An Open Letter To Female Athletes


By Katie Willis, SwimmingWorld College Intern

From the time of its creation, society had already determined specific gender roles. The socially constructed hierarchy had men placed above women. Men were meant to do the hard labor in life while women were intended to stay at home and care for the home and children. This reality meant fewer opportunities for females to expand out and explore different options in their lives. People were expected to stay within given rules but as time passed and society evolved, a big change in gender equality was demanded.

In today’s society, women and men are on more equal ground. However, the discrimination based on gender still exists. Men are still seen as aggressive, dominant, and strong while women are still made out to be on the weaker side and extremely emotional.  While, stereotypes are at the root, along with misconceptions and exaggerations, they still have power in society.

I think these stereotypes hurt the most for female athletes. Comments about ‘being a girl’ are often used as an insult, which can be be disheartening to a serious, driven female athlete. Whether it be running like a girl, throwing like a girl, playing like a girl, all of these have negative connotations. Anything attributed to being “like a girl” is weaker,  not as good, and so on. And with this negativity aimed toward women in sports, this can cause a falling out of sport for a lot of young female athletes.

According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, “factors such as social stigma, lack of access, safety and transportation issues, and lack of positive role models can contribute to the reasons why girls drop out of sports in their adolescent years”. So many different outlets have an influence on a girl’s self-perspective. Always feeling the need to meet the societal expectation because we are taught that acceptance is important. Unknowingly, we grow up like this. We develop from girls to women, grow in our sport, but somehow still become insecure within ourselves.

I’ve been told throughout my life that I was a good swimmer for a girl. That I was able to win because my competition wasn’t as hard. And It was these kinds of backhanded compliments that always made me feel inadequate. Our worth as athletes shouldn’t be degraded just because of our gender. Female athletes and male athletes alike,  all work and train hard to find the success they strive for the same success. We need to stop comparing and criticizing based on genders. Genders do not define as athletes– our strength, and our willingness is what makes a great athlete.


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

We should be encouraging young girls with passions for sports to know they are strong, talented, and perfectly imperfect the way they are. Take a look at all the female Olympians who have become roles models for little girls. Their existence brings these girls hope and inspires them to chase their dreams.

Dara Torres is a 12-time Olympic medalist, but what’s more impressive is that  Torres won three of those silver medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics when she was 41 YEARS OLD and the mother of a 2-year-old. She is proof that female athletes who go onto be mothers can be strong and achieve their goals! Shoutout to 7-time Olympic medalist Dana Vollmer, who gave birth last March, then qualified for the 2016 Olympic team, and picked up three medals in Rio.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the unbeatable Katie Ledecky. At 19 years old, Ledecky has 19 international gold medals to her name. She’s well spoken and fierce, traits she possessed even as a 15-year-old surprise gold medalist at the 2012 London Games. With Ledecky’s dominant presence in swimming, young girls have someone close in age to relate to and strive toward becoming.

Natalie Coughlin, a 12-time Olympic medalist became the first woman to swim 100-meter backstroke in under a minute back in 2002. Coughlin also became the first U.S female athlete in history to achieve six medals at one Olympics at the 2008 Summer Olympics. She is the first female swimmer to grab gold in the 100-meter backstroke in two consecutive Olympics. And most notably Coughlin is one of only three American women to garner a hefty total of 12 Olympic medals. She is a prime example of breaking limits as a female athlete, and a household name to truly admire.

Female athletes have come a long way– from not being able to compete at all, to becoming stars themselves. Years of social stigma has been disheartening to many young female athletes. But with all of the positive female figures that have emerged in recent decades, we have seen significant growth in the female athletics.

Don’t let other people take the good out of what you love. We can’t erase the words but we can erase the way the words affect us. I don’t want to spend my whole life worrying about other people’s opinions. Because we are so much more than just girls– we are athletes.

1 comment

  1. avatar

    Your emotional rant just put your sex (sex is the correct term and not gender) back into what you seem to think is the dark ages.