820 to 1880, the United States
transformed from an agrarian to an industrialized nation. In the process, women’s lives changed significantly. Women no longer shared work with men in the
same way. Consequently, for certain segments of the
population—notably the middle class—the polarization of gender roles increased. The social responsibilities and behavior patterns reflected in these separate
roles form the basis for conceptions of “masculinity”
and “femininity” that found powerful expression in
U.S. sporting traditions.
The separation of men’s and women’s worlds into
two separate “spheres” or cultures during the 19th century was reflected in a dominant pattern of men moving toward competitive sport and women toward recreation and sport for health’s sake. Whereas
working-class females still labored long hours, increasing leisure time allowed some women to develop club
sports, engage in healthful activities, or participate in
popular mass sport fads.A few bold women engaged in
what were considered masculine activities. Which
women’s sports developed and which did not, as well as
the type and intensity of competition, depended upon
culturally ingrained traditions based on gender perceptions controlled by men. Sports were seen as a way
to train young males for adulthood and enable them to
develop and maintain manly characteristics of physical
strength and prowess, plus leadership. Sport for girls
and women was intended to foster health, pleasant social interactions, and democratic ideals; and only incidentally character building or competition.
Exercise had been a significant aspect of pre–Civil
War “health-reform” movements—several of which
benefited women. Early “women’s rights” advocates
such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke out in favor of
physical education for females, and books such as
Catharine Beecher’s Physiology and Calisthenics for Schools and Families (1856) provided educators with
examples of exercises to be used by girls as well as
boys. Many aspects of the earlier health-reform movement were incorporated into the physical education
programs that began to appear at women’s colleges
during the last third of the 19th century.
1880–1920—The Growth of Gender-Based
and Class-Based Sport
The so-called “new woman” of the 1890s and early
1900s was characterized by an independent spirit and
athletic zeal. Some women began to enjoy wider professional and personal choices. Only with economic independence could patterns of social behavior change. This
freedom permitted the rise of the female educational
establishment with its abundance of new role models
and commitment to professional achievement and social goals for women. These women heralded the dawn
of the feminist movement, which culminated in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment (1920) to the United
States Constitution, giving voting rights to women.
Political changes and economic changes were accompanied by reforms of sport attire, including
“bloomers” and other trouserlike garments. Perhaps
the most significant of these changes accompanied the
growth of bicycling, which became ever more popular
in the 1890s. Safety dictated a more “rational” form of
dress, and many younger women commented on the
increased sense of freedom they obtained from cycling
through the countryside.
Sex-appropriate team sports were ones in which
men didn’t compete, such as field hockey, and ones
whose rules were severely modified by women for female participation, such as basketball and volleyball.
Softball was tolerated because it did differ from baseball and arose from indoor baseball. Track and field, including long-distance running, was marginally acceptable in a recreational setting, but competition was
With the invention of basketball in 1891, competitive sport became available to women. By 1892, the
game was played at Smith College and had even
reached California. It soon crossed class boundaries. By
the 1920s, it was played as a team game both in interscholastic competition and in the developing industrial
leagues. Although field hockey attracted fewer players,
it spread through many women’s colleges and universities. The initiator of the modern Olympics, Pierre de
Coubertin, steadfastly objected to women’s participation in the Games, but women did engage in demonstrations of tennis and golf at the 1900 Paris Games. At
London in 1908, archery, figure skating, and tennis
were on the program. Not until Amsterdam in 1928,
however, was some track and field included; exaggerated reporting of the results of the 800-meter run, however, led to the elimination of that event from the
women’s program until Rome in 1960.
During this epoch, the divide widened between upper-class and working-class female athletes. Wealthy
women played tennis, golf, fencing, and water sports,
and they participated in the winter sports of skiing, figure, and speed skating; working-class women engaged
in the less feminine team sports of softball and track
and field. The only truly competitive team sport other
than basketball (and the mild team sport of volleyball)
was field hockey, an anomaly in the history of sport for
women because it was international in the scope of
competition, it was vigorous, and it was played by
upper-class rather than working-class women. In the
late 1800s, sports like roller skating and pedestrianism
enjoyed brief popularity among females.
