As Best They Can: Canadian Women Athletes Speaking Sport Into Their Lives

Yvonne Becker (2009). As Best They Can: Canadian Women Athletes Speaking Sport Into Their Lives PhD Thesis, School of Human Movement Studies, The University of Queensland.

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Author Yvonne Becker
Thesis Title As Best They Can: Canadian Women Athletes Speaking Sport Into Their Lives
School, Centre or Institute School of Human Movement Studies
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2009-08
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr. Doune Macdonald
Dr, Roxanne Harde
Total pages 186
Total colour pages 23
Total black and white pages 163
Subjects 11 Medical and Health Sciences
Abstract/Summary Increased participation rates and significant performances of girls and women in sport over the last three decades would have many believing that the barriers and discrimination experienced in the past have been overcome and that continued participation and success into the future is unproblematic. Feminist research has problematized what now seems like acceptance of women’s participation in sport in this postmodern era by considering the location of the female athlete at the intersecting of discourses of femininity, masculinist sport, heterosexuality and homophobia. Situated among these powerful regulating forces, female athletes become subjects attached to often contradictory identities. For instance, the paradox of femininity and athleticism can result in a troubling experience that requires complex negotiation and time-consuming management of gender boundaries and behaviour expectations. Although sport has been considered a liberatory space for women, that view fails to consider that sport continues to maintain the status quo through workings of power politics that sustain oppressive social structures and relations. In this study, the review of literature in Chapter Two illuminates that sport, as it currently exists, perpetuates gender inequality and builds and maintains socio-cultural boundaries of normative femininity and heterosexuality. Unpacking women’s sport experience, therefore, involves exploring the discursive force fields that structure their everyday lives. Immersed in the dynamics of power and resistance, women performing so-called “masculine” activities such as skilled sport performance create a contradictory and precarious location for themselves. This location could be perceived as transgressive and liberating or as one that must negotiate, and possibly resolve, the tension between discursive expectancies and non-normative performances. My study examined the sport experiences of eight female athletes. Each was interviewed three times using a semi-structured interview process. During the initial interview, the participants were asked to provide the history and priority of sport in their lives and speak about the repetitive act of “becoming” an athlete as they make the transitions from other subjectivities. Chapter Four summarizes this conversation with each of the participants. Through a photo-elicitation process, one of the interviews was dedicated to revealing each of the participants’ movements through the social spaces of their daily lives. Another of the interviews was supported by video footage of the athlete as she trained and/or competed in her sport(s). This data collection process allowed for the participants’ multiple subject positions or locations to be spoken by them throughout the conversations. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed using discourse analysis. In order to critique the various discourses that dis/advantage female athletes, the theoretical framework provided by feminist poststructuralism was chosen for this project. Through this perspective, detailed in Chapter Three, an understanding of how social power is exercised over and experienced by women is helpful in knowledge production that supports women’s on-going efforts of contestation and change. For example, continued improvement and achievement in sport performance vi could be the result of new versions of femininity fostered by my critique of the privileged female identity that allows for less docile and more athletic female bodies. Discourse analysis, as described in Chapter Three, allowed for surveying the discursive terrain of the lives of the participants. This method also illuminated the ways of speaking, descriptions and specific images that the athletes used to speak about their sport experiences. The women spoke sport into their lives and created a positive space that featured personal achievement, escape or freedom from the “rest of life”; an activity that supported a healthy body and a positive body image; a place of family support; and a social, fun and accepting environment. In contrast to this, the participants’ sport space was troubled by the management and negotiation that was required by them to continue participation. Even though, as described in Chapter Five, they could speak sport into their lives in a positive way, they also spoke sport out of their lives (or at least further down the priority list) because of the effort that was required to juggle it or balance it within their multiple subjectivities. The sometimes simultaneous and always sequential contradictory gendered discursive force fields of motherhood, the ideal feminine body image, intimate relationships, compulsory heterosexuality, and physical activity required constant strategies of negotiation and management that are described in Chapter Six. A brief concluding chapter summarizes how the participants in this study found themselves frustrated by their “in-between-ness”. They are not athletes in the dominant heteronormative discursive space of male sport (they are “othered”), and they do not fit in the dominant discursive space of privileged femininity. The results of this study reveal that while sport presents itself as a site of empowerment for women, it also perpetuates and maintains traditional patriarchal values. The participants, however, creatively negotiated and renovated that patriarchal space to create a location in which they could evade the strength of dominant discourses and experience the benefits of sport engagement.
Keyword Canada
Discourse Analysis
Female Athletes
Feminist Poststructuralism
Additional Notes 107, 111, 113-115, 122, 124, 126, 132-135, 137-139, 142-144, 146-147, 150, 152, 153

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Created: Wed, 02 Dec 2009, 09:41:15 EST by Ms Yvonne Becker on behalf of Library - Information Access Service