When critiquing the issue of lack of female participation in sports at UTSC, it’s important to view the problem using a holistic approach by taking into consideration the different factors women experience.

Annie Song, a third year student in arts management shares her experience growing up. Song states, “Sometimes parents might think that because my kid is a girl, I should put them into dance instead of putting them into something viewed as more “sporty” that boys do. If you get less exposure to those chances growing up, you’re less likely to be interested in those sports in university because that’s not what I grew up with.”

Unfortunately, barriers to physical activity are still prominent for female university students at UTSC. These barriers include intrapersonal obstacles such as personal beliefs, body image, and confidence. There are also interpersonal barriers such as family, caregiving responsibilities, religion, culture, and support from peers.

One prominent barrier that inhibits female participation in sports at UTSC is the perception of women’s physical abilities. One main source of these sexist stereotypes arises at a macro-level. As much as we have progressed in society, it is evident that we have taken steps back in sports equity issues. Take for instance professional sports where it is common for viewers to down play a female’s performance. For example, the United States women’s national soccer team make only 40 per cent of what their male counterparts do, despite being 2015 World Cup Champions.

Debbie Lee, a fourth year kinesiology student comments by stating, “There are always barriers that stop women from participating in sports. As a girl, you always have to, in a way, prove to other people that you are not a man for playing sports or you’re not aggressive. You’re just a girl who enjoys sports, and you have to continuously [that to] explain to people. You get questioned whether that sport is appropriate for you to play, whether females should play that sport, and if you should play in aggressive sports, and be aggressive.”

It’s not a surprise these misogynist attitudes of female’s physical abilities trickle down to a micro-level affecting female body image and creating false prescriptions of how much exercise we should indulge in. These factors influence female participation in sports and make gender salient in sport settings. When you identify as female, your capabilities are seldom attributed to experience, but rather your gender:

Breanna Kenning, a fourth year student majoring in human biology and psychology said, “For the most part, when men don’t know me, they’re more inclined to not pass to me and might think that they’re better than me because I am a girl. They don’t want to be shown up by a girl, and they don’t want to give me the chance. I’ve played men’s hockey my whole life; the male teammates I grew up with didn’t care about my gender, but when you meet new males, they put limits on what you can do.”

    As the literature between physical activity and well-being becomes more prominent in research, our perspective on sports has shifted. Efforts to create more inclusive spaces for women at Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre (TPASC) are underway. With the help of the Scarborough College Athletics Association (SCAA), these changes are evident in the restructuring of co-ed sports, specifically co-ed soccer which now requires two females on the field at all time, compared to previous years which only required a minimum of one girl (which ironically became the maximum).

In addition, UTSC offers self-identifying females and trans women exclusive programming such as the women’s only swimming programs and instructional classes such as belly dancing, self-defense, ballet, and Women’s Only workout times at TPASC.

Sagal Shuriye, a fourth year psychology student studying said, “UTSC provides women-only workout hours. From my experiences, staff members check up on you and make sure you are using the equipment properly while providing tips. I think it’s important for us women to stay active. It’s good for the mind and soul and having these hours do help out. I do understand how intimidating it can be; TPASC is a huge facility with so many different options, but if you even just grab a buddy and explore, you’ll find something you love. I always workout with someone who is the same gender as me, I think it provides us both the ability to challenge each other and make jokes to ease the “timid” feeling you may have.”

    Barriers are not permanent; we can adjust our environment to help us jump through these hurdles. The first step is to recognize what barriers people experience because some of them are invisible. Ongoing discussion cafés, open forums, and consultations on campus will help give insight on issues affecting vulnerable populations. Subsequent knowledge obtained from these student narratives will give direction to policy changes in the university. Although barriers cannot be changed overnight, it’s important to start conversations about the unique struggles identifying females and trans women face to change programming to make it more equitable and accessible, and contribute to the development of new initiatives.