female participation...(in sport)..is a form of incorporation into a
structure... that remains, in fundamental ways, a bastion of male
power.” (Hargreaves in Rojek (ed) 1989:131). Evaluate the contention
put forward in this quotation.
present century has embraced sport which has now become a social
phenomenon of vast complexity and magnitude.
Although the gender struggle has a vastly different outlook
depending on the side taken.
The male stance seems to be that of defending or upholding an
existing establishment whilst the female could be seen as the intruder
or by the feminist, the champion of such a cause.
order to answer the question fully it is necessary to define the key
terms within the quotation. “...increased
female participation...” hints that it is the quantitative
participation that is or was the catalyst for such a statement by
this essay a historical comparative will show an increase in female
participation that is a relatively recent
into a structure...” suggests
an element of conformity or acceptance of such a ‘structure’ that
only when adhered to allows for participation.
The ‘structure’ which is fashioned by society , is not only
about administrators, officials and rules but it is an ideology or
perception of individuals. In
this case groups of individuals (i.e. women)
“...bastion of male power.”
suggests a somewhat defensive stance taken by males at what may
be considered an intrusion upon traditionally held male territory.
Finally it is extremely important to note that sport is just a part of
society and as such is a reflection of society.
Thus aspects of sport cannot be discussed without first
identifying the society in which it exists.
This essay will go on to discuss the relative viewpoints of both
genders through the sporting and sociological perspective.
female participation is a relatively recent phenomenon.
That is to say, even the most famous athletic festivals that were
the precursors to the Olympic games allowed only the men to compete.
Moreover females were not even permitted to spectate.
It is generally accepted that until the late 19th century women
did not publicly participate in sports to any great extent. During the
19th century there was movement towards physical activity by women but
this was governed by men who only allowed activities which they deemed
appropriate for ladies. Activities
such as riding (side-saddle) and skating (on the arm of a gentleman).
The Victorian ideal of a woman was contrary to that of the
presumably the males, believed that the woman should perform her
patriotic duties of attracting a mate, bearing and rearing children and
serving her husband. (McPherson.1985:221)
This ideal was born of a patriarchal society which had its
sporting roots with in the public schools system where many of the
sports had been codified. Any
activity that might interfere with the females duties was discouraged or
prevented. At this
point in history women had very limited rights and therefore any
opposition to this patriarchal view was often met with the back of the
so called, gentlemen’s hand.
the patriarchal system still lives on in modern society it has changed
its guise. Walby
suggests that pre-industrial society was patriarchal but it was
‘private patriarchy.’(Walby,S.cited in Haralambos,M.1995:613)
In private patriarchy the male head of the household controlled
the woman directly in the privacy of the home. Females were allowed
little interest outside the home and their main aim was to serve their
husband. Walby is
unclear as to whether this was a premeditated move by the male
collective to dominate women.
At this stage in the cycle of gender abuse it was probably a pure
strength issue. Whereby,
it was still legitimate to use physical force as a means to an end.
Physical force was used because males are physically stronger and
therefore this guaranteed the male his upper hand. Women
during these times were kept oppressed by the prevention of them
entering the ‘public sphere.’
This alone could not have kept the female in check and there
could have been other patriarchal influences that excluded women.
this period other elements of society were purporting that sport or
physical activity was bad for the woman.
Medical and journalistic opinions contained information that
perpetuated the myth of the ‘frail female. There could be the
suggestion that if you constantly tell people the same thing they will
start to believe it. Interestingly,
many feminists of this period added credence to this notion by arguing
that to toil and sweat was unfeminine.
At this time there
seems to be a great need to differentiate between men and women.
Physiological and biological tales that sport was harmful to
women and a general feeling even by females that this physical activity
was unlady-like. Kenealy,
a female doctor commented in 1899 on:
“...the passing of a dainty, elusive quality in the face of the
women, whose ‘bicycle face’ was characterised by muscular
formerly there had been sympathy and tenderness.”
(Lenskyj.1984. cited in McPherson,Curtis and Loy.1985:185)
of this time had been raised to attract a husband and appear beautiful.
It is clear that both sexes had a misguided agreement that sport
was adverse to the women who tried to take part and off-putting to the
“The men want the girls to stay beautiful, graceful and sightly...runners
were usually flat chested, leather-limbed, horse like...and had as much
sex appeal as grandmothers old sewing machine.”
(Lenskj.1984. cited in McPherson,Curtis and Loy.1985:158.)
type of attitude and oppression continued up until the 1950s.
Women had been successfully working in the absence of their male
counter-parts as result of W.W.II.
Females took on their males working roles thus shattering the
myth of the frail woman. A
knock-on effect was felt and this led to greater participation in
society including sports which where played at a higher and more public
level. Add to this
the women’s movement of the 1960s and the fitness boom of the 1970s
and a greater number of visible female role models appears.
(McPherson.1985:121) Whilst many of these ideas and quotes are from the
past it is clear that they have affected present-day beliefs.
As McPherson suggests, earlier beliefs had done untold damage for
the woman, resulting in a stereotyping that became part of the informal
gender-role socialisation process of succeeding generations.(1985:221)
is necessary to understand that as society moved through its various
stages of change and reform, peoples ideals remained but with subtle
differences and nuances. Walby
considers a change from ‘private patriarchy’ to that of ‘public
patriarchy.’(Walby,S. cited in Haralambos.1985:612-614)
Here Walby accepts that women have moved out of the home and into
the public domain (i.e. sport), suggesting a move from individual
exploitation by the husband to a collective exploitation by the state
via employment. However
it is difficult to believe that a covert collective are actively working
against women. Although
some prevalence was observed during the recent debacle involving the
Marleybone Cricket Club(MCC), head of cricket for the UK, who up until
1998 still did not allow female membership.
