Balancing on the beams: Gender and Gymnastics

Photo by Ania Klara, CC0 Creative Commons

By Anisa Miah
Subedited by Jasmine Wing and Yasi Qureshi

Anisa Miah reflects on the advances (or lack of) in gymnastics for females, 90 years after being allowed to compete.

There has always been a question in my mind when it comes to gymnastics, why is there still such a large difference in the style of gymnastics between men and women?

Gymnastics is a massively under-represented (and under-funded) sport but the end of the 2016 Olympics had brought about fresh new fans thanks to young talents such as Max Whitlock and the undoubtable star of 2016 Simone Biles. Gender differences date back to 1896 and 1928; gymnastics was an exclusive male Olympic sport from 1896 until 1928, when women were first permitted to participate.

Although, equal participation did not guarantee equality within the sport, for example male gymnasts showcased their body strength and power while females demonstrated grace and femininity through their performances.

For example, the floor routine for men consisted of tumbling passes, flips and twists with a focus on strength and execution. In comparison women’s floor routines were accompanied to music and used dance moves such as leaps and jumps. What is the significance of this today?

For me personally, I prefer to watch the male gymnast because I like to see technical ability over dance moves. “Feminising” in women’s routines makes it less interesting because it takes away from the intensity of the skill.

Women gymnasts demonstrate a high level of strength however, just like the men, in achieving the movements that they perform. Female performers are tasked with coordination of their routines with the music while adhering to the “feminising” aesthetic. The value of success attributed to men and women in the sport remains unequal.

So… what’s the solution? There needs to be change. In 1928 women gymnasts were introduced to the Olympics with the purpose of being graceful…that was 89 years ago and I’d like to think that the world has come a long way since then. In 2017, can men and women can compete on the same terms with the same scoring systems and styles?

Either men need to start incorporating dance moves into their routines or women should be allowed to remove the use of music and dance moves from their routines, which in my head is the logical conclusion as it would give women a chance to showcase their technical ability just like the men. Either way, there needs to be a change!

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