The Disparity Between Men’s and Women’s Collegiate Sporting Events

The world of sports is one dominated by men. Whether that be at a professional level or a collegiate level, it’s undeniable that men’s sports are thrust to the forefront whilst women’s sports stay shadowed in the background. In the past few months, I’ve made my way to two women’s volleyball games and five men’s soccer games, and the differences in atmosphere between the two sporting events was quite alarming.


Michigan Men’s Soccer

In Professor Mika Lavaque-Manty’s “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities”, Lavaque-Manty brings up an example of how spectators used to not be allowed in women’s sporting events, which explains the absence of spectators in images of women’s sporting events from the early 20th century. While it’s no longer true that spectator’s aren’t allowed into women’s sporting events, it is still true that there’s a lack of them. The five or so men’s soccer games I’ve attended this season had varying attendance. Generally speaking, the student section was either semi or mostly full, while the non-student spectator section was almost always full. In contrast, the attendance at the two women’s volleyball games I attended was lackluster. The student section in Cliff Keen is rather small, and while it was generally full, that still doesn’t add up to the number of students at the men’s soccer games. The non-student spectator section at Cliff Keen was maybe half full at best. Now there are obviously a lot of factors at play here: the day and time of the game, the opponent, the fact that I’m comparing two completely separate sports, etc. However, I don’t believe this disparity in attendance to be a coincidence.


Michigan Women’s Volleyball

As Levaque-Manty discusses in his book, there’s this common and longstanding argument that women’s athletic performance “simply is less impressive than men’s”. There’s this societal conception that women simply aren’t as good as men when it comes to sports (amongst other things), and this concept is one that’s difficult for me to wrap my head around. When watching these women play volleyball, not once did I think “men could do this better” or “eh, mediocre”. These women are athletes. True athletes. And undermining them the way I heard fellow students do throughout the game was insulting. Multiple times throughout the game, it was extremely apparent to me that some of the men around me were there for a purpose far different than my own. I was there to watch a game of volleyball, they were there to watch volleyball players. The number of derogatory, sexist, and misogynistic comments I heard some fellow students make about these exceptional athletes was mind-boggling. It’s not like these types of remarks overpowered the game, but there were enough to make me uncomfortable. One of my favorite instances of this was when Mr. Star Trek t-shirt behind me commented on which one of the players he’d “do first”. As if.

I’m not saying this was why the majority of the spectators were at these women’s volleyball games, because I know that’s not the case. But the fact that there were spectators around me who were purely there to sexualize and demean the female athletes working insanely hard to win a game and make our university proud is disgusting. It’s something that didn’t happen at the men’s soccer games I attended and never will. And this isn’t a solo incident. Earlier this year, 27 members of the Tufts men’s lacrosse team were suspended after yelling sexist (and racist) remarks during a women’s volleyball match between Tufts and Smith College. What I’ve witnessed at the women’s volleyball games I’ve attended here at the University of Michigan isn’t anywhere near that extreme, but the fact that events like this do happen shows that sexism is alive and thriving in the world of sports, and it needs to be stopped.

Although it’s obvious that I believe sexism plays a large roll in the discrepancy between attendance at male and female sporting events, I do acknowledge that it’s not the only factor. Taking the time out of your day to go to a sporting event is a commitment. It’s two or so hours you’re dedicating towards leisure and not work, and as such, you’re only going to take that time to go to a sporting event you know you’ll truly enjoy. Most students, myself included, haven’t gone to many women’s sporting events, and as such, don’t know if it’s worth the time you sacrifice in order to attend. Lavaque-Manty states in his book that “women on average have somewhat “lesser” performances than men”, and I think this scares people out of attending women’s sporting events because they don’t know if it’ll be worth their while. I’ll even call myself out on this, because despite that fact that I absolutely love soccer, I’ve never attended a women’s soccer game at the University of Michigan. While I can sit here and make excuses about why I’ve yet to attend a one, at the end of the day, it’s because I’ve never gone to one and thus don’t know if it’s worth the time I’d be sacrificing in order to attend. College students are busy people, and constantly being told that women play soccer at a lesser level than men can give the impression that women’s soccer games aren’t worth attending. Unfortunately, soccer season is over now, but I’m going to make it my mission next year to attend at least two women’s soccer matches. Because at the end of the day, who am I to talk about the disparity between men’s and women’s collegiate sports, especially when it comes to attendance, if I don’t do anything to try to mend the gap.



