In the late 1800s sport became an activity which medical experts feared might turn a woman into a man, what was known as “gender inversion.” This idea became homosexuality in the 1900s. Medical experts switched their thinking from females turning into males to females sexual desires and action turning more masculine. Just as we discussed during the first week of class when sex and sexuality means something different experts decided your sex could not change, only your sexuality. When the idea of hetero- and homo-sexuality emerged the fear of lesbian-ness became a huge part of women’s sports.
Chapter 1 of Susan Cahn’s book Coming on Strong is entitled “The New Type of Athletic Girl” and that change began in the 1920s and 30s. During the roaring 20s sport was just beginning to gain the immense popularity we know today, and therefore all athletes were being covered more and more. Because of the shift in the thinking that women will become men if they play sports was gone more females were joining sports teams. The idea of women not playing sports does not just go away over night however and therefore it became a stereotype that all female athletes were lesbians. “They stood on the borderline between new feminine ideals and customary notions of manly sport” (Cahn 8). The effect this had on women and young girls was they now had another reason to not play sports. It went from “I don’t want to turn into a man” to “I don’ want people to think I am a lesbian”.
This stereotype still exists today to some degree. It is mostly reserved for the sports that require more muscle however, such as softball. But with more and more athletes coming out and that homosexuals are becoming more and more accepted by society each day this stereotype will hopefully fade. Here is a list of the 11 most powerful lesbians in the sporting world- http://www.curvemag.com/Curve-Magazine/Web-Articles-2010/The-11-Most-Powerful-Lesbians-in-Sports/.
One of the most influential women in taking the fear of lesbian-ness away is Billie Jean King. She became one of America’s favorite athletes and thus the fear of lesbians began to diminish. Candace Parker is also an athlete that lately is crushing the stereotype that big strong female athletes are lesbians. She is pregnant and is also the MVP of the WNBA.
In the 1920s and 30s these athletes did not exist, but without the 20s and 30s they wouldnt exist today either. We have grown from the days when all women athletes were seen as homosexuals and the fear of playing a sport and being called a lesbian is gone in today’s society.