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A View of Sexism Evident in Nike’s Athletic Promotion

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A View of Sexism Evident in Nike’s Athletic Promotion essay
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This text is questioning why men are looked as being the superior athletes in comparison to women in sports, and more specifically in long distance running. It also questions why we as society feel the need to compare them. The Men Vs. Women challenge advertisement campaign put on by Nike plus acts as the representative example for this text in order to see how society still values male athletes more than female athletes. The author consulted Robert Degner’s work, which explains how men have experienced a longer predisposition to being competitive. The author also joined a conversation with Christine Wegner about her research regarding statistics of female marathon runners. It was found that the number has plateaued and it speculated that this is caused by social norms restricting women from spending extra time on training that they are using right now to raise children.

One more thing for men to rule, is the caption on the advertisement of the Men vs. Women challenge put on by Nike Plus (Gould). This particular ad is obviously supporting the men in the challenge. One more thing for men to rule. Is it supposed to intimidate women? Or empower men? Did Nike even think about the fact that the ad might come off as offensive? What exactly are they trying to accomplish? But mainly, why are we making it a competition between men and women? With all this being said, if society knows that there are limitations that have held women back from being as physically capable as men and, if male and female bodies are created differently, why does society continue to value male athletes as more capable and superior to female athletes? My initial hypothesis is that because men have been participating in sports for a much longer period of time than women have, we tend to value them more than female athletes.

The Nike Plus ad, which I will be analyzing as my representative example, was part of a campaign originally to get more women to join Nike plus, an app that connects to your iPod or phone to track your mileage and pace. I chose to use this advertisement as my representative example because Nike is a pretty well known company and they are still ignoring gender equality just for one of their campaigns. The employees at Nike decided that the best way to get women to join the app was to start a battle of the sexes. On the ad in favor of the men’s side there is a guy running wearing Nike running clothes. He looks very focused. There are big white words in front of him saying “one more thing for men to rule.” and then under that in smaller letters are words saying “join the men vs. women challenge at” He looks like he knows what he is doing, like he is an experienced runner (correct form, proper running clothes, defined muscles, etc.). There was an ad similar to the men’s ad supporting the women. There is an experienced, focused female runner with words in front of her saying, “Ladies First. Men second.” It seems ironic that they chose to say ladies first because at no point in history have women dominated sports.

Men have a vastly different athletic background than women do. The Olympics have been around for thousands of years, running events have been included in all of them. Except, only for men. Women weren’t able to participate until 1900 and didn’t start competing in running events until the 1928 Olympics (The History of Women’s Running). A handful of women were able to compete in the 800m run in 1928, however a lot of them collapsed at the end of the race so it was banned until 1960. This seems really unfair because even though they were allowed to finally run they hadn’t gone through proper training, or education on how to race an 800m. After that event there became a rule that women could not race more than 1.5 miles because they physiologically incapable of running more than that. The marathon was not incorporated into the games for women until 1984 after a group of women fought long and hard to prove that they should have the rights to race more than 1.5 miles (The History of Women’s Running). Women have not had nearly enough time to adapt their bodies for maximum potential because our history did not include lots of physical activity. Why were men participating in sports when women weren’t?

Men on the other hand have had plenty of time to adapt their bodies for physical activity. Robert Deaner and some of his colleagues published an article exploring the evidence that men have had an evolutionary history of physical competition, they hypothesized that because men were involved in more physical activity, “Men have experienced a longer predisposition to be competitive, which has driven them to be more interested in sports…Societies have documented female participation in sports but men were always shown to be more involved.” (Deaner) While they did document women participating in sports they weren’t nearly as competitive or involved in them as men were. Could this biological response have been influenced by the social norms of that time? Where these social norms influencing females drive for competition as well? How has women’s biology played a role into their athletic participation? Why was it acceptable for men to play sports while women stayed inside and cared for children?

Women are still evolving their bodies to be capable of maximum athletic performance. Russell Pate and Jennifer O’Neill published a paper about the advances women have made in the sport of marathon running. They looked into the trend of the best marathon times for women over the span of 30 years to see how they have changed. It was discovered that women improved their marathon times by 15.6% over thirty years, while the best male marathon times have remained fairly constant for recent decades. They also looked at the physiological differences between male and female runners. “The male runners had statistically significant higher values of height, weight, sum of 6-site skinfolds, V ?O2max and V ?E compared with the female runners.” (Pate). These biological differences have been adapted over many centuries so that men could run to catch food or fight off enemies. It’s okay to compare males and females. However, we need to draw the line when comparison turns into a hierarchical comparison and a placement of women and men on a scale based on factors that shouldn’t be compared. This is why I found the Nike ad destructive to the work that many people have put their entire lives into for gender equality. Does being a child bearer mean that women’s bodies aren’t as physically capable of athletic performance because their bodies are able to bear children? It seems like we’ve made a lot of progress with feminism but we still have a lot of work to do.

