Angel Reese And Caitlin Clark Defy Stereotypes To Grow Women’s Sports

NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament - Albany Regional

The most anticipated match-up in women’s basketball this season, perhaps in the history of the sport, and a rematch of the 2023 NCAA Women’s National Basketball Championship game, will take place when Iowa and Caitlin Clark take on LSU and Angel Reese for a spot in the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

While these women have faced a great deal of criticism for their aggressive, loud, hyper-competitive playing styles, it’s this style of play that helps to grow not only women’s basketball, but women’s sport.

Matchups like Caitlin Clark vs. Angel Reese epitomize thrilling rivalries and showcase the exceptional skill and athleticism of women athletes and further serves as a reminder of the disparities historically faced by women in sports, contrasting the privileges long afforded to men athletes.

As Clark and Reese showcase their talent and competitiveness, they challenge deeply engrained biases and traditionally held gender-role stereotypes.

Colorado v Iowa

Defying Stereotypes

Gender role stereotypes encompass a range of societal expectations and norms that dictate how women should behave, think, and present themselves.

These stereotypes often dictate that women should prioritize their appearance, be passive or submissive, and avoid assertive behavior or leadership roles.

As a result, priority is placed on women and girls exhibiting traditional characteristics such as empathy, passivity, and submissiveness, which in turn serves to limit women’s opportunities and choices when it comes to those pursuits that are considered more aggressive and competitive.

For women athletes, previous research exposes the impact of these traditional gender stereotypes on their own perceptions of how they are perceived by others.

According to research out of the Geena Davis Institute, women athletes perceive that the terms most frequently associated with describing women athletes included “emotional” (70%), “sexualized” (69%), “caring” (57%), “friendly” (49%), “patient” (46%), and references to their parental status (40%). Conversely, the terms most commonly used to describe men athletes were “aggressive,” “arrogant,” “ruthless,” “strong,” “the best,” and “competitive.”

As a result, the descriptors attributed to women athletes largely align with stereotypically feminine traits, while those for men athletes lean towards stereotypical masculine qualities.

LSU v UCLA

ALBANY, NEW YORK – MARCH 30: Angel Reese #10 of the LSU Tigers reacts in a game against the UCLA Bruins during the second half in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 30, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark Challenge Stereotypes

Athletes such as Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark defy these gender-role stereotypes, making many uncomfortable with this perceived misalignment and departure from traditionally held assumptions of how women should behave.

Challenging stereotypes is inherently difficult, and doing so under the spotlight adds another layer of complexity. Despite the heightened scrutiny, women athletes possess a unique opportunity to consistently defy these stereotypes on a prominent stage.

Women athletes often find themselves at the forefront of breaking gender stereotypes due to the visibility and platform their athletic pursuits afford them.

Unlike women in many other professions, women athletes showcase their abilities in a largely public and tangible manner, through their performance.

This visibility not only challenges traditional notions of femininity but also offers a powerful counter-narrative to societal expectations. Women athletes demonstrate strength, agility, determination, and resilience – qualities historically associated with masculinity – on a consistent basis.

Colorado v Iowa

In this way, Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese are aligning themselves with athletes such as Serena Williams and Megan Rapinoe in disrupting the narrative of how women should behave.

Serena Williams shattered stereotypes through her unparalleled athleticism, strength, and competitiveness which served to debunk myths about women’s physical capabilities.

Despite facing criticism and scrutiny, particularly regarding her appearance and demeanor on the court, Serena Williams remained resilient and unapologetic, showing that women could be both powerful and assertive.

Similarly, Rapinoe defied traditional gender norms that dictate women should be passive or avoid controversial topics.

Her outspokenness on and off the field challenges the stereotype that women athletes should be seen but not heard.

2022 US Open - Day 1

As a result, these behaviors continue to challenge the notion that women must conform to narrow definitions of femininity to be accepted or respected.

Instead, they redefine what it means to be a woman athlete, paving the way for greater inclusivity, acceptance, and representation of women both within and outside of sports spaces.

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