Gender Inequalities in Professional Basketball: A Review of the Literature
University of Texas at El Paso
Millions of Americans and people all over the world watch professional basketball year round; whether it is the National Basketball Association (NBA), Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), or even a foreign league overseas. The sport of basketball is known as a worldwide sport and for the most part it is played, instructed, and valued likewise in every country. However, these likenesses sometimes may not be comparable when gender is involved; creating possibilities for gender inequality for men and women who play the same sport. This literature review explicitly explains the definition of inequality, and where it may be present in the sport of professional basketball. It also clarifies why, if any, of these inequalities may be the same or different depending on gender. It attempts to create a plan to diminish any present inequalities in the game of basketball. Lastly, it provides more detail about gender inequalities in professional basketball by answering the question of who experiences it more and why.
Gender Inequalities in Professional Basketball: A Review of the Literature
By watching both men and women’s professional basketball, it is clear to see that the same game is being played but not with the same amount of support, salary, and even intensity. For many years now, men’s professional basketball has been put on a higher pedestal compared to women’s professional basketball. More National Basketball Association games are broadcasted on national television than Women’s National Basketball Association games. In addition, professional NBA players have a higher salary than professional WNBA players; nonetheless, NBA players play longer seasons. To better understand what inequalities are and why they are present in modern day professional basketball the following four questions will be answered:
1. What is the definition of inequality, and gender inequality?
2. Are inequalities present in the sport of professional basketball, if so are they present for both men and women and what are they?
3. What should be done to stop inequalities in basketball?
4. Based on the inequalities in basketball, which gender experiences it more and why?
This review will feature key explanations on the four questions above and will entail information about what inequalities are faced by each gender in the sport of professional basketball.
What is the definition of inequality and gender inequality?’
When we hear the word inequality, some may immediately think of race, others discrimination in class, and some even thing about the unfairness based on social and economic classes. Merriam-Webster defines inequality as “the quality of being uneven as lack of social disparity and disparity of distribution or opportunity.” Inequalities lie in almost, if not every aspect of life in today’s modern day society. Conversely, let’s focus on the subject of gender inequalities. Men are seen as being superior to the women. Gender inequalities have been present for as long as biblical times. In 2001, Arrighi expresses the opinion and ideas of ancient philosophers:
The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities, said Aristotle; we should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness. And St. Thomas for his part pronounced women to be an ‘imperfect man’, and ‘incidental’ being. This is symbolized in Genesis where Eve is depicted as made from what Boussuet called ‘a supernumerary bone’ of Adam. Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him, she is not regarded as an autonomous being. (p.57).
Since most cultures and societies are patriarchal, woman are seen as inferior to man, compassionate, lacking masculinity, being unable to take care of themselves, and are encouraged to complete jobs which require little or no physical activity; but is this a result of gender roles? With woman and men still allowing gender roles to influence and shape their everyday life, gender injustice will continue to exist (Strauss, 2007). It begins at a young age when girls are encouraged to play with dolls, wear pink, and wear dresses. Whereas boys as are told not to cry, play contact sports, and be tough. Many believe woman reinforce these stereotypes to their children by choosing careers deemed “pick collared”, which refers to careers that are feminine or containing womanly characteristics, and by socializing them by gender. As a result everyone, including women themselves, should ensure that both genders have the same equal rights and opportunities as each other.
Are inequalities present in the sport of professional basketball, if so are they present for both men and women and what are they?
Some believe woman are constantly belittled and undermined in the workforce, in the classroom, and even sports. In 2007, Strauss found that on average, a woman working full-time only makes seventy-seven cents to the full-time working man's dollar. She also found that a woman will only accumulate forty-four cents to the working man's dollar throughout her entire lifetime. According to table 2.4, McCall expresses the wage inequality experienced by women who have the same education as their male counterparts (2001). The table shows female/male hourly wage ratios in U.S. Metropolitan areas, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Santa Clara County; and the average ratio in each city.
Type of Education
Less than High School
.728 As explained by the table, the wages for females are significantly lower. Unfortunately, when the subject of WNBA players’ salaries and NBA player’s salaries come into topic, the gap of pay becomes even more extreme. In 2011, Aschburner stated that the median salary made by an NBA player totaled about $5.15 million. While the maximum, WNBA salary for veteran players in 2010 is only a measly $101,000 (Top WNBA Salaries: How Do They Stack Up, 2010). In addition, Washington indicated in 2011, WNBA rookies’ salaries begin at only $35,000, while NBA rookies’ salaries average at around half a million dollars. The following two graphs summarize the information regarding the salaries of both female and men professional basketball players.
Nonetheless, salary is not the only inequality present in the sport of professional basketball. There are inequalities in broadcasting games, length of seasons, and even sponsorships. Sheila Scraton and Anne Flintoff explain how women’s basketball receives little to none media attention compared to men’s basketball by asserting, “although the major television network broadcast many of the men’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) games each season, women’s games are rarely aired” (2002). Even WNBA games are rarely aired, how often it that one watches a WNBA game on a television network is not comparable to often on watches any NBA game, whether it is the finals, preseason, or even summer league! On the other hand, it can be seen that men as well experiences inequalities in the game of professional basketball. One example is the length of an NBA player’s season compared to the length of a WNBA player’s season. A WNBA player’s season typically lasts about 3 months, while if an NBA player’s team goes deep into the playoffs, he could be playing his season for about 10 months (Washington, 2011).
