Why don't more people watch women's sports?

How women's sport was reduced to the aesthetic

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Vienna - In the book "Change of Perspectives. Gender Relations in Austrofascism" presented in Vienna on Monday, the sports historian Matthias Marschik from the University of Vienna examines the role of women’s sport in Austria between 1934 and 1938.

DEFAULT: What were the prerequisites for female athletes in the interwar period?

Marshik: From around 1880 or 1890, middle-class women could do any sport they wanted. The criterion for participating in sporting events was social class. That changed just before 1900, when there were the first tendencies towards economization in sport. Many clubs recognized that workers could perform well in sport. So the barrier to excluding workers from sport was shifted to wanting to prevent women from doing sport. After that it became difficult for middle-class women as well


Marshik: All criteria have been put in place in order to make competitive sport difficult or to ban them altogether. Women were reduced to gymnastic exercises that seemed feasible for them in their role as mothers. Arguments of a cultural, medical, aesthetic nature were given. Women's sport has become a minority program. That lasted until the middle of the First World War. In 1915 there were so many men at war that - in order to keep the sport going - more and more women were accepted into the clubs. The first all-women associations were founded between 1916 and 1917. From 1918 women's sport was pushed back.

DEFAULT: Even so, women continued to do sports.

Marshik: There were two movements: On the one hand, women continued to work in men's associations and under the direction and control of men. Here women have mostly been reduced to the aesthetic; on sports that had female connotations. For example on field hockey, where women played in skirts, not pants. On the other hand, women started their own sports practices in the mid-1920s, including women's Olympics. The downside was that they were even less noticed in public.

DEFAULT: How was women's sport presented in the media?

Marshik: The reporting was different from that of men's sport, but not fundamentally discriminatory. Discrimination was mainly seen in cartoons, where the men's attitudes were shown bluntly. Women soccer players were drawn in skirts and high heels. Lisl Perkaus, who set a record in the shot put, was shown as a cook throwing dumplings.

DEFAULT: How did the situation develop in Austrofascism?

Marshik: There was mostly an attempt to limit women's sport to light aesthetic exercises and gymnastics, which fit into the image of womanhood and motherhood. Askö also had the maxim that women's sport is equivalent, but not of the same kind. That means women should do a different sport than men. This continued into the 1930s. Women’s sport was tolerated, but in clubs women were more likely to be used as "dress up".

DEFAULT: So in sports clubs women were there to be dressed up?

Marshik: Not only. Of course there were women’s sports on different levels. But: The clubs were also dependent on women because they did basic work and at the same time brought in the communicative element. They were used on the one hand to wash the clothes and to prepare the space, on the other hand as a visual display at the carnival party. At the same time, it was up to the women themselves whether they could assert themselves on a sporting level.

DEFAULT: In any sport?

Marshik: In football, whenever men's sport went through a crisis, women's football was used to make the sport more attractive again. When the men's miracle team did not win all games in the mid-1930s and the number of spectators declined, there was an appeal for women footballers to get in touch. After a few lucrative games, women's football was turned off.

DEFAULT: How were women deterred from playing football?

Marshik: The ÖFB has forbidden its member associations to make their seats available for women's games. But because the penalties were relatively low, it was still financially worthwhile for the clubs to host the games. Therefore, the ÖFB has increased the penalties and threatened every club with expulsion in order to prevent women's football. In 1935, however, the players found some places that did not belong to any association club. Up until 1938, women held a championship there beyond the "Anschluss": at that time the only women's football championship in Europe.

DEFAULT: Was that just in football?

Marshik: There were good athletes in Austria in handball, swimming and athletics, for example. In the 1930s, about 20 percent of athletes were female. In 1936, women's sport was then also politically promoted: at the Summer Olympics in Berlin, the aim was to show that Austria is a strong country. And women's medals were better than no medals. In the end there was no gold medal for Austria's women, although the sprinters or the javelin thrower Herma Bauma would have been expected to do so. But she didn't win her medal until 1948.

DEFAULT: You describe the development of the image of women as "from bob hair to girl's pigtail" ...

Marshik: Women as housewives and mothers were the hegemonic image of women in the 1920s and 1930s. There was also the fascination of the "new woman" who drinks, goes out alone and does sports. Both images were transported in the media. Sportiness was an important criterion for the "new woman". This image of women was associated with bob hairs because women appeared in an androgynous manner. Austrofascism tried to return to the classic ideals of women. So if you accepted women in sports, at least not with bob hairs. (Andreas Hagenauer, Oona Kroisleitner, January 11, 2017)