Gender Inequality in Badminton

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A gender code and its impact on female athletes

A gender code is a social construct that specifies what behaviors are acceptable for women and men in society. Men and women are divided in today's society based on two traditional gender roles: the masculine code and the feminine code. The feminine gender code influences female athletes' behavior, causing them to act less viciously, aggressively, and victoriously. Even though badminton is one of the sports that female athletes can participate in just like male athletes, female badminton players face discrimination due to the feminine gender code (Brenner 99). (Kang et al. 8). Despite the fact that the female badminton players can compete like the male players, female badminton players are forced to stick with the conventional gender code which emphasizes the passive, submissive and accommodating characteristics of the women. The pressure, forcing the female athletes to follow the gender code, is caused by the present-day society including the media which is patriarchal in nature and tends to promote varying forms of discrimination based on gender (Eagly 44) where they favor the male gender since they are considered to be superiors in the sector. The interviews hosted in 2008 Olympic badminton mixed double gold medalists Hyo-Jung Lee and Yong-Dae Lee elucidate that the female badminton players are discriminated and forced to follow the feminine gender code by the male-centered society and the media. By looking at the comparison between Hyo-Jung Lee and Yong-Dae Lee's experiences, one can see that the female players are forced to stick with the feminine gender code. The gender code is important because the feminine one causes gender inequality and discrimination against female athletes since it regards them as inferiors in athletics; badminton for this case.

The impact of gender roles in badminton

Status quo enforced the difference in roles between Yong-Dae and Hyo-Jung which clarified the fact that the female badminton players still suffer from the gender inequality caused by the following gender code due to the positioning of the players on the basis of their gender. In badminton double match, one player takes charge of the front court, and another player takes charge of the backside of the court so that the player in the front can defend the drop balls, while the player in the back can attack with a smash. In a mixed double match, the male player usually takes charge of the back court to hit a smash because of greater strength. Hyo-Jung, and Yong-Dae were not an exception either. In 2008 Beijing Olympics, Hyo-Jung was in charge of the front court, and Yong-Dae was in charge of the back court. However, actual measurement shows that Hyo-Jung could smash at a greater speed than Yong-Dae; Hyo-Jung's average smash speed was three hundred twenty kilometers per hour; yet, Yong-Dae's average smash speed was only two hundred ninety kilometers per hour (Kim 1). Even though Hyo-Jung could hit a faster smash, she was still in the defense area, not attack. Mariah Burton Nelson, an American journalist and former professional basketball player, argues in her article “I Won I'm Sorry” that the female athletes can compete like the male athletes; however, the media and society pressure the female athletes to follow the conventional gender codes which are a bias to the females (Nelson 529). Based on the traditional masculine gender code, attacking role belongs to male player and not the female. Due to pressure forces to follow the gender codes, Hyo-Jung did not have to be ruthless, nor aggressive, and she had to waste her extraordinary talent sticking to the feminine code.

Occupational imbalance and discrimination after retirement

While the difference in player's role shows how the female players are forced to stick with the conventional gender roles, the difference in occupation due to gender after the retirement from the national team clarifies how the female badminton players are overlooked by the society.

In Korea, for example, there is no badminton league: Due to the missing league, it means that if a badminton player is not in the national team, they have no regular income. Once the player retires from the national team, he or she has to figure out how to make money. After the retirement, most male badminton players go to countries like India or China which have their own men's badminton league to earn money. India and China also do not have women's badminton leagues. The female badminton players are therefore left with no choice other than to become a coach for the Korean national or amateur teams. In addition, Korean badminton national team hires five coaches in total. Out of the five coaches, only one coach is female and is entitled to the female players. Also, according to the statistics, the male coaches for the Korean national team tend to keep their position for about eight years in average while the female coaches keep their position for about five years. Hyo-Jung Lee, retired from the national team in 2010 after the Gwangjou Asian game, and then applied the coaching position for the Korean nation team three times. She was so lucky to become a coach for the Korean national badminton team at her third trial in 2013. In the other hand, Yong-Dae Lee, retired from the national team in 2016 after the Rio Olympics, joined the Chinese league as a player in 2017 and he is coaching for the amateur team in Korea at the same time. The comparison in the careers after retirement is caused by the society which is in favor of men in badminton and sports in general. Since the society prefers and has interests in male athletes, there are few countries that have men's badminton league. There is no country that has a female badminton league. Furthermore, the gender imbalance in the coaching position for the Korean national team exemplifies how the organization believes that coaching position in sports is suit for men rather than women. According to the article “Athletes' Attitudes Toward and Preferences for Male and Female Coaches”, there are preferences for male coaches because of the history of negative attitudes towards women in leadership roles in general and also in coaching (Habif et al. 3). This is because the athletes believe that male gender role in traditional society of being dominant is necessary for the athletes to win rather than the feminine characters. Therefore, the occupation imbalance exemplifies how the female athletes are discriminated against due to strong cultural preference towards masculinity in sports.

