Research Paper: Why Does Gender Matter in Sport?

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¶ … Gender Matter in Sports?

There may well be reasons that gender should not matter in sports. However, sidestepping questions of morality or justice, gender does currently matter in sports for several reasons. Gender definitions have traditionally created and perpetuated differences that make gender matter in sports, though these gender definitions are being challenged. In addition, studies have found gender differences in injury, specifically regarding concussions among high school athletes. In any event, due to current circumstances in sports, gender matters.

Gender Definitions

Development of a masculine identity is psychologically fundamental for males (Messner, 1989). Furthermore, a public masculine identity is fundamental for males within society (Messner, 1989). The actual content of any individual's identity comes from that person's choices in areas such as gender, culture, vocation and religion (Daniels, et al., Dec 2005, p. 319). The predominant concept of masculinity in the "Western" world encompasses such characteristics as competitiveness, strength, toughness, aggression, courage, control and the ability to endure pain (Allan, et al., Fall 2006, p. 53). Chesebro, Fuse and Summer further divide these characteristics into prototypical and sports -- related: prototypical male characteristics include ambition, independence, courage, leadership, activity and achievement; sports-related characteristics include identification with one's favorite team, following the team's progress, attitudes toward rival teams, and the use of team insignias (Chesebro & Fuse, Summer 2001, p. 238). In fact, masculinity is comprised of a number of useful yet sometimes-contradictory images (Chesebro & Fuse, Summer 2001, p. 264). Allan and his coauthors go even farther, stating that the characteristics of a so-called "ideal" male lend themselves to two phenomena: violence and sports (Allan, et al., Fall 2006, p. 59). Sports are logically connected with self-identity because it connects a person with forms of self-identity of which society approves (Guilianotti, 2005, p. 117). Furthermore, individuals who strongly identify with athletics build their identities around that role by developing sports-focused skills, assuredness and social relationships (Daniels, et al., Dec 2005, p. 319).

The vulnerability of young men to this construct was explored by Kivel and Johnson in "Consuming Media, Making Men: Using Collective Memory Work to Understand Leisure and the Construction of Masculinity" (Kivel & Johnson, First Quarter 2009). Kivel and Johnson wished to understand how young males create and sustain their masculinity; consequently, they explored the "media consumption" of young males (Kivel & Johnson, First Quarter 2009, p. 112). They found that American society maintains very narrow roles and expectations for "man" and "manhood" (Kivel & Johnson, First Quarter 2009, p. 118), including early subjection of young males to violent examples of maleness in the media (Kivel & Johnson, First Quarter 2009, p. 124). In this way, media fed and was fed from proactive symbols of masculinity based in violence, heroics and persistent macho representations (Kivel & Johnson, First Quarter 2009, p. 127). While these images have developed and been "assigned" to masculinity over time (Chesebro & Fuse, Summer 2001, p. 263), American media is vital to the creation and maintenance of American masculinity identity (Kivel & Johnson, First Quarter 2009, p. 131).

Since the organization of youth sports in the late 19th Century to build and test the "manliness" of young males, sports have been consistently important for young males in American society, allowing boys to attain acceptance and support from other males (Daniels, et al., Dec 2005). This is in sharp contrast to female participation in sports, which began gaining acceptance only as recently as the 1960's. Traditionally, females who participated in sports were considered deviant unless that sport was a "refined" sport such as tennis, which focused on such aspects as "beauty and form" (Daniels, et al., Dec 2005, p. 325). Prior to the 1960's, women's sports rejected the "male" notions of winning and individual achievement associated with amateur and professional sports (Daniels, et al., Dec 2005, pp. 324-5). With the enactment of Title IX in 1972, competitive sports have become far more acceptable for females; however, traditional gender stereotypes still dominate sports participation (Elling & Knoppers, 2005, p. 260).

Knowing that these traits comprise the traditional Western ideals of masculinity and femininity, an individual's decision to strive for or abandon a professional career in sports hinges on his/her self-assessment of the possession and ability to develop those traits (Messner, 1989). Of course, sports are also connected with other aspects of self-identity, such as racial and highbrow vs. lowbrow class identity (Bourdieu, 1978, p. 824); however, this paper focuses specifically on gender-specific issues of sport. According to authorities such as Messner, sports' support of these traits therefore establishes and reinforces gender inequality (Messner, 1989). One example of this reinforcement of gender inequality and violence is professional football, in which a player is pushed to see his own body as "a tool, a machine, or even a weapon" used to defeat the adversary (Messner, 1989). As a result, even serious injuries are frequent in football and are deemed acceptable due to the acceptability of violence (Guilianotti, 2005, p. 110).

b. Resistance to Gender Definitions

To be sure, certain members of modern Western society have not docilely accepted this state of affairs, as traditional "macho" concepts are being challenged (Elling & Knoppers, 2005, p. 261). Several notable opponents of traditional Western male stereotypes in sports look to Michel Foucault. Foucault (1926 -- 1984) was a French Philosopher/Historian (Gutting, 2013) who developed a series of theories influencing philosophy, humanism and the social sciences. For purposes of sports theorists, Foucault most importantly wrote about the sociology of the body (Guilianotti, 2005, p. 102). Though Foucault wrote an entire body of work, some key concepts and phrases can be used to understand their applications to sports and gender.

Foucault's study of sociology focused on the body. For Foucault, assumptions about the body that had traditionally been taken for granted should be carefully studied. Foucault argued that power is everywhere and that power and knowledge depend on each other (Guilianotti, 2005, p. 102). Foucault developed his theories in response to the torturous treatment and failed control of criminal prisoners. Foucault was interested in developing more humane and effective methods of watching and controlling these prison inmates. With the body at the heart of his thought, Foucault developed theories regarding: discipline, which was a new technology of dealing with and controlling the body; governmentality, which was several methods of conducting conduct; carceral archipelago, which was a system of surveillance that caused individuals to self-control because they believed they were constantly being watched by those in authority; and confessional selves, which were methods of constantly producing truth about the self (Guilianotti, 2005, pp. 104-7). Foucault believed and apparently could prove that these ideas were revolutionary and highly effective for the treatment of prisoners. Despite the fact that Foucault was at least initially concerned with the treatment of criminals, for subsequent thinkers such as Guilianotti, Foucault's concepts are readily applicable to "the sporting body" (Guilianotti, 2005, p. 107). Using Foucault's concepts, modern thinkers such as Honi Haber reacted to the uber-male-centered concept of sports, writing "Foucault Pumped: Body Politics and the Muscled Woman" to help "the overthrow of patriarchy and the hegemony of phallocentric desire" (Haber, 1996, p. 137). Sharing Guilianotti's belief in the Foucauldian theory that power and knowledge are interdependent (Guilianotti, 2005, p. 102), Haber set about to assist women in understanding that since women are objectified and recognized in society as bodies, they might fight with their bodies (Haber, 1996, p. 138), realize that "power politics and aesthetics" are mutually supportive (Haber, 1996, p. 139), and use their muscles to fight the traditional repression presented by Western society's masculine ideal (Haber, 1996, p. 139). While it is true that traditional, unjust "masculine" and "feminine" characteristics are being challenged by these and other thinkers, the fact remains that gender still allows, excludes and matters in sports.

c. Gender Differences in Concussions

In addition to traditional notions of gender, there are differences regarding injury, particularly concussions, according to gender. As girls participate in sports at rates similar to boys, studies have found that girls have significantly higher rates of concussion in soccer and basketball: in high school soccer, a 2011 study revealed that girls were twice as likely to suffer concussions as were boys (Frommer, et al., 2011); in high school basketball, the same study revealed that the rate of concussions for girls was 1.7 times higher than it was for boys (Frommer, et al., 2011). Researchers have struggled to determine why the rates of concussion would be so much higher among high school female athletes than for high school male athletes. Some reasons offered for the differences involve anatomy, culture and/or hormones. Anatomically, girls might be likelier to sustain concussions because the relatively small size of their heads and poorer development of their neck muscles makes them less able to absorb impact without injury (Tierney, et al., 2005, p. 278). In addition, girls may also be likelier to exhibit signs of concussion because females have a higher rate of cerebral blood flow than males and blows to the head may… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Why Does Gender Matter in Sport?.  (2013, May 23).  Retrieved May 19, 2019, from

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"Why Does Gender Matter in Sport?."  23 May 2013.  Web.  19 May 2019. <>.

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"Why Does Gender Matter in Sport?."  May 23, 2013.  Accessed May 19, 2019.