As women moved from recreational activities to
sport, club facilities and competitions became necessary. The first women’s club, the Ladies’ Club of the
Staten Island Cricket and Baseball Club, connected itself to the men’s club in 1877 as an avenue to competitive tennis. Immediately accepted as a sex-appropriate
sport for affluent women, tennis was taught in the colleges, and by 1900 it had appeared in public parks,
playgrounds, and recreation centers throughout the
country. Local and college tennis tournaments originated in 1881, and the first national tournament was
organized for women in 1887.
Upper-class women participated in sex-segregated
activity, but during the 1880s they also joined their husbands at country and athletic clubs and conducted local, regional, and even a few national championships
through the clubs. The sports included croquet, archery,
fencing, bowling, swimming, and tennis. The older,
more established skating and riding clubs also gained
momentum as manuals were published for both sports.
Clubs were formed for the winter sports of snowshoeing, skiing, and skating. Outdoorswomen, particularly
in the West, continued to enjoy fishing, hunting, hiking,
riflery, camping, and mountain climbing.
Sport Crazes and Exhibitions
When the croquet (1866) and later the archery (1870s)
crazes swept the country, women donned fashionable
attire to compete with and then socialize with men.
Both sports had national championships for women.
The popularity of both sports, however, was short lived, and more active, exciting sports like tennis
gained the support of affluent women. Albeit encumbered by tight corsets, heavy petticoats, and long full
skirts, women persisted in sport participation.
A large group of bold women (mostly from the laboring or immigrant class) moved outside the security
of their gender roles to participate in competitive
events such as horse racing, cycle races, novelty cycle/horse races, distance swimming, and riflery shooting. Less acceptable but nonetheless present on the
fringes of sport were the “antifeminine” exhibitions of
strong women, weightlifters and body builders,
wrestlers, and even a fair number of women boxers.
Three Sports: A Snapshot
A quick glance at three major women’s recreational and
competitive sports in the 1880–1920 period reveals the
special circumstances and development of women’s
sport in this era.
(1) Bicycling Mania. Two independently occurring
phenomena—clothing reform and bicycling mania—
interacted with and influenced each other. The happy
result was that by the end of the 1890s women were
able to shed the costumes of the past and feel a new independence of movement and spirit. The bloomer gave
the average woman a sporting chance, first in cycling
and then in basketball, tennis, and other sports.
The cycling rage was the most popular activity in
the decades of the 1880s and 1890s for women of
leisure, college women, and for professional women.
The activity caused a mass exodus to the out-of-doors,
for any woman who could afford the price of a bicycle.
(2) Field Hockey. Field hockey and, later, lacrosse
were a legacy from the women of Great Britain to the
women’s colleges and secondary private schools of the
East, making this team sport gender-acceptable. Enthusiasm for field hockey led the way to various types
of international and high-level competition in the educational domain as well as the public sector, starting
with a U.S. field hockey team that traveled to England
in 1920.
As an elite sport, field hockey provided vigorous
competition, and by the end of this era field hockey
players had moved into sectional national and international competition. By this time a large number of the
players in these competitions were physical educators,
some of whom also sponsored collegiate teams to compete against the clubs and against each other. The varsity competition was often conducted by the very
women who were anti-varsity in all other sports.
(3) Basketball. The real love affair in women’s sport
was embodied in basketball everywhere in this country, surpassing all other team sports on all levels and
across all socioeconomic boundaries. In education it
was the most popular sport. In popular culture, it was
the favorite team sport for competition and recreational play. Basketball was the only team sport for
which women completely modified men’s rules to
make the game more appropriate for female athletes.
By 1920 basketball was played with six players, the
court divided into three equal courts with one permitted dribble, no physical contact or horizontal guarding,
and no loud talking or coaching from the bench. The
next 85 years were spent in discussion and debate
about modifications of the basketball rules, and after
each such discussion the women’s rules more nearly resembled the men’s. Finally in the fall of 1971, the fiveplayer, full-court unlimited dribble won the approval of
women physical educators and the Amateur Athletics
Union. Throughout the next era basketball will be the
major concern in relation to varsity playing and the
public sector competition. Women, however, have
played varsity basketball since Berkeley played Stanford in 1896. So, too, elite basketball has been played
from the AAU National Championship in 1926 forward
to the Olympics of the present era.