Income differences and gender bias in endorsements

The female badminton players are discriminated against not only in the Olympic trials and the occupation choices after the retirement, but also in the income differences. Since there is no badminton league in Korea, the only way for the Korean badminton players to make money is either winning a medal in the international competitions or receiving a modeling fee from the commercials. However, the problem is that the companies tend to hire only male players as a model for their advertisements and forget the female players. For example, after Yong-Dae and Hyo-Jung won a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics, they both received one thousand dollar from the Korean government as a reward. Additionally, in 2009, Yong-Dae signed about 11 advertising contracts with a number of companies, such as Samsung, Yonex, and Victor. From those advertising contracts, he earned over a half million dollars in that year. On the other hand, none of the companies wanted Hyo-Jung as their model for the advertisement, and she didn't get to sign even a single contract until present day. Furthermore, even though both Hyo-Jung and Yong-Dae won a gold medal at the same Olympics, the Korean Badminton Association only awarded hundred fifty thousand dollars to Yong-Dae for his great achievement in the 2008 Olympics, and asked him to be a model for the association. Yong-Dae and Hyo-Jung could've won the gold medal at the Olympics not only because Yong-Dae had great defense skill, but also because Hyo-Jung landed her smashes on other team's court. However, only Yong-Dae received the rewards from the national association, and signed a number of advertising contracts. This is because the companies and the sports programming commercials prefer the traditional gender role of males. According to Mike Messner, an American sociologist, the traditionally masculine images of speed, danger, and aggression are often used in the sports programming commercials because the audiences prefer the masculine images over feminine images (Messner 5). No matter how good the female athlete is on the court, the audiences still stake their attention to the male athletes since they recognize them as the preferred athletes. For the audiences, sports are a chance to feel thrills from high speeds, danger and aggression. However, the feminine image of being submissive and nurturing cannot rhyme with those factors that give thrills to the audiences. Therefore, the gender role causes the strong cultural preference towards the male sports, and the strong preferences causes the gender inequality in the sports.


A gender code is a culturally constructed system that prescribes the appropriate behaviors for both women and men in society. Due to the gender code, female athletes are forced to behave in feminine way. As a result, because of the appearances and the behaviors of female athletes, the sports audiences prefer male athletes over their female counterparts. The selection process of mixed double team for the Olympic trial shows how the female players are forced to stick with the conventional feminine gender code and accommodate male players to the vital spots due to such preference. Occupations after the retirement from the national team exemplify how the society looks down on the female athletes in the leader position which causes occupation imbalance. In addition, the income difference between the female and male athletes shows how the female athletes are discriminated against economically due to strong cultural preference towards the male athletes. No one can deny that both men and women are physically different. However, physical differences do not justify the gender inequality and discrimination due to the cultural preference in the sports. All the female athletes should be treated equally and be respected just like their male counterparts.

Works Cited

Brenner, Philip S. "Differential effects of time constraints on athletic behavior and survey reports of athletic behavior." Sociological Spectrum 37.2 (2017): 97-110.

Eagly, Alice H. Sex differences in social behavior: A social-role interpretation. Psychology Press, 2013.

Habif, Stephanie, Judy L. Van Raalte, and Allen Cornelius. "Athletes' Attitudes Toward and Preferences for Male and Female Coaches." Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, 2001, pp. 1-73.

Kang, Sang Jo, Ki Hyun Park, Mee Sook Lee, and Hee Nam Choi. "The Morphological Proportionality in Elite Badminton Players." The Korean Journal of Physical Education- Humanities and Social Sciences vol.37, no.2, 1998, pp. 1-10.

Kim, Sang Min. "The Speed of Shuttlecock Reached Over 320km/h." Chosun Sports. N.p., 18 Aug. 2008. Web.

Massik, Sonia, and Jack Solomon, eds. Signs of Life in the U.S.A.: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers. (8th ed.). Boston : Bedford, 2015. Print.

Messner, Mike, Darnell Hunt, Michele Dunbar, Perry Chen, Joan Lapp. “Boys to Men : Sports Media. Messages about Masculinity: A National Poll of Childre, Focus Groups and Content Analysis of Sports Programs and Commercials.” 1999, pp. 1-17.

Nelson, Mariah B. “I Won. I'm Sorry.” Maasik and Solomon 524-530.

March 15, 2023




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