Social norms of women and mothers being the primary caregivers for children have had an impact on the number of women participating in sports. Christine Wegner did a study about the number of women running full marathons and discovered that “While the percentage of female runners at every distance up to and including the half marathon has increased continually over the past 10 years, the percentage of women participating in full marathons has plateaued since 2006, with women still representing the minority in this distance at 43%.” (Wegner) Women are now the majority of half marathon runners at 61%. They suggested that women have found their spot in running and have become most comfortable running half marathons. They continue and say, “The environmental filter that once precluded women from distance running has appeared to shift, moving the exclusionary barriers, and now seems to apply only to the longest race distances of 26.2 miles and beyond.” (Wegner) The article mentioned that it is not difficult for women to start running initially, that we have jumped that hurdle but it does become difficult for women to up the amount of time they spend training for races longer than the half marathon (Wegner). They speculate this is because it takes more time out of each day to train for a full marathon that most women using to take care of their children. So have we really jumped over social norms? Society used to see women as exclusively caregivers and nothing else. Their job was to stay at home, care for the kids, and clean the house. Now, it’s socially acceptable for women to run and race but they still have to devote their main priorities to caring for children, given that they are mothers, but running is something they can do if they have spare time. Men have less of a hard time fitting running into their schedules because of they aren’t expected to see to their children as much as women are.

Another issue with society’s hierarchy or gender is the pay scale for women compared to men. This article titled, “Here’s why it’s fair that female athletes make less than men” by Shane Ferro discussed why its fair that women get paid less. It’s because not as many people come to watch female athletics. This specific article looked into soccer players but this is common among most sports. The writers used “fair” in the sense that what their sport makes is relatively equal to what each athletes makes. They went on to point out that what we really need to be focusing on is why, why are people less inclined to go see women compete, and put less time and money into female sporting events? “The real question is not why female athletes are paid less. People should be asking why fans and sponsors are less interested in supporting women’s sports — and this is what they should be outraged about.”(Ferro) Once again it all goes back to social norms that male sports are dominate, which somehow makes them more interesting. Why? Could this difference in pay scale discourage women from running? Could it also empower them to fight for their rights to have equal pay?

If we know that our historical differences have led to different biological capabilities than why are we still initiating competitions between men and women? Who is this healthy for? Could this be potentially harmful to men as well? Men too feel pressure from the hierarchy that we have created as well. Except, they don’t worry about whether they will be able to compete in a sport, rather they worry If they will be able to keep up with the expectations that society has set for them as ‘fit males’. When men see that women can beat them in a race they feel intimidated and embarrassed that a girl could beat them. This hierarchy has led to many male athletes afraid because they are supposed to be better, according to society. If they aren’t though, they can feel pressure from other males as well as media to be better, stronger and faster. Athletes will go to extreme measures to prove to society that they are the top dog. One common way they do this is by abusing performance-enhancing drugs.

A document released by The American College of Sports Medicine stated that, “Lifetime prevalence rates for steroid use among male adolescents generally range between 4 and 12 percent and between .5 and 2 percent for female adolescents.”(Yesalis) This is showing that males have a higher chance of using steroids, this article also mentioned that drug use can start pretty early in life, signaling that it could be due to social pressures. If kids are using steroids so early in life it could be hard for them to stop later in life and also change their mindset that they don’t need to use steroids to be great athletes.

How do we move forward? I think we have done a lot to get women in sports to where we are today, but yet we still see sexist acts and comments being made on a large scale. Eric Anderson did a study on the cultural forces that are affecting male athlete’s attitude towards sexism. He says in his research, “Competitive male team sport athletes might maintain socio-negative attitudes toward women even in a time when institutional sexism has been shown to be decreasing.” (Anderson 258). He used data from heterosexual men who played football in high school, a much masculinized sport, and then went on to join collegiate cheerleading in college. He found that the guys largely changed their views regarding women’s athletics. They respected women’s leadership abilities and valued their friendship. While this is all well and good, it astonishes me that men have to actually see women participating in sports close up and interact with them for us to gain their respect. It shouldn’t have to be like this, but if it helps men take women more seriously in the athletic world then we need to continue in that direction. Maybe this means that we just need to combine more sports and allow men to see that we are just as willing to put in the work as they are. Is this the right way right that we should be going about trying to demolish gender norms?

I don’t think there is a “right” way to do it, however, we need to continue to talk about gender norms and help break them down. There really is no need for comparison, we should be able to respect each other’s differences whether it be due to biological differences or others, but at the same time be able to support one another. Athletics is about bettering yourself and improving your health, ultimately.

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A View of Sexism Evident in Nike’s Athletic Promotion. (2019, January 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 27, 2021, from
“A View of Sexism Evident in Nike’s Athletic Promotion.” GradesFixer, 03 Jan. 2019,
A View of Sexism Evident in Nike’s Athletic Promotion. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 Sept. 2021].
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