Being a Woman in Sports: Struggles, Barriers, and Opportunities
Photography by Jason Wu
Cornell University athletics began in 1869, with baseball as its first sport. The Cornell Athletic Association has been around for over 150 years; in 2021, Cornell only just celebrated its 50th anniversary of women’s athletics. This is a prime example of barriers women had to overcome to simply be recognized in the athletic world. The enactment of Title IX in June of 1972, which banned sex-based discrimination in educational settings, required all colleges to open programs for both men and women. Today, Cornell has eighteen varsity sports teams for women, and has continued to make efforts to increase equality for all women athletes on campus. However, being a woman in athletics still involves overcoming various hardships.
Cornell has made significant strides in its efforts towards facilitating a successful and equal program for its female athletes. However, there are still a variety of struggles that female athletes face at Cornell. Captain of the women’s ice hockey team, Ashley Messier, spoke about some of the inequalities she faces regarding being a woman in sports.
“Male athletes are given more attention, screen time, sponsorships, and support than female athletes,” Messier said. “It is no secret that women in sports aren’t typically given the opportunity to make a living out of what we do, but nonetheless there is no hesitation to better ourselves as athletes.”
Many of these issues are those that female athletes experience not just at Cornell, but nationwide. In the scope of professional athletics, females are typically paid less than their male counterparts, are given less representation, and do not draw the same amount of attention as male athletics. While Cornell does offer resources for female athletes to find a community, such as the Women of Color Athletics, it is no secret that there is more to be done. Women’s lacrosse captain Bridget Babcock finds that she often feels male athletes are treated more seriously by the Cornell community and have a lot more resources.
Photography by Jason Wu
Another significant challenge that female athletes at Cornell face is a lack of support from the Cornell community. Sydney Waiters, one of this year’s seven captains of the women’s soccer team, describes the difficulty her team faces in receiving support from the public.
“In general, female athletes do not seem to get the same level of hype, or have as many fans at the games as our male counterparts,” Waiters said. “I feel like we could get more support from our Cornell community.”
Nonetheless, female athletes have managed to find motivation, confidence, and a community within their programs. Female athletes across all programs share similar sentiments regarding the benefits of being a woman in sports at Cornell.
Babcock finds a mutual respect and admiration for women in all sports at Cornell, not just her team, through “[G]oing to other athletic events to cheer on fellow female athletes, seeing them work hard in the weightroom, and passing them on campus.” Similarly, Messier explains that being a female athlete at Cornell is something she takes immense pride in and feels lucky to be able to experience.
Waiters puts her experience as a female athlete best by stating that “On top of being an Ivy League institution, Cornell is a Division I program. That, coupled with being a female in sports, gives female athletes like me the opportunity to be a leader and trailblazer in the world.”