1920–1950—The Democratic Ideal
Urbanization, greater employment for women, an increasingly mobile population with more leisure time,
and relaxation of many restrictive social standards all
contributed to a climate favoring greater opportunities
for women in many spheres in life. Sport was one of
these. The period is sometimes referred to as “the
golden age of sport” because of the rapid expansion of
both professional and college sport for men; growth
was more limited in women’s sport. During the 1920s,
Helen Wills (Moody) emerged as a dominating figure
in women’s tennis, winning numerous U.S. championships. Two years later, Mildred “Babe” Didrickson
(Zaharias) broke three world records in the Amateur
Athletics Union (AAU) national track and field championships at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.
Softball might well be labeled a sport of the Depression years. Although women in elite women’s colleges
played men’s baseball in the era of the 1880s–1890s
(and even a few in the 1860s), indoor baseball, which
became the team sport of softball, was the truly popular sport of working-class men and all classes of
women. The federal government supported recreation
programs that sponsored softball leagues. The industrial leagues (in both sports) featured teams sponsored by small businesses whose company names were
proudly emblazoned as advertising on the uniforms.
Often, however, individuals developed their own teams.
The decade of the 1940s further altered the sporting
attitudes and behavior patterns of women, for they had
experienced success as respected contributors to the
nation through their work in the war plants, the armed
services, and in other important positions.
Public Domain Industrial Leagues, Olympics, and AAU
The decades from 1920 to 1950 witnessed a significant
growth in recreational and competitive sport for
women. Women joined company teams, industrial
leagues, YWCA teams, company-sponsored basketball
competition, track and field teams, bowling leagues,
and summer softball leagues. Upper- and middle-class
women moved in greater numbers to the recreational
and competitive organizations of such diverse sports
as tennis, golf, swimming, badminton, alpine skiing,
skating, canoeing, and kayaking. At the grass-roots
level, high schools, churches, clubs, industry, YWCA,
Catholic Youth Organizations (CYO), and the Amateur
Athletic Union (AAU), and National Sport Governing
Bodies (NGBs) of the Olympics sponsored athletic programs, particularly in track, basketball, softball, and
Another recurring theme in the saga of women’s
competitive athletics in United States in this era is the
struggle between leaders of the governing bodies of
women’s and men’s athletics for control of organized
amateur competition for women.
By the 1920s, for the first time, female athletic heroes from the United States emerged from the Olympic
Games and national championships, especially in the
sports of tennis, golf, and figure skating. Americans of
all social classes thrilled to their success, now heralded
by national women’s magazines and covered in the
press and motion pictures. In addition, local heroes
were found in abundance, even when national ones
were limited. Media coverage even included women
from track and field and other nonfeminine sporting
traditions. Track and field was still considered “too
masculine” for women, unless a track athlete was beautiful, in which case she became the sweetheart of the
press and magazines. Individuals like Babe Didrikson
(1911–1956), for example, who was voted the finest female athlete of the first half of the 20th century, was really not a role model or media fixture in her magnificent 1932 Olympic performance because she was not
“feminine” enough and competed in “male” sports.
Only after Didrikson became a professional golfer and
later as the second wave of feminist values took hold
was she accepted as a role model.
Sport in the Educational Domain
In the decades between World War I and World War II,
high school and college sports programs for girls and
women were widely—but not exclusively—controlled
by female physical educators whose aim was to foster a
lifetime of participation. The primary emphasis was
the health and social well-being of the participant. For
the most part, intensely competitive sporting activities
were shunned, for a variety of reasons. “A sport for
every girl/Every girl in a sport”—the motto of the National Amateur Athletic Federation—exemplified such
attitudes. In high schools and colleges the teachers
were offering instructional programs in all the popular
individual, team, and intramural sports, and they
sponsored interest clubs in a variety of sports. Varsity
competition flourished in rural high schools and in
other pockets of the country.
Apprehensions about the male model of athletics
and a desire for larger participation led high school
teachers and many college leaders of physical education to endorse competitive restraints and to mandate
female self-determination in athletic governance.
Educators characterized varsity teams as overemphasizing the “winning syndrome, corruption and
commercialism rampant in men’s athletics.” This concept resulted in this alternative model of athletics for
females, developed by women, involving play days and
sports days, which was a natural outgrowth of conformity and accommodation of gender roles for women.
