Prof: Title IX brought girl power, yet women still aren't winning

May 21, 2012

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Title IX has made a place for women in sports, but some things still need to change before the playing field is truly leveled for female athletes, says a Purdue University expert.

"In the last 40 years female participation in both high school and collegiate sports has drastically increased, and the image of girls and women playing sports is normal, and even celebrated," says Cheryl Cooky, an assistant professor of health and kinesiology and women's studies. "Yet, there are major inequities and shortcomings remaining for female athletes, especially in terms of media attention and opportunities to coach and lead in the world of sport. The movement for gender equality in American sport is partial; the revolution incomplete."

June 23 marks the 40th year of Title IX legislation that mandated women and girls have the same opportunities in high school and college sports programs.

While female athletic participation is at a historic high in all levels of sports, women are still underrepresented in positions of power within sports organizations, says Cooky, who studies girls' participation in sports and gender images in media. In the work force, women represent less than 15 percent of head coaches, athletic administrators and sports editors. Some research has show that female coaches and administrators have to perform at higher levels than their male counterparts and are at increased risk for gender discrimination due to sexual harassment, wage inequities and limited promotion opportunities.

According to research by other sociologists, even in youth soccer programs, women seldom occupy positions as head coach or assistant coach. And at a more competitive level, women are more likely to serve as team manager or coach teams for younger ages.

"It would be easy to say more women should sign up to be coaches, but attitudes in general need to change," Cooky says. "Social change is slow and difficult, and requires multifaceted approaches. The underrepresentation of women in positions of power is not unique to sport, and legislative changes alone cannot address these problems. We should build on the younger generation's interest in sports and support them in education, coaching and leadership opportunities related to athletics."

Cooky, who studies the participation and interest of young girls in urban and rural environments, says that family and friends' support of young girls in sports contributes to their success. She also says how women are featured and promoted as athletes needs to improve by focusing on their athletic accomplishments.

"During the last 20 years, the quality of television coverage, which is measured by the number of camera angles, use of slow-motion replays, graphics and quality of commentators, also has improved," Cooky says. "Yet, there is still a lack of media coverage of women's sports. When women are covered, the focus is less on their athletic skill and accomplishment but instead on their sexuality or more traditional gender roles such as mother, wife or girlfriend. These portrayals neither legitimize nor promote female athleticism."

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Cheryl Cooky, ccooky@purdue.edu

Related websites:
Difference Maker

Note to Journalists: Cheryl Cooky, an assistant professor of health and kinesiology and women's studies, co-authored "Playing but losing: Women's sports after Title IX" in the winter issue of Contexts, which is published by the American Sociological Association. Journalists interested in a copy of the article can contact Amy Patterson Neubert, Purdue News Service, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu