People, Theory

“The female athletic body was and remains suspicious because of both its apparent masculinization and its position as a border case that challenges the normalized feminine and masculine body.” – Cheryl L. Cole

My initial thoughts about my first post on this blog, “What is Sport, What is Beauty,” had me primarily focused upon the latter part of the title: beauty. I had not quite realized why I included the first question, “what is sport?” I’ve had time to rethink my reasons for the title of the post, and I realized that our society throws the word “sport” around so easily. But what does it mean? Just as the narrator in the video from the first post challenges athletes to define beauty rather than describe it, I believe we need to think about the definition of sports rather than its descriptions. If we focus on its descriptions, we will be caught up in our expectations and assumptions of what sports are: something that men do, something that men are good at–something that women shouldn’t do and who wouldn’t be good at it. Instead, we should turn to scholars like Cheryl L. Cole for the definition of sport: “a discursive construct that organizes multiple practices…that intersect with and produce multiple bodies…embedded in normalizing technologies…and consumer culture” (6). In other words, Cole defines sports as an institution that is a crossroad for intersectionality. Sports involves bodies and technologies that have to be privileged in other ways along with gender; good gymnasts have the class privilege of being able to afford to go to practice, as an example. In a similar vein, primarily able-bodied people are expected to participate in sports; or, rather, that disabled people cannot.

“Sport” is a word that our consumer culture throws around all too easily. Football comes to mind, maybe baseball. Soccer, if we push it out of national boundaries. Primarily, those athletes we are discussing are men. There are those who will argue that men are “just” biologically better at athletics. It makes sense, then, how the anxiety about women in sports arises. When a culture nourishes one sex with these expected “traits,” it becomes abnormal, wrong, threatening, even, when other genders approach it. Women in athletics make our society uneasy. These women are doing something they “shouldn’t” be doing. Instead of becoming the matchsticks in magazines, they are becoming strong (stronger), like men. Something becomes physically wrong with them; they are imposters. They are trying to “be” like men. The focus of sport moves away from dedication and discipline and entertainment and to demands of biological determination. These people rely on the descriptions of sports rather than definitions–it’s easier to say that sports are for men because our culture lets men make them up. Cole reminds us of what sports really are: a construct, not biology.

Above quotes are from Cole’s article “Resisting the Canon: Feminist Cultural Studies, Sport, and Technologies of the Body,” in Women, Sport, and Culture, edited by Susan Birrell and Cheryl L. Cole (1994).


“The female ath…


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