Sexism and gender norms in physical education
Youth in today’s schools are still being held to unrealistic gender expectations within physical education classes and sport participation. This discrimination and prejudice must be eliminated for the health and well-being of our youth.
In today’s schools and communities, physical education is becoming more inclusive for youth. However, gander discrimination still exists throughout many programs. Sexism is a main concern and barrier for many girls in our communities to participate in activities they enjoy. In addition, boys are also often held to unrealistic expectations regarding their interests and abilities. Given the social pressures faced by these young individuals, we must collectively reflect on how these prejudices affect the children and adolescents in our communities and what we should do about it.
Thankfully, society has moved away from the historical idea that physical education, physical activity and sport are for males only. There has been much accomplished by women in this field.
However, young women in today’s schools are still victims of sexism to varying degrees. As an oppressed and marginalized group, women and girls face harmful stereotypes that falsely claim what is “normal.” For example, it is not widely accepted that girls should enjoy “rough” sports, fierce competition, or activities seen as male-dominated. Due to these social norms, many women and girls are pressured into feeling it would be unacceptable to get involved with these types of activities. When young women do pursue their interests and participate in maledominated activities, they are looked at differently and harshly judged.
For example, a girl who plays on a rugby team may be viewed as others as being unfeminine, or as having an abrasive personality. Prejudice and discrimination directed at individuals due to their gender, when their actions or appearance are considered outside of the “norm,” can cause negative consequences to mental and physical health, such as inactive behaviour and eating disorders.
Young men also face pressures within a physical education setting that are reinforced by stereotypes and ideals. Males are expected to always enjoy sports, play hockey, of course, and enjoy working out. When young men develop interests in alternative activities, they may not feel like they fit in with their peers. This puts them at a higher risk for lower self-esteem and a negative body image.
Many men and boys feel the social pressure to be active in certain ways and to work at attaining a certain physical appearance. Therefore our society, communities, and schools must do a better job of teaching boys, and all students, that they do not need to play hockey or lift weights to be seen as normal. There are numerous ways we can all live active lifestyles that are not exclusive to a certain gender. Physical activity should be individualized according to your personal interests, not to match socially constructed gender expectations.
So what can we do? To start, we must be aware of stereotypes and try not to let them guide our actions when interacting with young people. Eliminating prejudice and discrimination starts with making sure our own actions are not based on stereotypes. We must create an environment where all young people feel welcomed and empowered to participate in any kind of activity they wish, no matter the previous attachments to gender norms. Reaching out to the young people in your life, or offering support to the physical educators in your community are great ways to promote gender inclusiveness in physical activity.
Together as community members, we must make an effort to shift opinions and prejudices of gender norms in physical education, physical activity, and sport. Discrimination can end when we stop letting our prejudices shape our actions and thoughts towards a certain gender.
Seek new knowledge, create more relationships and encourage each other so we may teach young people in our schools to be active in their own way.
Discrimination can end when we stop letting our prejudices shape our actions and thoughts towards a certain gender.