I asked my big sister and former Division I collegiate soccer player if her school treated her the same as her male counterparts. Her response: “Students and fellow athletes do not treat me the same. They made comments about women’s sports being less important.” My sister is putting in the same amount of work, sacrificing the same amount of time and working through many of the same issues that all college athletes face and it seems like she gets no respect. This attitude toward women’s sports creates an almost hypocritical view of athleticism as “less-than” solely because the athlete is female. What qualifies men’s sports as holding any kind of importance? How can the same exact thing be any less significant simply because women are doing it?

Women’s sports are not less important. Women are not less important. Let’s remember that countless female athletes are putting in the same amount, if not more work as their male counterparts. Not to mention the fact that male athletes should be the first to support female athletes. They know just how much work has to be put in, just how much time has to be sacrificed and how grueling the life of a collegiate or professional athlete can be. Male athletes should not be the first to put their female counterparts down. Rather, they should be the first to be fighting for equality, fighting for justice.

I then asked one of my best friends, a Division I men’s college basketball player, if he ever feels like he’s given advantages over his female counterparts. “No,” he replied. “The only difference is the popularity of the sport. That’s not them getting treated differently, it’s just the way the world works.” Just the way the world works. Women just don’t get the respect they deserve. That’s just how it works. Female athletes are constantly given consolation prizes for competing in what’s seen as a men’s world. Just the way the world works. Now I know that my friend doesn’t really think female athletes deserve less than male athletes. I know because I spent four years of high school playing basketball alongside him and I know he respects me as an athlete. I also know he respects the women’s team at his college as well, but sometimes that can be harder to tell.

There have been countless times when I have been hanging out with my guy friends and we decide to play basketball. Without fail, I am picked last. I know it might sound petty – complaining about being picked last – but that’s not the point. The point is that of the group in which I end up playing these pick-up games, I am the only person who actually played basketball. I played for my entire life on competitive club teams and high school varsity. None of them played past fifth grade. But I am a girl, so I’m picked last – always. That’s the issue that is ignored. Because that’s just how the world works. My friends aren’t really sexist, they don’t truly believe that I am lesser than them. Simply, they have been conditioned to feel this is acceptable.

Young boys are raised in a world that believes men are stronger, faster and more athletic than women, and whether they mean to or not, they end up perpetuating these ideas through their own actions. We need to start to recognize the kind of embedded sexism that is constantly faced by female athletes. People need to see that saying “that’s just how it is” is not an answer and is a cop out for not addressing a real issue that needs to be fixed.

Passive acceptance of inequalities is no longer acceptable. It is time male athletes step up and speak up about the issues female athletes are facing. And just to leave you with a statistic that highlights this inequity, Forbes just released their list of the Top 100 Highest Paid Athletes and not a single one was a woman. Not one. This can no longer be “just the way the world works.” We need change, we need progress and we need it now.  

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