“There’s No Crying in Baseball”: Why is gender still an issue in sport psychology?

Do you know who Ema Geron was? If you don’t, you are remiss. Ema Geron was the first president of the Fédération Européene de Psychologie des Sport et des Activitées Corporelles (FEPSAC) and her work with female gymnasts is considered the “dawn of the gender perspective in sport psychology” (p. 101; Tenenbaum, Lidor, & Bar-Eli, 2011). Do you know who Dorothy Harris was? If you don’t, you should. Dorothy Harris was the first female member of the International Society of Sport Psychology (ISSP), the first woman to receive a Fulbright Fellowship in sport psychology, and the first resident sport psychologist for the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). These are the women who, along with the men you more than likely do know, built the world that you and I are privileged to work within. 

Being a female has its upsides; for instance, no one questions my sanity or stability when I cry at the end of a good sports movie. However, there are adversities associated with being a female – particularly when my gender makes me part of the minority in my field. As the only female faculty member in a Sport and Exercise Psychology program, I am often asked to share my experiences and perspective with students. In fact, this past Spring I was asked by some of our doctoral students to lecture in a course for undergraduates and speak about Women in Sport and Exercise Psychology. One of my male colleagues jokingly responded “I wonder why they asked you to talk about that.” As he and I both chuckled, I wondered whether or not my experiences should be any different than the experiences of my colleagues — after all Nike was a goddess — but they are. When I was 5 years old, a boy on my K-league soccer team told me “I don’t have to listen to you, because you’re a girl”, I understood that I was different. When Brandi Chastain ripped her shirt off in 1999, I understood the significance and importance of her actions. When the starter said “Lady and gentlemen start your engines” at the Indy 500 in 2005, I understood the implication and meaning of six words instead of four. I understood all of these events differently than most, what may have been funny to all of the parents on the sidelines or just another cover shot for Sports Illustrated or just another day at the races, was more relevant to me because I am a woman working in what some consider to be the “last male bastion”. 

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Brandi Chastain’s “Infamous” Moment

I know, I know…another woman ranting about inequality in sport. But just for a minute, let’s pretend that my rant has merit. Consider this…although most female athletes would have no problem working with a male sport psychology consultant, adversely, many male athletes I have encountered in my career would have an issue working with a female sport psychology consultant. Consider this…while it might take me 20 minutes to earn the rapport of a female soccer team, it may take me 20 or more practice sessions to earn the same rapport with a male soccer team. Consider this…I am more likely to get my male clients attention with the length of my skirt than the information coming out of my mouth. And consider this…when I enter a consultation with a men’s American football, baseball, or wrestling team, the athletes can question my credibility based on my lack of playing experience in sport I was never afforded the opportunity to participate in due to my gender. 

Researchers in social psychology suggests that as a female, it is likely that I have a different moral orientation (Gilligan, 1982; Jaffee & Hyde, 2000), a different way of knowing (Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986), a different way of interacting with groups (Markus & Kitayama, 1991), different ideas about how to develop and maintain close relationships (Cross & Madson, 1997), a different way of communicating (Tannen, 1990), and a different self-construal (independent vs. interdependent; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Cross & Madson, 1997) than the majority of male athletes with whom I might work. Does that mean that I am less capable of relating to male athletes or that they are less likely to understand me?? Does that mean that I may be less sympathetic to their perspective or have difficulty truly appreciating their problems?? Does that make me less qualified to work with male athletes?? Maybe a better question is this…if the answer to the previous questions is “yes”, then why are the vast majority of female athletes across the world coached by men?? Men may be tired of hearing women rant about inequality in sport, but I assure you, we are just as tired of ranting. 

References

Belenky, M. F., Clinchy, B. M., Goldberger, N. R., & Tarule, J. M. (1986). Women’s ways of knowing: The development of self, voice, and mind. New York: Basic Books.

Cross, S., & Madson, L. (1997). Models of the self: Self-construals and gender. Psychological Bulletin, 122, 5-37.

Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Jaffee, S., & Hyde, J. S. (2000). Gender differences in moral orientation: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 703-726.

Markus, H.R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion and motivation. Psychological Review, 98, 224-253.

Tannen, D. (1990). You just don’t understand: Women and men in conversation. New York: William Morrow.

Tenenbaum, G., Lidor, R., & Bar-Eli, M. (2011). OBITUARY. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 9:2, 99-101


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Vanessa R. Shannon is in her fourth year as an assistant professor in the Sport and Exercise Psychology program at West Virginia University. Her research areas include group dynamics, psychology of injury, career transition, and physical activity promotion. She has worked with athletes across the lifespan and all levels of competition (youth, high school, collegiate, masters-level adults, and professional) as a performance enhancement consultant for over 10 years. 

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