Why Are Men's & Women's Gymnastics Events Different? Look To The Skills They Emphasize
Were you eager to see Simone Biles on the rings? Or Sam Mikulak rock the balance beam? If so, the Olympics gymnastics competitions were a bit disappointing. Men and women gymnasts don't compete on all the same apparatuses, though there are some overlaps. Why are men's and women's gymnastics different? We can look to the skills they emphasize for the answer.
First, let's recall which events each gymnastic team participates in. Both men and women compete on the vault and in floor exercises. But women's floor routines incorporate music and dance moves, whereas men's do not. The rest of the events are completely different. Women have the uneven bars and balance beam for a total of four events, while men have pommel horse, parallel bars, high bar, and still rings.
Of course, every event incorporates a number of skills, including coordination, strength, balance, and stamina. But across the board, women's events highlight tumbling skills over displays of pure strength. With the men's events, on the other hand, strength — and particularly upper body strength — is either showcased alongside or ahead of tumbling. The still rings are perhaps the starkest example; in this event, men demonstrate their upper body strength with position holds.
Of course, women's uneven bars require a tremendous amount of upper body strength, but, as Dvora Meyers at Jezebel pointed out, having a lower bar gives women something to rest their legs on; women generally carry more of their weight in their lower bodies than men. Meyers noted that, back in the day, the women who competed in the Olympics were older than today's very young athletes, possibly rendering the discrepancy moot.
The balance beam emphasizes, well, balance, mostly on the feet. It requires graceful movements, something largely associated with femininity. And women's dancier floor exercises likely play off this same gender norm. Men's floor routines are more about flips than anything else.
The gymnastics events for men and women are likely different due to the fact that men generally have greater upper body strength than women, with a strong splash of gender norms on top of it. But these reasons ring less valid today, with female gymnasts probably plenty capable of matching upper and lower body strength, and with the loosening of gender norms.
Maybe one day, male gymnasts will dance to music during their floor routines and women gymnasts will perform epic holds on still rings. As of 2016, the men's and women's gymnastics events are still very different.