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5 Ways Female Athletes in College Feel the Pressure

During this summer’s Olympic games, social media was on fire with the celebrations of women in athletics and with that, problems in the athletic world were brought to the forefront. Women who can do remarkable things with their bodies were being criticized for everything from their uniforms to how they presented themselves after a defeat, all while men were making headlines and signing reality TV contracts for lying to the media (insert sub tweet).

These problems are not exclusive to those being sponsored by McDonald’s. There is as much, if not more, pressure on women in collegiate athletics, although let’s not bother arguing that I have to work harder than Simone Biles. In high school, unless you’ve been planning to be recruited since freshman year, you’re just there to have fun, hit a ball around, and play “Little Sally Walker”. But when you mix hormones, high expectations for the future, and an athlete’s busy schedule, things can get messy.


1. The pressure to keep high academics

First and foremost, we all understand that college athletes are students before they are athletes – well, most of us understand that. Whether it’s good or bad in the long run, women seem to have more pressure on them to keep higher grades in the classroom while keeping up with a busy athletic schedule. We are expected to come into class early and sit at the front and not let that late bus ride affect our attention span, all while watching the men wander in and head for the back while the professor jokes with them about the latest cubs game. Division I football and basketball teams across America have even been reprimanded for passing their failing star players so they can compete in the upcoming game.

2. The pressure on our appearance

As if women aren’t judged by their appearances enough, a big topic of discussion in all sports is about our uniforms. You’ve obviously never been a volleyball player if you’ve never heard a guy tell you he’s only coming to the game because of the shorts, and this is only one sport. Pro-tennis players are asked to twirl when interviewed and gymnasts have their scores deducted with as much as a hair out of place. This has led women to watch what they wear even in the comfort of their own training facility. Lemme tell ya, pre season isn’t very fun with three-hour practices, no air-conditioning, and a drenched t-shirt, but it’s even less fun when the cross-country boy with nothing on but shorts shorter than yours walks by.

3. The pressure to stay “toned”

Although social media is doing a wonderful job of bringing strong women into light, there is still a pressure on female athletes to not “bulk up”. We are amazing creatures, throwing our bodies into the air, onto the ground, and even into other athletes. Yet no matter how many Grand Slam titles she wins, Serena Williams is still criticized on her appearance. There is a sense that we “shouldn’t look manly”, which then contributes to a much larger problem of eating disorders and injuries on the court or field. This is hard, especially in our late teens and early twenties. We want to be impressionable off the court and having the nickname “beast” isn’t one that will get you digits.

4. The pressure to keep it classy

“You put your shorts over your spandex after practice, you keep your head high and don’t let the other team see how you feel, and why on earth are you being so loud in the weight room?”

Being classy is usually seen as a great attribute, but in a lot of women’s athletics, it’s another way to ask you to kindly be more submissive. We don’t give them a reason to sexualize us more than they already do, we don’t over celebrate or act defeated, and here we go again with the “beast” nickname. Even the actions of the coaching staff are shown to be “classy”. They stay composed when other teams play dirty and they must internalize their competitiveness. I’ve seen a ref go for the yellow card when a female coach asked a simple question while the next weekend watched a men’s coach throw a clipboard towards a ref without any repercussions.


5. The pressure to fill the stands

If you don’t have a winning record and a couple NCAA championships, good luck. Filling the stands is an issue stemmed from some of the above issues, and contributes to even more. If you don’t train properly, you won’t win. If you don’t win, no one comes to games. No one comes to games, you won’t be promoted as much by the school. Next thing you know, the basketball team is literally asking you to move your conference games so they can have a shoot around. Many times I’ve even been asked “well, what else do you do?” after saying I fill most of my time with athletics. As if doing what I love six days a week isn’t enough when it’s not making headlines.

Sexism is a consistent topic in athletics and now more than ever women are speaking out on the unfair double standards between men and women’s sports. Being a woman on campus has it’s own problems, but athletics should not be one of them.  


Maissie is currently studying English, Creative Writing, and Theatre Arts at Augustana College, where she is a writer for the on campus chapter of Her Campus. You can also see her leading as co-captain of the varsity volleyball team and watching Bob's Burgers with her sisters of the local social sorority Chi Omega Gamma. Her writing can also be found for the Augustana Observer's sports section.
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