Gender Dynamics in Extracurricular Activities

By Garo Keuchkarian

Cover picture taken from Adidas

Educational institutions are, unarguably, the essence of forming an individual’s character and social behavior. The experience and the environment that students are subjected to in their daily lives, of their most prominent years, constitute the building blocks of their thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of the roles and the dynamics of male and female genders. School and university settings are hosts to significant gender dynamics that are reflected in both curricular and extracurricular activities. Research has been more concentrated on the effect of the settings on the students inside the classroom and within the scope of the curricular activities. However, to fully address and highlight the key issues of male dominance in these institutions, it is necessary to examine the underlying gender dynamics through the course of extracurricular activities.

One of the best ways to examine these dynamics is to address the various forms of extracurricular activities present in both schools and universities. These activities mainly constitute clubs, societies, sports teams, leadership programs, and the student body. Surely, female students have a hard time adapting to the clubs and societies where they are underrepresented. They feel more comfortable and have higher participation rates in clubs related to arts, where they have a space to express themselves more freely, rather than consulting, archery, scientific, and gaming. These clubs have had experienced male dominance for years, to where women have been marginalized and felt less encouraged to join and lead their way. This is mainly provoked by the lack of appreciation of their abilities and individuality. Moreover, in their article “Who Cares? Gender Dynamics in the Valuing of Extra-Curricular Activities in Higher Education”, Jaqueline Stevenson and Sue Clegg discuss some of the activities that female students prefer and are passionate about are limited to being mere feminine hobbies, contrary to that of the male students. The author stresses the fact that activities, such as crafting and jewelry making, are frequently shadowed by others that are preferable to male students (41-55).

Furthermore, to analyze and draw my conclusion on the matter, I decided to conduct several interviews that would help me highlight the lying problem. Carine, a female university student that I had interviewed, explains that she and most of her female counterparts would prefer to engage in clubs related to their major or arts rather than the other popular social or sports clubs. When asked what the underlying reasons for the latter are, she justified that the activities and the clubs present in the universities do not meet their inspirations and interests, rather they are the generic clubs that have been founded and have been operating in the university for a long time. However, this was not the case for my interview with Peter, where he discusses extensively the various clubs that he and his friends actively engaged in university. Hence, it is safe to conclude that the standardized activities and clubs present in the universities and schools are tailored towards the qualities and the characteristics of male students. They do not address and value the collective passion and the interests of the female students, as they do for their counterparts.

The gender bias is reflected in the interviews done and would also extend to sports and varsity teams. Since male sports competitions have higher attendance rates and rewards, universities tend to focus more on male sporting clubs. Consequently, male college athletes have more scholarship and recognition opportunities. In his article “Are Doors being Opened for the “Ladies’’ of College Sports? A Covariance Analysis”, Russel E. Ward Jr discusses the result of a survey that highlights that US Universities that provide financial aid and scholarships to female students have higher women participation rates (697-708). Additionally, Ward not only mentions how women are underrepresented in university sports teams but also emphasizes the fact that there is no men’s university team headed by a female coach, while male coaches are highly represented in the women’s teams’ coaching staff.

I decided to interview Lara, a female university Handball player, to further analyze the struggles that she faced in her sports team. She explained how the women’s university teams are poorly advertised and promoted compared to that of the men. After attending both men’s and women’s teams match, it was clear that the men’s team had significantly higher support from the audience and the administration, rather than the female team that even lacked players signing up for the team.

In addition, on my way to the stadium, students, mostly male, were shocked when they heard that I was planning on attending the women’s game. One of them even responded with, “Are you seriously going to watch some girls playing around a ball? Don’t you have anything else to do? Just wait a couple of hours and you’ll enjoy the game when the men’s team play”.

Had there been more financial and moral support from the administration, would not the overall tone towards the women’s sports team change? The men’s teams possess resources and scholarship opportunities that promote their competitions and attract positive attention from the crowd rather than mockery. Therefore, it is evident that the tone in the university concerning female sports teams raises a major gender inequality issue that can elevate in various forms and would often lead to bullying and marginalization.

The bullying in educational institutions would extend to students who do not meet the gender norms that society has set. Brett Lehman displays in his article “Supporting Gender Equality in Extracurricular Activities and the Impact on Female Bullying Victimization in School” how in US schools, male students who possess poor athletic skills are often subject to misogynistic insults and would be accused of lack of masculinity (445-470). While for the case of female students, those who are talented in athleticism are subject to harassment and bullying. Henceforth, the problem does not line within the athleticism of the individual, but rather with “violating” the traditional gender norms and expectations. The idea that a student is expected to follow the specific gender roles and behave accordingly, limits its motive to follow its own choice and interest at an early age. I have witnessed how in both school and university, male students who are passionate about arts and literature have been bullied and mocked for their lack of masculine preferences. Similarly, female students who tend to be athletic and prefer to play sports with males have faced insults, from their female peers, regarding their lack of feminine characteristics.

