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Gender and Sex Segregation in Sport in The 21st Century

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When using words “gender” and “sex”, people usually use them interchangeably. However, these two words can be deceptive. Pryzgoda & Chrisler (2000) explain that many researchers agree that there is a differences between “sex” and “gender”. “Sex” is referring more the biological aspects of the female or male body, but “gender” usually focuses only to behavioral, social and psychological features of men and women.

Cunningham and Pickett (2018) bring out in their article that since early age, boys compete against boys, girls against girls and this system continues and gets stronger as they grow older. The desire for clear boundaries in sport are magnified, as people like categories neat, even though the nature can be slob. In the first decades of twentieth century, many US physical education institutions were sex segregated. Physical education department curricula, facilities, budgets and staff were one of the few places on US college campuses with such strict line drawn according to sex. Historically, sex segregation was set up around ideas of sexual difference and the belief in the unsustainability of sport for women. Until recent years, the human body was viewed only biologically. However, to understand the full meaning of a body and gender, it needs to be viewed in social and cultural settings. The conclusion can be made when reading different researches and articles about sex segregation in sport – sex segregation has been existing in sport for a long time and people are used to it. According to Fink (2015), sexism has become a norm that is rooted within institution of sport that is hardly ever received at a conscious level and if recognized, most think that change is impossible as “that’s just the way things are”.

As sex segregation is a key organising principle for most of the modern day sport, the justification for binary sex segregation of sport is based on complicated mix of elements including biological, economical and commercial arguments, merged with social norms which keeps framing sport as male domain. Dashper (2012) states that regardless of the strength, age or skill of the participants, sex segregation is normally applied uncritically without anyone usually wondering the reason or logic behind that. As sex segregation is deeply ingrained in the organisation, practice and culture of sport, Daspher (2012) suggest in her study that sport needs to include more than just opening up sports to competition between men and women.

Sex segregation is tightly connected with gender ideology. Coakley (2017) states that “gender ideology consists of interrelated ideas and beliefs that are widely used to define masculinity and femininity, identify people as male or female, evaluate forms of sexual expression and determine the appropriate roles for men and women in society”. Three central ideas and beliefs help to define gender ideology: human beings are either female or male; heterosexuality is nature’s foundation for human reproduction; other sexual orientations are abnormal; men are physically stronger and more rational than women, therefore they are more naturally suited to possess power and assume leadership position in the public sphere of society. According to these statements, men are naturally stronger and have better characteristics for leadership and this is why sport is segregated by sex. However, as mentioned in the beginning of the chapter – sex and gender are defined differently, and gender refers more to characteristics. Therefore, as previously discussed, gender needs to be viewed also in cultural settings as different traditions, local customs and personal beliefs can influence one’s characteristics. Even though, politicians and other public figures often consider sport as the “great equalizer”, that cuts through gender, race or religious boundaries to gather people around common interest, it is unfortunately not true – these factors can exaggerate sex segregation, cause inequality and exclusion within sport settings. Still, in sport, physical differences are at the center focus as the evaluation of the athlete bases on system which reveals differences and ranking is based on individual’s performance. Messener (2011) brought out that in his research some of the women coaches believed that it is in the best interest for girls and boys to have separate categories, as putting kids together might disadvantage the girls and drive them away from physical activity and sports.

Sex segregation and gender ideology both are based on differences of male and female body. However, it needs to be seen in cultural settings too. As sport is still thought to be male domain and women are therefore frequently referred as “other”. Throughout the history, women have been minority in sport and even though girls and women are participating more than ever in sports and achieving remarkable result, they still face exclusion and secondary status. The ideology of orthodox masculinity supports even more the resistance to change, as men are compound together in male dominated activity and in homophobic, sexist and anti feminine gender regime. Sex segregation should not mean excluding women from sport or referring them as “others”, but simply dividing people with opposite sex to different groups to have equal opportunities in sport and results. Unfortunately, sports-women get a lot less coverage in sports media compared to male athletes and women’s competitions are placed in secondary status.

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Gender And Sex Segregation In Sport In The 21st Century. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 6, 2022, from
“Gender And Sex Segregation In Sport In The 21st Century.” GradesFixer, 16 Dec. 2021,
Gender And Sex Segregation In Sport In The 21st Century. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 6 Aug. 2022].
Gender And Sex Segregation In Sport In The 21st Century [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Dec 16 [cited 2022 Aug 6]. Available from:
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