Gender Inequality Reflected in Sports

Women who participate in sports are often not given the recognition that they deserve as dedicated athletes who work incredibly hard to improve their skills. There is obviously a cultural divide that doesn’t allow men’s and women’s sports to be considered equal. Although women have gained great amounts of respect and now legally have all the same rights as men, there is still something imbedded in American culture that does not allow women to be equal to men in every sense.

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At the start of my research, I was determined to understand this issue of inequality in sports and how peoples’ perceptions of women’s sports are skewed by cultural beliefs.  I researched one woman’s relationship with collegiate club ice hockey and her struggle in the absence of support from her university.  I wished to understand how and why gender inequality in sports exists, and to also shed light on the inequality that women must deal nowadays on a larger scale, such as in the workplace.

To perform my research, I conducted three interviews with the main subject of my research, 33-year-old Catherine, over the telephone, as Catherine now lives in Maryland.  In the first interview, I asked Catherine a few questions about her experiences as a female hockey player, and with each conversation that followed, I rephrased questions that had not been fully answered to the extent I was hoping, and asked new questions to dig deeper into some of the topics.  I was also able to conduct one interview, again over the telephone, with Catherine’s mother Jane who remembers Catherine’s struggles with hockey in college well.  I asked Jane similar questions about Catherine’s experiences; obtaining an “outsider’s” view was important to understanding the situation.  I chose to use a structured interview style with both Catherine and Jane.

The object of my study was the women’s club ice hockey team at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont.  I was specifically studying one former player’s experiences from 1999-2001, and the possible gender inequality that was present; the university’s treatment of the men’s hockey team was very different from the treatment of the women’s team.  It is important to note that women’s and men’s ice hockey do have slightly different rules; most of the differences allow the men to play much more violently and aggressively than the women can.  Rules and regulations surrounding the rink and equipment are the same for both sexes.  The object of the game is to get the small rubber puck into the opponent’s net using a stick that is shaped somewhat like an L.  Each goal counts for one point against the opposing team.  Players are required to wear hockey skates, which do not have picks like figure skates, and extensive protective gear that includes a helmet, shoulder pads, a neck guard, and kneepads.  Each team is allowed six players, including the goalkeeper, on the ice at one time, unless there are penalties, in which case there will be fewer players.  There are three periods in each game, and each period is 20 minutes long. During this time, there are many possible penalties, including ones for spraying the goalkeeper with ice shavings, tripping, and for having a high stick.  However, checking, which is a huge part of the strategy in men’s ice hockey, is not permitted for women.  The NCAA says that “body checking occurs when a player’s intent is to gain possession of the puck by separating the puck carrier from the puck with a distinct and definable moment of impact,” and apparently this action is not acceptable for women.  

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