A major hidden ideology that runs through sports and that affects all women participants is the need to appear feminine, according to research that I’ve conducted in the United Kingdom. My study leads me to conclude that the fight to gain equality in sports will mean addressing the enforcement of a heterosexual norm.
Sport, of course, is based on rules, norms and values. These exist not only on the field, court or track, but in attitudes about sexuality, gender, (dis)ability, ethnicity, religion, class or age. Women coaches in the UK talked to me about their professional experiences and personal stories, including issues that affect their sense of self. They described the constraint they feel from trying to conform to hidden rules and practices.
One of those hidden rules, according to the interviewees, is appearing “feminine.” Femininity is often a code word for “heterosexuality.” In the case of sports, heterosexuality is institutionalized as the status quo, and sexism and compulsory heterosexuality create the pressure to portray feminine images and behavior, regardless of one’s own sexual orientation. This hidden standard affects women in sports at all levels — whether athletes, coaches, officials or administrators.”