This vision of separate competition for girls and
women led to conflicts, controversy, and gender relation struggles. Competitive athletics persisted throughout the period in the public domain and often in varsity sport.
During World War II, the necessity for physical fitness was emphasized for all citizens, and intense competition was suggested by the federal government for
all high school girls, the armed forces, and the public
domain. Women physical educators, therefore, helped
develop federally suggested programs of fitness, and
many young service women (and officers) participated
themselves in such programs.
1950 and After—Revolution in Women’s Sports
During the second half of the 20th century, profound
changes have occurred in U.S. society. Among the more
significant changes have been civil rights and equal
rights legislation.
For women’s sport, no federal legislation was more
important than Title IX of the Education Amendments
Act of 1972, which mandated parity between the genders in educational opportunities. These regulations
together ushered in an age of reform and liberation—
nothing short of a metamorphosis in women’s lives in
employment, education, and other sectors of society.
These new conceptions of equal rights and privileges for all citizens regardless of race or gender,
changing cultural values regarding women, and developments fostered by the women’s liberation movement, joined with the enactment of federal regulations,
created a social climate conducive to the rapid rise of
interest in sports of all kinds—interscholastic, intercollegiate, amateur, professional, and recreational. In
the 1970s, and even more so in the 1980s, vast numbers of girls and women began to participate in sports,
and, whereas formerly, dominant cultural values dictated that sports exemplifying grace and agility were
most appropriate for females, sports that required
strength, speed, and power now became increasingly
Interscholastic and Intercollegiate
Athletics after 1950
During World War II, many women had gained organizational and administrative experience in the armed
services, Red Cross, and industry. Many female physical educators counted among those who served, and a
number of them increasingly recognized the need for
higher standards of competition for girls and women.
By the 1960s, some state high school associations had
expanded opportunities for girls, and more recreational leagues and clubs opened their doors to girls
(including those economically disadvantaged). By
1969, the Division for Girls and Women’s Sports of the
American Association for Health, Physical Education,
and Recreation had begun to schedule national intercollegiate championships for college women. In 1971,
the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women
(AIAW), which traced its organizational roots to the
National Women’s Basketball Committee (1989), was
formed. By 1981–1982, AIAW offered national championships in 19 collegiate sports. The following year,
these were jointly sponsored by AIAW and the National
Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA); and, by 1983,
the AIAW had collapsed, a victim of internal disagreements and external pressures—not the least of which
were fears that rapidly growing women’s sports would
siphon off funding that traditionally had been directed
to men’s intercollegiate programs.
Title IX
In the years immediately following the passage of Title
IX, considerable disagreement existed concerning the
shape emerging women’s programs should take. Some
individuals favored emulating the model of the NCAA;
others objected to recruiting, “athletic scholarships,”
and what they perceived as an unwholesome commercialization of school-based sports. Following the
demise of the AIAW, collegiate sport for females has
been governed by the regulations of the NCAA or, for
smaller institutions, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). At the same time there has
been a dramatic increase in the numbers of females
engaged in college (and even high school) competitive
programs, accompanied by a massive decline in the
percentage of women who administer such programs.
A sharp decline is also evident in the percentage of
women who serve as the head coaches of women’s
sport teams.
Title IX has changed the configuration of college and
university physical education and athletics. With the
mergers of men’s and women’s physical education departments in the 1970s came the separation of athletics, intramurals, and instruction. Instructional programs were conducted with coeducational classes that
favored teaching sports that were acceptable for both
genders. Such sports include volleyball and softball,
lifetime sports, and fitness activities. In addition, with
the mergers, the women physical educators and their
national organization, the National Association for Girls
and Women in Sport (NAGWS) lost authority over rules,
officiating, and governance of athletics and sports.
Fitness and Recreation
Since the 1960s, millions of new converts have been
made to such recreational, noncompetitive pursuits as
aerobics, jogging, and aquacalisthenics. Backpacking,
mountain climbing, bicycling, cross-country skiing,
and other outdoor pursuits grew rapidly after the mid-
1960s—each attracting increasing numbers of female
participants.Women have become the primary focus of
the burgeoning “fitness” industry, and many women
have achieved a greater sense of freedom and self-motivation as a result of their experiences in physical activity and sport. Others have become proficient at
weightlifting and other forms of physical activity that
once were deemed inappropriate.