  1. allanmc2014 · November 8, 2014

    Excellent point you make here. It drives me crazy that our university cares more about men’s athletics than female athletics. I think the root of this cause stems from our century-wide notion that women are inferior to men in general. Long time ago, society believed that women were “baby-making machines” while the noble men took all of society’s pride and glory. But as current society proves nowadays, females are just as equal, if not better than men in some fields. The fact that you bring up the licentious comments you overheard while at the volleyball game proves this century-old phenomenon.

    Women’s athletics are no more boring, no more exciting, or no more competitive than men’s athletics. So why are we not giving so much attention to women’s sports? I believe society fully hasn’t grasped the concept of females participating in sports. That is the real question. WE need to get over this and the fact that society is still lingering over this is not only depressing but highly subjective.


  2. haleyzap · November 9, 2014

    As a female student athlete, I would say it is slightly disappointing that Michigan students care less about student athletes, but luckily the athletic department does not. While women’s sports are less attended, there a an equal amount of male and female athletes because of Title XI and to keep and equal amount the Athletic Department makes sure that the females continue to play on their team. I think that slowly but surely society is shifting their views toward having equal amount of respect for female and male athletes and eventually we will get there with more time. Also, just an interesting article about someone sort of similar, but more ridiculous, to the Star Trek t-shirt guy you sat behind.


  3. mkweihs · November 9, 2014

    Generally speaking, you’re right that there’s a discrepancy between the attendance between women’s and men’s athletic events. I have attended a women’s basketball game and the attendance was so much lower in comparison to the men’s basketball open training. However, I had a completely different impression while attending the women’s volleyball match this Friday. There were plenty of visitors – both in the non-student and student section and the atmosphere wasn’t sexist at all, but supportive and I had the impression that the volleyballer could feel that as well. Nevertheless, I agree that sexism appears often in the field of sports, but I don’t know whether it is that . In my opinion, it is a little bit problematic how you’re speaking about your attendance at women’s sports events and whether it is “worth sacrifiying your time”. It might appear a little bit harsh and degrade the women’s athletic performance. However, it is cool that you’re so honest and try to change your mind about women’s sports events. Maybe, you could have included that there also exist differences between the attendance in between men’s sports at our college. Nevertheless, it’s good that your blog post stresses the problematic involved in the discrepancy between women’s and men’s sports.


    • nicolesigmon · November 10, 2014

      I felt it would be hypocritical of me to write this blog post and not mention the fact that I hadn’t attended any women’s soccer games myself. It is problematic and I acknowledge that. Me talking about whether attendance at women’s sporting events is “worth sacrificing your time” wasn’t meant to be degrading and harsh, it’s literally what I’ve heard multiple of my friends say when I asked them about it. It’s not the mindset I think people should have but it’s the mindset most people I talk to seem to have. And yea Volleyball games seem to be kinda hit or miss because one i went to wasn’t that bad and the other a lot of the guys were making really derogatory comments about the athletes that made me really uncomfortable.


  4. sgoldberg18 · November 13, 2014

    I really enjoyed this blog post and it made me think a lot about Michigan’s support. When we were emailed about season tickets in June, we were offered football, men’s basketball, and men’s hockey tickets. The University rarely tries to pump up women’s sports in the way it does men’s, which is why people often make less of an effort to go to their games. Personally, I’ve only been to the football games because I am an athlete and usually have my own commitments to practice or schoolwork when the other teams have games, which sort of speaks to how willing Ann Arbor is to shut down for this one men’s sport above all else. Now that I’ve started thinking about this, I’m pretty angered by the lack of caring Michigan has for women’s sports. Unless they attempt to get students excited, we will most likely never see a huge increase in attendance for women’s games. The institution needs to make female and male sports an equal priority to help this issue.


Comments are closed.