Anna Maria Hellborg
Dept. of Sport Sciences, Malmö University
Women and sport is an anthology that addresses different aspects of women’s sport, mainly the conditions under which women’s sport has developed and now exists. The book is structured in the same way as Jay Coakley’s Sport in society with themes such as history, race, media and politics. The difference is that Women and sport is focusing on women’s sport and that it is an anthology with half of the chapters written by the editor and the rest by other renowned scholars. The anthology provides an overview of women’s sport in the USA, it is concentrated around the US context, bringing up Title IX (a law from 1972 that says that government funded schools should have gender equality regarding, among other things, resources and finances) and the college sport system. It is not a book about women’s sport around the world, even though examples of research outside the US are provided and explained, but more as a reference than as giving a full picture.
The target group for the book is students; there are learning exercises, discussion questions and glossaries included in the book. I would also say that it is a book for those who might want or need an overview of women’s sport development in the US, such as coaches, sport leaders, journalists and other people working with sport issues on a broad level. The book is easy to read and provides a broad picture rather than in-depth and complicated analyses.
From the subtitle “continuing a journey of liberation and celebration”, you might think that it is a success story – and to some extent it is, but the texts are also critical of the slow progress for women’s sport and the way women’s sport still faces obstacles and discrimination. So, it is a journey that will continue.
The anthology is divided into four parts and fifteen chapters. The first part is about history connected to the present. The chapters focus on the development of women’s sport. The second part concerns health issues and physiology. The third part deals with different social groups and discrimination, such as race, sexual orientation and disability. The last part focuses on women in sport industry. This part has more focus on elite sports than the other parts and include media, marketing and sport politics.
There are a few chapters that I wish to highlight for different reasons. One is about the history of women’s sport and demonstrates the discrimination women’s sport have met, and about the women who defied the obstacles and became pioneers in sport. There’s also a chapter about Title IX which displays its history and the struggles that still remain. It is fascinating to read about the development of Title IX and the setbacks surrounding its implementation, and the potentials of the law but also what the law is incapable of producing.
An interesting chapter in this type of book dominated of sociological research is the chapter on physiology. It feels somewhat misplaced. For a sociological researcher, it is quite difficult to assess the quality of that chapter. The authors include a lot of comparisons between male and female physiology and in doing that they always run the risk of reproducing a stereotypical view of what women and men are capable and incapable of doing. I do however think that the authors try to get a message across that even though the male physiology differs from the female, there is no reasons for women to be less physically active or less involved in elite sports.
The book focusses more on the everyday sportswoman than on elite athletes, except in the last part, for example the chapter on media, which both addresses the male dominated media sport environment and the coverage of female athletes in media and how women are portrayed. There’s also a chapter on sports leaders in the sport industry that shows that women are few and far between on sport industry boards and in power positions. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is brought up in that chapter and in the chapter on politics, and the authors point to the IOC’s intention to work for gender equality but so far failing miserably within the IOC and in the NOCs (National Olympic Committee) around the world. The authors express a wish that the IOC would act more diligently against this slow progress for gender equality.
I appreciate that the editor chose to include a chapter on sexual violence and the coach–athlete relationship; this book was published at least a year before the #metoo phenomenon. The author writes about the stigmatized view on victims of sexual violence in society and in sports, and to my mind it is important to bring it up also in the sport context.
The anthology covers a lot of topics, but if there’s something missing it is, in my opinion, a chapter on female athletes as mothers. Maybe there aren’t enough research about this category to fill a chapter but it’s an interesting development that more female elite athletes choose to have children in the middle of their sport careers. It is a choice that is important for gender equality in elite sports. This omission notwithstanding, Women and sport is a book with a broad summary of women’s sport, especially for those interested in the US context. There’s a little bit of everything, a book to start with and then specialize in the different topics of interest. Therefore, it would have been helpful to include further reading suggestions for those who want to know more about the different issues surrounding women’s sport.
Copyright © Anna Maria Hellborg 2017
Table of Content
Part I Women’s Sport in Context: Connecting Past and Present
Part II Strong Girls, Strong Women
Part III Women, Sport, and Social Location
Part IV Women in the Sport Industry