Triathlon, marathon running, distance swimming,
rugby teams, soccer teams, and flag football teams now
attract a sizable number of girls and women. The fast
growth of these sports demonstrate that for the first time women see fitness as a personal need and sports
as offering a new freedom to create personal well-being. Furthermore, women are increasingly willing and
able to move into the male domain of sport without
apology and with little criticism from the public. What
were once “elite” sports have become less so, now offering grass-roots opportunities to a multitude of children and teenagers regardless of their economic status.
Even in athletic and sport clubs where the cost is
greater (figure skating, gymnastics, golf, and skiing),
clubs and recreation centers attempt to provide opportunities to compete for those who could not otherwise
The Olympics
The entry of the United States into the modern
Olympic Games occurred for men in 1896. Women
made their first appearance almost by chance in the
next two Olympic Games in golf and tennis (1900) and
archery (1904). The AAU and all the national sport governing bodies were an important positive voice on behalf of female athletes for competitive athletics. As
early as 1914 and 1916, the AAU maintained the
records in swimming and track and by 1923 accepted
women to register for other sports. In the early 1920s,
basketball, track and field, and, a bit later, gymnastics,
came under AAU jurisdiction. It was the beginning of
the largest public programs for women in high-level
competition in the country.
Women physical educators were silent regarding the
gender-appropriate sports in the Olympics; that is, golf,
archery, swimming, gymnastics, tennis, and figure
skating, but they later (1928, 1932, and 1936) protested
the entry of women into the “unladylike” sport of track
and male domination of competitive sport through the
The greatest boon to Olympic sport for women was
Title IX, which provided a feeder system, and the Federal Amateur Sport Act (ASA) of 1978. The act expanded the powers of the U.S. Olympic Committee to
control international competition and the growth and
expansion of Olympic sports in the United States. This
law resulted in all sport governance groups working in
harmony toward a single goal: the enactment of programs for U.S. amateur athletes at all ages and levels of
Women benefited from new funding for “underdeveloped sports,” because all collegiate and other
women’s sports were classified as underdeveloped. The
act is instrumental in assisting previously denied populations to achieve opportunity; women are just such a
target population.With the new regulations of ASA, national festivals are sponsored each summer by the
USOC. These events and tours for younger elite athletes
assist young athletes as never before. Each sport (NGB)
is devoting more time, energy, and money to grass-root
programs as well as spending more on building a pool
of young athletes. This new emphasis on grass roots
has permitted team sports like soccer, handball, and
volleyball to increase their numbers, not only for
Olympic hopefuls but for an entire generation of young
Achievements of African American
Women in Athletics
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, calisthenics and
sports programs developed at many historically black
colleges. Atlanta University’s monthly student newspaper, the Scroll, announced that basketball was first introduced for women in 1899. By the 1920s and 1930s,
students were engaged in track meets and basketball
games with Tuskegee Institute and other institutions.
Organizations such as the Phyllis Wheatley Y.W.C.A. of
Washington, D.C., promoted basketball, tennis, and
other sports for local girls. In the early 1920s, Lucy
Slowe challenged the assertion that tennis was “too sophisticated” for black women while capturing the national championships of the All-Black American Tennis
A particularly striking success of the 1950–1990 era
has been the achievements of African American
women in Olympic and other high-performance
sports. Indeed, there had been numerous excellent athletes in earlier decades. However, such achievements as
that of Tuskegee’s Alice Coachman (who won the 1948
Olympic women’s high jump) and other female African
American athletes rarely received the attention they
merited. The remarkable performances of triple gold
medalist Wilma Rudolph at Rome in 1960 did not go
unnoticed, however, and she was subsequently named
recipient of the Sullivan Award as the year’s outstanding female athlete. At recent Olympics, Florence Griffith-Joyner and Jackie Joyner-Kersee have gained considerable media attention as well as athletic laurels.
Although they had been very successful in the
1920–1940 period at AAU National Championships in
basketball and track, African American women were
not found in elite sports, except tennis. During the
present and past era African American women participated in all the sports of the working-class women including softball, basketball, and bowling. In addition,
middle-class African Americans competed in tennis.
This participation was due, in part, to the American
Tennis Association (ATA), which encouraged female
participation and provided the tournament outlet.
