Sport and Traditions of Feminist Theory

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Burke, Michael (2001) Sport and Traditions of Feminist Theory. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


Sport and Traditions of Feminist Theory involves a philosophical examination of the opportunities that are offered to females who seek authority in sporting participation, by an examination of the ideas that emanate from various streams of feminist thought. Chapter One introduces the concepts of oppression and authority in sport for females. It also introduces Rortian pragmatism, and four strands of feminist thought which will be utilised throughout the thesis; liberal, standpoint, poststructural and Foucauldian feminism. Finally it briefly suggests the potentials for each of these feminisms to explain and alter the situation of women in sport. Chapter Two is an elaboration of Rortian liberalism. It explains the concepts of anti-foundationalism, the private-public split and the ideal liberal society. These ideas are then applied to an understanding of the opportunities for freedom in sport. Sport is viewed as a symbolic language medium where athletes have the opportunity to express their private freedom through idiosyncratic action. The chapter then goes on to address feminist concerns with Rortian pragmatism. It will be suggested that the female position in society forces a reformulation of Rortian pragmatism to include the possibility of collective expressions of freedom, and to recognise the systematic oppression of women in, and by, society. The female athlete must negotiate the unenviable position of performing in a practice that has a long history of male control over sporting discourses, and female exclusion from, or incorporation into, those sporting discourses. A feminist -reformed, Rortian pragmatism gives the female some tools with which to break down male control and produce individual and collective changes in the language; practice and theory of sport. Chapter Three is a selective history of feminist politics and female participation in sport. The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate that strong poetry; i.e. collective and individual language changes which increased the opportunity for females to speak with authority, were often the result of both contingent conditions in society, and the whims of the dominant class of males. Yet two important points should be made; firstly, within that limited area of freedom in both politics and sport, women did recreate themselves and their society, and secondly, the public discourse about female athleticism throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries suggests a genealogy of ideas which continues to limit female athletic participation and authority. It would be na�¯ve to suggest that this history of ideas about female athleticism would be broken down simply by legislative change which allows for wider female participation in sport. Chapter Four investigates one mechanism of gaining authority for females in society and sport, the liberal intervention of equal opportunities. It has been suggested by radical and postmodern feminisms that such an intervention is inadequate because it leaves in place the structure of ideas that oppress females in the first place. Critiques of liberal feminist interventions in sport likewise suggest that such interventions maintain the maleness of reason in sport. Females are asked to participate and be judged in sports that have a male history and male structure of control. However, because Rortian pragmatism recognises that sport is a symbolic medium, liberal interventions should not be discarded. There are a number of sports which women either are not allowed to play or are discouraged from playing. The liberal intervention may allow women to participate in sport, and gain authority through their local and specific languages of participation. Chapter Five is an application of feminist standpoint theories to women's authority in sport. Feminist standpoints will be suggested as an important method for doubting the certainty of gendered truth statements in sport and society. The truth statements, which oppress women in sport reporting, and reinforce different modes of sport participation, will be deconstructed using feminist standpoint theories. Rortian pragmatism offers tools with which alternate candidates for truth status may be produced and disseminated throughout the sporting world. These alternatives may grant women greater authority in performing and talking about sports. Chapter Six will look at the postmodern and Foucauldian treatments of the female body as another mechanism of challenging the his-story about female athletes, which continues to limit both their participation in sports and their commentary about sports. It will be suggested that the fuzziness of the athletic body allows women all sorts of opportunities to challenge the maleness of authority in sport. One case study, which will be particularly investigated here, is the suggestion that women athletes could look at drugs as a mechanism for approaching the narrowly defined -by men- participation standards of male athletes. And as authority in sport is partially granted on the basis of objective sporting performance, females should view the drug ban as potentially a piece of phallocentric legislation designed to maintain male power. Other case studies that could be investigated at a later date are the suspicions about genetic engineering and virtual reality sport, and the distaste for female athletes aborting before sporting performance. Are these suspicions and distaste mechanisms of the control of the female athlete's performance which females should oppose? The final chapter summarises the opportunities that a reformed Rortian pragmatism, reformed by the female question, provides for females in sport. Sport as a bodily activity may offer some potentials and obstacles that are not present in theoretical activities like education and politics. This is not to imply a dualism, but simply to suggest that sport, like dance and theatre, is an activity where the body's movements and actions are symbolically communicative.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
Subjects Historical > RFCD Classification > 380000 Behavioural and Cognitive Sciences
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > Centre for Ageing, Rehabilitation, Exercise & Sport Science (CARES)
Keywords sport; traditions; feminist theory
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