Putting gender back on the agenda: women in sport pedagogy

Kelly Knez & Torun Mattsson
Dept. of Sprt Sciences, Malmö University


Barcelona –capital of Catalonia, former hosts for the 1992 Olympic games, home of great food, amazing art and of course – Barça, Barcelona FC.  For two days in June, Barcelona was also the site for a two day workshop focusing on topics surrounding gender and physical education teacher education (PETE), hosted by the University of Catalonia, INEFC Barcelona.  The workshop, inspired by a national research project (see Serra, Soler, Prat, Vizcarra, Garay & Flintoff, 2016), brought together academics and teachers from across Spain to discuss the issue of low enrollment rates of women within both PETE and Sport Science programmes. 

Supporting the workshop was an international advisory panel, including Professor Susanna Hedenborg (Malmo University, Sweden), Professor Anne Flintoff (Leads Beckett University, United Kingdom) and Professor Ilse Hartmann-Tews (German Sport University Cologne, Germany).

Upon arrival, and after introductory formalities, more casual discussions among the international guests quickly turned to the topic of gender within our home institutions. 

Comments among our group included “I thought our enrollment patterns according to gender were equal, but they aren’t”, followed by “I have looked at the numbers at our university and female enrollment rates have decreased over the past years” and “Ours too!”. Indeed. had we paid closer attention to Kimberly Oliver and David Kirk’s recent publication in Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, we would have been reminded that “little progress appears to have been made to changing the situation for girls in school physical education for at least the past 40 years (Oliver & Kirk, 2016, p.314)”.  Interestingly, a secondary re-occurring question throughout the workshop was: To what extent does the situation of gender equality (or lack of) within Sport Science and Human Movement Studies departments ‘filter down’ to the subject of physical education within both primary and secondary schools?  

The discussions over the following two days were both insightful and energizing. Professor Susanna Soler, the principal investigator of the project “Igualdad en juego”, opened the workshop with a presentation on the historical evolution in Catalonia and the progressive masculinization of physical education and sport science studies over time.  Following this, Dr. Pedrona Serra explored the perceptions and interests of young people towards study and working in the field of physical education and sport science from a gender perspective.  Dr. Maria José Camacho (Complutense University of Madrid) and Dr. Ana Rey (University de Vigo) concluded the opening session with a presentation on how hegemonic masculinity shapes the way physical education is studied at the secondary school level.

The passion and energy throughout the remainder of the workshop prompted us to reflect upon how we were working with gender equality within our own work, our own teaching and our own departments.  While it is not possible to provide a comprehensive overview of the workshop given our words limit, we would like to share with you three vignettes from Barcelona.

1. “Soft quotas are not enough”

Ilse Hartman-Tews discussed the institutional policy and structures of her own institution, where quotas for female academics are set and enforced.  Arguing that soft quotas are not enough, Hartman-Tews spoke of the appointment of female professors within all key areas of the university and drew attention to the mentoring programs that are offered for female staff, and female PhD scholars. The need for hard quotas was enforced by Soler who pointed to the watering down effect of gender equality in Spain, which is legislated for at national policy levels, but is not necessarily enacted at the grass roots level.

2. “We need more than bite sized chunks of feminism”

Anne Flintoff shared with us her various efforts (and failures) to teach gender into PETE throughout her career.  Teaching gender is identity work, and demands more than bite sized chunks within a physical education degree for it to have ongoing impact at the school level.  Discussions on day two of the workshop focused heavily on participants sharing what has worked and what might be possible in order to facilitate a stronger gender perspective in PETE programmes. 

3. “Disrupting the lure of power”

Susanna Hedenborg drew upon lessons learned from the discipline of economic history, reminding us that people turn their heads to power (and those who have it).  Hedenborg highlighted that the masculinization of disciplines and curriculum is not something that PETE and Sport Science endure alone.  Discussions that followed explored ways to disrupt the lure of power, including the need to more closely evaluate the authors of course literature, ensuring that both female and male researchers are equally represented. Hedenborg’s presentation reminded us of the need to ensure that real opportunities for women are created within the department and the discipline more broadly.

Have we dropped the ball on gender?

We walked away from the workshop with the feeling that we have indeed dropped the ball on gender within our home institution.  Drawing upon lessons learned from the above vignettes and empirical data from Spain, it seems that we still have a lot to learn and to implement if we are to move closer towards gender equality at a University level, the PETE programme level and within the subject of physical education at a school level.  Have you dropped the ball on gender too?

Copyright © Kelly Knez & Torun Mattsson 2016


Oliver, K. & Kirk, D. (2016). Towards an activist approach to research and advocacy for girls and physical education. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 21(3), 313-327.
Serra, P., Soler, S., Prat, M., Vizcarra, M.T., Garay, B. & Flintoff, A. (2016): The (in)visibility of gender knowledge in the Physical Activity and Sport Science degree in Spain, Sport, Education and Society, DOI: 10.1080/13573322.2016.1199016


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