Gender discrimination and male gaze on the basketball court — how can we transform the male-dominated playing field?

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This article is part of the 36th issue of LEAP — Voices of Youth e-letter. Subscribe now.

Photo: Women’s Basketball Team of National Taiwan Normal University English Department

In Taiwan, when people think of the male gaze, perhaps the first scene that comes to mind is the basketball court.

“Anyone who has played basketball knows that when you walk into a school basketball court, 90% of the people on the court are men. This is a male-dominated field, and the shadow of patriarchy reaches every corner of the court.”

A female basketball player wrote in an op-ed on The News Lens described her experience of being a member of the University Women’s basketball team and repeatedly encountering issues when using the campus court. For example, the team would arrive at the time they booked to find the court occupied by men. When she went to the basketball court to practice in her free time, she found that she was constantly watched by others on the court, which made it very uncomfortable for her to continue.

In recent years, to improve inclusivity and friendlier conditions, many courts have posted signs reading “women first” or “women only”. However, many women still feel uncomfortable on the basketball court. Regardless of the effectiveness of designating women-only courts, why do women feel uncomfortable when they use the basketball court? In a field where males outnumber females, does the male gaze affect women’s feelings about using the basketball court?

Basketball is a men’s sport and women are just for decoration?

Photo: Unsplash

Describing her experience playing basketball at public courts, Gena, founder of SheSports and co-founder of Double Pump Sports, said that she usually makes arrangements to play basketball with a group of female players, booking a court in advance. Sometimes they arrived to find that the court had already been occupied by men who would brush them off. In other cases, female players who wanted to team up and play with male players were rejected or ignored.

However, Gena’s experience is only a microcosm of the experience of many female basketball players.

This paper discusses the reasons why gender discrimination emerges on the baskball court and makes women feel uncomfortable. A large part of the reason is that basketball itself is a sport that glorifies masculinity through its display. At the same time, basketball culture rejects and oppresses femininity or anything perceived as feminine.

In addition, based on the physiological differences between men and women, the sport is divided into men’s and women’s basketball. The ball used in women’s basketball is smaller and lighter than the ball used in men’s basketball. Because of this, men tend to believe that women’s basketball experience is on a lower level than men’s, involving less athletic power and physical contact. As a result, men tend to dismiss women’s needs for court access.

In addition to experiences, women are a minority on the court, often attracting attention through the unwelcome male gaze. The writer of the article mentioned above points out that, rather than appearing on the court as athletes, women are often expected to appear as team managers or beautifully dressed decorations, i.e. cheerleaders.

Double Pump Sports co-founder Tingxuan Song once said that basketball courts have always been a mostly male domain, and people have come to think of this as “normal”. However, if you look closely, you will find that women have been deprived of opportunities to participate in sports, and their right to equal court access is routinely ignored. It’s like everyone is being told over and over again that “sports are for boys”, revealing society’s deep-rooted gender stereotypes.

Promoting women’s sports education and transforming the male-dominated sports field

Photo:She Sports

Although the basketball court has always been dominated by men and regarded as a masculine domain, in recent years, more and more organizations have been dedicated to reversing the perception that basketball is a “man’s sport”.

For example, SheSports, a women’s sports education and promotion organization founded in 2021, was co-founded by Double Pump Sports, EMPOWER and CYA Basketball Studio. SheSports aims to use sports to help women gain more confidence and achieve better experiences in their personal growth.

“We have been teaching basketball to children and teenagers. We have found that many girls are interested in basketball, and as children, [boys and girls] can play together. But when they reach puberty, boys begin to reject girls.” Achao, co-founder of SheSports and EMPOWER Project Manager, said that he originally founded the women′s basketball team to give girls of all ages a space to enjoy training and playing together. That is, a space where the male gaze is eliminated and girls can feel safe when performing sports. Achao also pointed out that when people observed that more girls were venturing into basketball, parents would encourage their children to engage in basketball or other sports. When the number of girls exposed to these sports increases, it becomes very natural for girls to play basketball.

Liu Hsi-Yeh, a player in Women’s Super Basketball League (WSBL), Taiwan’s highest-ranked women’s basketball league, and the founder of SheSports, said that during her efforts to promote women’s basketball and women-friendly courts, she has received a lot of positive feedback. For example, one student said that as a girl who liked playing basketball, she couldn’t find a place to play once she finished university. “Later, after she came to us, she sent me a text saying she felt very secure when she came here to play. This made me feel that we were doing the right thing.”

Through the acquisition of venues, the establishment of teams, and the influence of the players themselves, SheSports hopes to continually grow their women-focused sports platform. Gena also said that SheSports plans to host training camps in the future, providing a place where women who enjoy basketball can interact with each other, and where they can continue to promote the concept of gender-diverse sports education.

From the things women experience regularly, such as male players occupying their courts and refusing to play with them, when we explore the uncomfortable situations women have encountered on the basketball court for many years, we will find that many situations the public regards as normal are, in fact, expressions of implicit gender stereotypes which cause us to neglect the needs of certain groups. However, as more organizations try to reverse this phenomenon, it is hoped that in the near future, traditionally male-dominated sports such as basketball will no longer be seen as “men’s sports”.

Also in This Issue:

Grasping Power by Looking: The Male Gaze from Past to Present

Originated from film theories, “male gaze” has now been applied to a wide range of phenomena and helped to reveal the power gaps of gender.

Author : Evelyn Yang

Freelance writer / Graduate student in Journalism

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LEAP − Voices of Youth

LEAP − Voices of Youth

LEAP: Voices of Youth is a quality platform for English readers to learn about gender issues in Taiwan