Although on the surface a win for the feminist, it could be
argued that the real reason for female acceptance into a predominantly
male fold was for financial reasons.
It should be remembered that the MCC were refused a lottery grant
on the grounds that they discriminated against women.
Does this therefore see a change in patriarchal attitudes at the
MCC or is it just a means to an end?
Again, reading between the lines there could appear to be
‘agents’ at work secretly bringing women to the male heel.
These minor inroads into the male dominion are seen by John
Hargreaves as part of the ‘hegemonic project’ which sees the
domination of one sector of society over another by denying the female
control over her environment by making her subordinate to it.(1986)
That is to say, women will find themselves with greater access
but not in the numbers to affect the position of the male majority.
Hargreaves has more radical views in suggesting that
sporting women are seen at worst as freaks and at best as odd but
it may be true to imply that women’s sport is not taken as seriously
“ There is a very important thread in popular consciousness
the very presence of women in sport as bizarre.”
could be argued that women’s sport has not yet been given a chance to
excel or build its’ appeal. Hargreaves
argues that constant satirical remarks and the sexualisation of sporting
women has to some extent filtered through to many sectors of society.
“ Dr Johnson’s hackneyed old phrase cries out to be released
in new ways again and again, it’s like a dog standing on it’s hind
legs. It is
not well done - rather one is surprised to see it attempted at
(Hargreaves, Jenny. 1982:122)
suggestion could be made that young girls would rather follow the
exploits of the Spice Girls rather than top female athletes.
The reason for this in part could be extensive media coverage and
the fact that the Spice Girls are more a part of popular culture for
young girls than sporting women.
The question must be asked why with 50% share of numbers on the
planet are they [women] denied equality in terms of sporting media
representation? It does
seem odd that multi-national media corporations would not take up on
what appears to be untapped profitable viewing.
The notion of ‘skulduggery and agents’ working at the
detriment to women does not sit well in this scenario.
According to McPherson 1985 there is little difference in sporting
activity between boys and girls up to the age of twelve years.
After this a steady decline by females is seen, although the male
decline does not surface until the age of sixteen or seventeen.
McPherson goes on to suggest that withdrawal from the sporting
arena is due to factors outside of sport.
Girls move from the sphere of sport to other interests that are
valued and encouraged by their peer group and parents.
Taking this idea still further schools could be considered as
contributing to the gender stereotyping.
Athough it is the witers of the cirriculumn who could be
considered as nurturing grass roots sport into a male/female divide.
By segregating sport into girls and boys games,
that is to say football, rugby and cricket for boys and netball
and hockey for girls. The
male sports can be seen to bridge the divide from boyhood to manhood,
with a plethora of opportunities to be involved in sports later in life.
However the female who wants to carry on her sporting interests
into womanhood may find rather limited opportunities when compared to
the men. It
therefore follows that males have something to gain by reinforcing
genderstereotypes at such an early age.
In a research report surveying seven thousand female sports
enthusiasts, one of the most interesting findings was that the most
active sportswomen shared the childhood experience of playing mostly
with boys or in mixed gender groups, rather than mostly with girls
("Miller Lite Report on Women in Sports," 1985).
could be argued that the greatest weapon for patriarchy in sport is the
fragmentalising of the women’s position.
That is to say women who are already in the sport will be
unlikely to ‘rock the boat’ for fear of compromising their position.
Others are turned off sports by their peers, with gender
stereotyping, who feel it is ‘tomboyish.’
Furthermore, Duncan,M of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
“In order to avoid compromising their femininity, many girls
drop out of
sports and physical activity altogether.” (1997)
latter group may gradually lose interest in sport and therefore not pick
up the feminist banner to campaign for sporting equality, thus denying
the female what could be considered ‘the unity of cause.’
this rather grim picture of sport for women there has been a major
increase in female participation.
The 1984 Fitness Survey of Canada reported a sporting female
increase from 46% in 1971 to 72% in 1981.
The number of female soccer teams registered with the US Soccer
Association increased from 254 in 1971 to 2448 in 1981.
the ‘playing field’ has not been level and continues to slant in
favour of the men. The
evidence does show a gradual change, with greater female participation,
that if carried on could eventually mean equality of sorts.
What though is equality?
Radical feminists see it as separate new female orientated events
but what form they will be is unclear.
Liberal feminists appear more realistic requiring better
treatment and greater equality in, for what is the most part, an
unchanged arena. It is
clear that Patriarchy and hegemony have been tools that have kept women
to heel but, ‘was this a purposeful goal engineered and sought by the
male population?’ it is hard to say.
The notion of a male organisation engaged in a sort of
skulduggery is a tenuous one at best.
Although the keeping of the social ‘status quo’ via hegemony
is a commonly accepted idea.
It is important to reiterate the point that sport is a reflection
of society and as such society will lead change not sport.
Although I suspect that it will take a collective effort from
many sectors of society to drive the change sought.
However, considering the fragmentalising of just females in sport
suggests this is far from a reality.
The domination of the female by males could be seen as ‘nature
‘not ‘nurture’, in that it is more a biological not social
struggle. However, it is
generally accepted that humans have themselves stepped out of
evolutionary race and now alter their environment to suit their needs.
Thus on stepping out of evolution
the males naturally came out with the upper hand or head start, a gap
which has never been totally closed.
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