Althea Gibson (1927–) came out of the ATA, winning
its National Singles Championship in 1949. She moved
on to win the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S.
Open Championships, all in the 1950s. She paved the
way for black men’s and women’s participation in previously all-white championships.
By midcentury African American athletes occupied
a central position in the sport of track and field. Beginning in the 1930s black women stepped in the field
abandoned by middle-class white women who deemed
the sport “unfeminine.” Black runners appeared on the
U.S. team in the 1932 and 1936 Olympics. They won
their first medals in the 1948 Games.
Perhaps the greatest contribution in sport by
African American athletes is their supremacy and
medal counts in the Olympics of 1952–1972. Nineteen
Olympians coming from Tuskegee Institute and Tennessee State won over 20 medals. Best known was
Wilma Rudolph (1940–1994), whose performance in
the 1960 Olympics was the first widely televised track
event. With her three gold medals, she almost singlehandedly rekindled U.S. interest in women doing better
in the Olympic competition.
African American women competed in track and
field in the Olympics from 1932 forward, but only in
1964 did they begin to compete in other sports (volleyball). Now over half of the Olympic basketball team is
African American, as are most of the track athletes and
a few individuals in other sports. Just a decade and a
half ago only a few black basketball players were on the
collegiate scene, but appearing on behalf of Delta State
in the Final Four of the NCAA championships was one
of them, Lucia Harris (1955–), the first woman basketball player inducted into the men’s (and now men’s and
women’s) National Basketball Hall of Fame.
Professional Sports
Professional sports during the period 1950–1990 reflected the exceptional gutsiness of athletes on exhibition teams; the heart and drive of those in the many
team sports that failed; the love of sport reflected in
participation on poorly paying teams; and the joy of
spectacular commercial success and influence in the
popular culture. For example, from 1936 to the 1970s,
the All-American Red Heads basketball team toured
the country in a manner similar to the Harlem Globetrotters. The All-American Baseball League lasted
through the early years of the 1950s. A professional
basketball league in the 1970s and 1980s, however,
failed for lack of a large pool of talent and audience appeal. Professional bowling, golf, and tennis fared very
well, with tennis becoming the most popular women’s
professional sport, due primarily to Billie Jean King
(1944–), who burst into national prominence at the
right moment in history. In 1973, she won a great public tennis match with another professional, Bobby
Riggs, in “the Battle of the Sexes,” started a women’s
sport magazine, and almost single-handedly started
the professional circuit for tennis. In the late 1990s,
though, professional golf in general is growing while
tennis is declining.
Other short-lived and long-lived professional teams
include track and field, swimming, and, of course, the
highly successful figure-skating shows. The newest professional team is a baseball team, the Silver Bullets,
which competes against men’s teams. The difficulty
here is not having a pool of women baseball players, so
softball players are attempting to turn their skills to
baseball. The future looks bright, however, for basketball, for the men’s National Basketball Association
(NBA) formed a women’s league in 1997 that has drawn
large crowds in some cities, and the American Basketball League (ABL) began play in 1996. The basketball
feeder system is now excellent, with collegiate basketball and Olympians and an educated audience near at
hand. There are also now professional women boxers,
although they are few in number and do not draw a
large following. The most popular new professional
sport is beach volleyball, with its doubles teams and
brief “feminine” clothing. In 1998, the international
success of the U.S. and Canadian women’s hockey
teams had led to plans to start a professional league.
The influx of girls and women into the sports arena
is forcing changes and redefinitions of the role and
function of sport in U.S. culture. These new role definitions will fuel the expansion of gender-role expectations. As the perceived female attributes of beauty and
form interplay with the masculine attributes of strength
and power and they merge into sporting experiences
without gender, the acceptance of the female role in
sport has the potential to free male and female athletes
to have human experience, not sex identified or defined,
leading toward a less rigidly defined sport culture.
Sport much resembles U.S. society itself in its heterogeneity and capacity for individuals to participate
in diverse sports at different levels once the organized
sport structure is in place. The previously divided
stream of female and male athletics has become a
mighty river that finally enjoys equal contributions and support from the educational domain and popular culture. With all kinds of new sports promotions and parity in athletics on the horizon, the opportunities for
girls and women in the United States appear limitless.
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