In addition, to approach the matter on a larger scope, I decided to survey a group of 120 High School Students in one of the schools in Lebanon and ask the participants whether they had refrained from an activity, in their recent academic years, merely because it may be perceived as unorthodox within their respective gender groups. Based on the survey, 30% of the male students had faced constraints and admitted having refrained from an activity, while that percentage number rises to 65% for the female students. While the percentage of those who, despite having faced the constraints, have not refrained was only 10% and 15% for the male and female students respectively. The results of the survey amplified that gender dynamics within the school settings limits the participation of students, especially females, in specific extracurricular activities, directing their interests into domains that follow the gender norms. Hence, what is inferred from the research is that the perceptions of the patriarchal society have been clearly reflected within the school extracurricular activities.

After extensively discussing the effects of the nature of the extracurricular activities, the lack of support for the women’s sports teams, and the pressure on adolescents to follow the traditional gender norms within their preferences to avoid bullying and harassment, one questions whether female students have tried to raise their concerns to the administration or the student body. This challenges us to examine the dynamics and the participation of female students within the student body that would be key to amplifying their concerns on a higher level. Mary Hogue introduces in her article “Gender Bias in Communal Leadership: Examining Servant Leadership” the concept of hostile sexism within the leadership positions in the student body of a school or a university faculty (837-849). She reinforces the fact that leadership qualities are measured by authoritarian characteristics in male-dominated environments. In other words, for female candidates to become leaders, they are expected to have the same attributes that previous male leaders have had. Hence, it is necessary to shed light on the gender bias in leadership positions and analyze its effects on the female representation within the student body.

Having been part of the student body in my school and heading it in my senior years, I have witnessed how female students were largely underrepresented. When female students are not valued by their traits and strengths but rather with biased viewpoints, they are often discouraged to even apply for these positions. To have a better understanding of the challenges faced by female students, I interviewed Lea, a female member of a university student body. She explained how, even after two years of success and accomplishments within the student body, she still was not even considered for the roles of the president or vice president and was limited to roles that are more generic for female students, as a secretary or public relations. She highlighted the fact that her work was marginalized because she did not possess the charisma and the “leadership attitude” of those of her male colleagues, that were much less experienced than Lea. It is clear how the preference of male hostile qualities, such as authoritarian behavior, over hard work and experience, can result in the lack of female leaders in the educational settings. This will surely have its negative implications in raising the concerns of women in both, curricular and extracurricular activities.

In conclusion, it is evident how active male dominance is within the gender dynamics in the extracurricular activities of educational institutions. This gender bias could result in long-lasting effects on the character that a student forms and would expand to the gender dynamics within other institutions. After thoroughly analyzing the root causes and highlighting the resulting consequences, new solutions must be implemented to address this issue and support women’s participation in activities that satisfy their interests. To increase women’s participation, administrations of institutions must review the current operating clubs and societies, as well as consider adding clubs that would reflect the interests and skills of female students. In addition, to further avoid gender bias, institutions should equally fund and advertise men and women’s sports teams and their preferred clubs. The latter would also provide an end to all bullying and stereotypes that female students often face and would encourage their active participation. Moreover, it is necessary to initiate young women leaders’ programs and campaigns that could motivate female students to consider leadership positions as male students do. Hence, women would be more representative in student body councils and take leadership positions in their clubs, which could help in raising awareness of their encountered barriers. These institutions are key for the self-development of every individual, and henceforth, implementing the mentioned suggestions and ending gender bias should be one of their primary goals.

Works Cited:

Hogue, Mary. “Gender Bias in Communal Leadership: Examining Servant Leadership.” Journal of Managerial Psychology, vol. 31, no. 4, 2016, pp. 837-849.

Lehman, Brett. “Supporting Gender Equality in Extracurricular Activities and the Impact on Female Bullying Victimization in School.” Social Psychology of Education, vol. 20, no. 2, 2017, pp. 445-470.

Stevenson, Jacqueline, and Sue Clegg. “Who Cares? Gender Dynamics in the Valuing of Extra-Curricular Activities in Higher Education.” Gender and Education, vol. 24, no. 1, 2012, pp. 41-55.

Ward Jr, Russell E. “Are Doors being Opened for the “Ladies’’ of College Sports? A Covariance Analysis.” Sex Roles, vol. 51, no. 11, 2004, pp. 697-708.

Edited by Nour Atieh
Copy edited by Khadija Hojeij

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