Name: Julie Adler
Student Number: 08562601
Tutor: Julie-Anne Carroll

Topic: "Are you female enough for the Olympics?"
best so far.jpg
Cultural Artefact
The artefact I have chosen is a picture displaying a woman’s personal views towards her achievements and acceptance in sport. It displays this individual’s support for feminism as they hope this will positively influence attitudes towards female paricipation and success. The note in the picture provides common excuses for exceptional female performance, seeing as it is apparently unacceptable that women may just be better sometimes.

Public Health Issue
This artefact represents the public health issue of gender inequality, particularly related to the sporting environment. For some time, women have been represented in sport as being less capable than their male counterparts. While there have been vast improvements in women’s inclusion in sporting events it is still accepted as a reality by many that women cannot perform at the same level as men. On the occasion where a woman does significantly excel in her skill, many competitors, spectators and officials are quick to assume the need for a gender-verification test, as the performance is supposedly too spectacular for this person to be “completely woman”. The issue lies in determining whether females are disadvantaged in ability due to biology, or an unfortunate, socially constructed opinion which sees a renowned theory that women will never perform equal to, or greater than men. This is important to public health as it can contribute to an increase in women’s participation in sport which will see positive implications for individual and population health.

Literature Review
West and Zimmerman (1987, cited in Deutsch, 2007) describe gender as something that people do, and not merely a sign of who someone is or should be. Even so, the conformity of gender continues to pose issues for women, with expectations that they will forever act in feminine ways and be of a lower standard than men (Deutsch, 2007). It is these social ideals, along with research into biological determinants that place an immense strain on the acceptance of gender equality in sport (Theberge, 1998). Theberge (1998) comments on how the acceptance of differences between men and women is “amplified and celebrated” in sport and highlights the need to reconstruct this view. Gender differentiation is an extensively researched topic, with still no consensus established as to why males and females are different in more than just reproductive function. A synthesis of journal articles explores research into the biological differences between males and females along with the social constructs of gender roles, both of which alter female participation rates. These two areas of research will be compared to determine whether gender expectations in sport are warranted by inevitable biology, or simply a matter of social construct.

In analysing biological differences between males and females, there are obvious structures and physiological processes that are strictly relevant to either sex. Jost (1947, cited in Kim & Kolon, 2009) presented the paradigm of sex determination in three phases; chromosome formation, gonadal ridge differentiation into ovaries or testis, and finally development of internal and external reproductive anatomy. Males and females also exhibit differing levels of sex hormones, with testosterone being of a higher concentration in males as opposed to higher oestrogen levels in females (Flieger, 1995). It is now recognised that both sexes will present varying levels of opposing gonadal hormones (Fleiger, 1995; Woods & Stanton, 2012). While these distinguishable differences are of importance, in establishing biological reasons as to why females cannot compete equal to men requires further investigation into the effects that testosterone has on physical ability and sporting performance.

There is little doubt on the advantages that testosterone brings to a person’s physical capabilities on the sporting field (Australian College of Sports Medicine, 2006). Testosterone is a primary male sex hormone produced by the testes which influences masculinity and increases muscle mass (Woods & Stanton, 2012). Along with the physical benefits that testosterone can provide, its influence on motivation has also been extensively reviewed with current evidence suggesting that it can effect levels of aggression (Gleason, Fuxjager, Oyegbile & Marler, 2009), limit response to surrounding distractions (Herman et al., 2007, cited in Woods & Stanton, 2012), and decrease empathetic response towards competitors (Hermans, Putman & Honks, 2006) which in turn sees an increase in readiness to conquer. The list of advantages that testosterone brings to performance is extensive, giving reason to believe that the biological make up of males (of whom exhibit heightened levels of circulating testosterone), will most likely influence an advanced sporting performance compared to females. If testosterone is continuously depicted as a male hormone and a major determinant in performance and ability, women may believe that their skills will never be good enough regardless of the time and effort they place on physical activity and exercise. This may deter women from participation, and ultimately present a number of health disadvantages that can be avoided through adequate exercise (Talbot, 1981).

There are cases where a woman’s level of naturally occurring testosterone may exceed the “norm” of other female competitors which brings about discussion of the need for gender-verification (Woods & Stanton, 2012). These heightened levels are often attributable to disorders of sexual differentiation, in which the external sex does not coincide with a person’s phenotype (Allen, 2009; Woods & Stanton, 2012). Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) is a condition where one’s sex and gender is female, though chromosomal configuration forms in that of a males (XY) and internal testis may be present (Hughes et al., 2012). This condition can see an increase in testosterone levels in females due to the presence of the male gonad (Hughes et al., 2012; Kim & Kolon, 2009). Even so, the International Association of Athletics Federations (2006) prepared a statement which declared the condition of AIS, along with many other disorders of sexual differentiation, acceptable as the benefits it provides can still vary across a continuum.

Despite the acceptance of sex disorders, female excellence in sport is still subject to public scrutiny (Proudfoot, 2009). This is arguably a result of the social
anticipation that sport and athleticism is a male domain and cannot coincide with feminine practices (Dworkin & Messner, 2002; Elliot & Sander, 2011). Rabinowitz and Valian (2000) discussed the prospect of women’s roles based predominately on domestic duties while men act as providers. This social construction of gender roles has seen negative implications in sport, with women who display masculine characteristics of dominance, aggression and power being questioned as to their gender and femininity. Nevertheless, Dick and Kellers (2006) report that females who succeed in their sport and apply these characteristics to their performance are not critiqued if there is a presence of feminine qualities such as appealing looks and body types, reflecting the social norm of women as petite and well-groomed individuals (Rabinowitz & Valian, 2000); an unfortunate norm that is heavily promoted through media (Fink, 1998). The social construction of femininity can act as an antagonist towards female involvement in sport, with many women believing that sport is too masculine in nature (Cooky, 2009).