What should be done to stop inequalities in basketball?
As stated before, the subject of inequalities are presented into life as early as childhood, but in the form gender roles. Little girls are taught to play with their dolls and be sweet, caring, and nice; while their male peers are taught to be rough, tough, and play with action figures. Therefore, in order to create an effective way to which inequalities will not appear in the sport of professional basketball, this is where one should begin to change. Females should not be raised to a certain norm, but instead if they want to go out and play sports outside with friends they should be able to. The more girls who grow up free to choose a profession they truly desire, the more grown women there will be pursuing careers in professional sports or any other man dominated occupation. Fortunately, there has been some action taken to prevent inequalities in basketball, and in all sports. Title IX of the Education Act Amendments has established a law stating women should be equally represented in sports as their male counterparts are (Scraton & Flintoff, 2002). Another action that can be taken is action by viewers. Viewers tune in every night when an NBA game is on a television network, but do they tune in for any WNBA coverage. Moreover, Farrell, Fink, & Fields found that during the 2008 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship game there were about 3.6 million viewers who tuned in to watch, while the NCAA Men’s Championship Basketball game that same year racked in about 5 times more viewers with nearly 19.5 million viewers (2011). They also discovered that only 40% of the WNBA’s televised viewers are made up of women, and only a little over 50% of the WNBA’s ticket holders and attendees were females as well. “As Vogt pointed out, ‘Female sports leagues, like the WNBA, have a much smaller female fan base than the NFL’ (Farrell, Fink, & Fields, 2011). Major television networks show television shows that will get their network more ratings, because that leads to more profit. If more people start tuning in to WNBA games, then maybe more WNBA games will get aired, leading to more sponsorship for the association, which in the end allows the players to obtain more money as well. In addition, more women should be involved in the process of destroying gender inequalities in the professional basketball, because men are in fact some of the biggest women’s professional sports fans. Farrell, Fink, & Fields attained in their interviews with several women, the idea that some women believe only men understand sports, and only men participating sports are the sports that are worthwhile and worth watching (2011). Some women even argue that fact that it is their own fathers, husbands, and sons who introduced sports into their life; therefore, why shouldn’t it be a male dominate field. Not that every women should be a feminist, however, one should think like one. Feminist are stereotyped to being only woman, bra-burning activists when, in fact, they are just individuals who believe woman should have the same equal rights and opportunities as men. If one can follow and ensue by these steps and transition their life accordingly, gender inequality will eventually die down and ultimately cease to exist as these ideas are passed down from generation to generation.
Based on inequalities in basketball, which gender experiences inequalities more than the other and why?
Although both men and women face inequalities in the sport of professional basketball, women face more inequalities. In 2002, Scranton & Flintoff found that more boys and men still have far more opportunities, from the peewee level through professional sports; while girls and women often have to struggle for access to uniforms, travel money, practice facilities, and scholarships that boys are men routinely take for granted. They have also found that during the early years when female sports was introduced into the world, participation of women implied they were competing with men; scorning the women of their masculine characteristics. Another hardship women face by participating in sports in general, is how there body transforms. Scraton and Flintoff found that muscular women in today’s society are viewed as embodying agency, power, and independence in a way that represents disagreement to the idea of a male dominant society (2002). Hence, women are often bashed for being “too muscular”. This then leads to women avoiding lifting weights, because they are in fear of becoming too masculine. Women want to be athletes, but still want to be attractive to the opposite sex. Scranton and Flintoff explain the struggles and complication women athletes face with their bodily images by stressing:
Just as women in male dominated occupations often hit a glass ceiling that halts their professional advancement, there appears to be a glass ceiling on women’s musculature that constrains the development of women’s muscular strength. Defines according to the latest commodified eroticization of heterosexual femininity, most women remain acutely aware of how much muscle is ‘allowed’, how much is ‘still’ attractive (p. 24).
Lastly, women in professional sports face the unfortunate hardship of not getting much media attention. In 2011, Whiteside & Hardin discovered that majority of women’s professional sports televised games receive low ratings , because they are shown at the same times as highly known and recognized male sports. For example, a television network broadcasted a women professional sporting event on a Sunday afternoon at the same time as a heavily promoted NFL game. They also uncovered in their research that there are two dominate reasons for the weak following of women’s sports. Those reasons include the lack of exposure and sponsorship makes it hard to gain faithful and committed viewers and fans, and the second reason is the persistent low quality of women’s sports reinforces the idea of how women are inferior to men.
The idea of male dominance in sports has been apparent for many years now, and although women’s basketball is one of the more widely recognized women sports, their players still face hardships and adversities that their male counterparts do not. There have been great strides to break the inequalities these hardworking women in the Women’s National Basketball Association are facing, such as Title IX and Nike creating a highly successful campaign which specifically targeted girls’ and women’s rights both in and out of athletics (Scraton & Flintoff 2002). While ending gender inequality in professional basketball will take a long time occur, even with the help of a whole nation, it is possible.