Scientific research is consistently accepted as an efficient justification to the social norms of gender roles (Elliot, 2011; Rabinowitz & Valian, 2000). The literature provides strong scientific evidence into the advantageous effects of testosterone in sporting performance for males. Extensive research into the neurological brain differences between male and females (Ngun, Ghahramani, Sánchez, Bocklandt & Vilain, 2011) has also been suggested to be a determinant of gender specific skills. Elliot (2011) states that “exaggerated claims about sex differences are more culturally acceptable”, and presents this as an implication towards further progression in gender equality. Kane (1995, cited in Theberge 1998) concludes that scientific literature regarding biological gender differences is unintentionally influenced by the preexisting social constructs of gender, in which male and females are naturally thought to be oppositional beings. This theory would suggest that despite the extent of scientific literature rationalizing perceived differences in gender, gender inequality is a socially constructed notion that is only celebrated by science and scientific theories. It implies that the social expectation of women being less adequate in sport than males is further supported and believed as a result of increasing research in the area, and can in turn negatively influence women’s participation and health in many populations.

Debate still remains as to whether females are biologically-challenged in regards to sporting performance. Scientific research suggests that males are at a greater advantage due to heightened testosterone levels that promote performance (ACSM, 2006; Hermans, Putman & Honks, 2006; Woods and Stanton, 2012). As this hormone is present in lower amounts in females, it is easy to assume a limited ability in sport compared to males. Still, this assumption is only exacerbated through societal norms that have perpetually neglected female ability and participation in sport, reflecting the existence of gender inequality (Foody & Smithson, 1999). While there are biological differences between males and females, sporting capabilities between the sexes are only as exceptional as what the social constructs of gender consider conventional.

Cultural/Social Analysis
Society and culture play an integral part in addressing the population health issue of female participation in sport, as these structures ultimately influence a women’s own sense of agency. Inequalities in gender have seen great advances, though the institution of sport is still ridden with unequal opportunities and expectations as a result of its continual association with men and masculinity (Cooky, 2009). Social constructionism is described by Hibberd (2006) to be the “common knowledge” amongst society, and disregards any scientific theory that may explain social opinion. It is this notion, introduced by theorists Berker and Luckmann that prohibits an alteration in gender roles and principles. Social constructionism is the basis of structure which sees an immediate belief that sport is for men and women simply do not wish to participate (Cooky, 2009).

It is apparent that the structure of gender roles is a pressing issue for women and the acceptance of female success in sport. Feminist theorist, Simone de Beauvoir, adapted the belief that males and females are born equal, and females become women through the social constructs of gender rather than the biological determinants that have been heavily studied (Mikkola, 2012). This addresses the concept of nature versus nurture, in which Beauvoir and many other feminists critique, and to some extent condemn the idea of nurture. Feminism aims to create a "genderless (though not sexless) society, in which one's sexual anatomy is irrelevant to who one is, what one does, and with whom one makes love” (Rubin, 1975, cited in Mikkola, 2012). Positive repercussions can ignite from adaptation of this theory. If society is genderless, then predetermined beliefs of what constitutes masculinity and femininity can be removed, seeing equal opportunities and expectations across both males and females. For sport, this can align with acceptance of females in sport and praise for those who do participate and succeed, as opposed to the poor excuses that appear in the presence of excellence.

Considering that women are greatly affected by this social construct, it is imperative that public health experts focus on a shift in assumptions regarding gender roles. The feminist movement is an influential association that strives to achieve equality for women, yet this is still challenged in sport. Females are denied up to 30% less opportunities to participate than males, substantially less media coverage of female sports, as well as minimal access to resources and facilities compared to male sporting individuals and teams (Dworkin & Messner, 2002). Equal opportunities in sport must be permitted to allow for equal appreciation across both genders. Public acknowledgement of this inequity can alter collective attitudes, which may see an increase in women’s willingness to participate in sport. This can contribute to positive health outcomes including a decreased risk of threatening chronic disease (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension), obesity and premature death (Warburton, Nicol & Bredin, 2006). Improvements can see benefits for the population health of Australia.

Artefact Analysis
The artefact represents the generalised view of the impossibility for women to succeed over men in sport as it is, and always has been, a male dominated field. Women’s abilities are continuously undermined and excuses are made to justify female success. It displays gender inequity in sport and the frustration it presents for women who wish to be accepted and congratulated for their achievements.

I believe it is a good case in point for my topic as it reflects the socially constructed notions of gender discussed in the literature review and social/cultural analysis – men are simply better at sport than females. The reference to the need for feminism is also of significance in the artefact as it embodies the importance of this movement in achieving equality and women’s acceptance in sport. It is obvious that this person is unmotivated to participate as their skills are always attributable to “luck” or the competitor purposely letting them succeed. Women need to be encouraged to participate in sport, though as long as this opinion on their “limited” abilities stands, the less motivated they will be.

Through my investigation and analysis of this topic I have come to realise that despite advances in gender equality, women are still subject to the expectations of female gender and femininity which unfortunately sees many implications in sport. There are some biological differences that may benefit males though this is not to say that women will never achieve similar results. The major inference preventing equality is the social constructs of masculinity and femininity that suggest men always have and will be superior in sport. I have been able to understand the impact that social norms and expectations can have on individuals, and I believe that I will question what constitutes male and female gender expectations in future research.

Reference List
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