Dept of Sport Sciences, Malmö University
The much-needed Race, Gender and Sport: The Politics of Ethnic ’Other’ Girls and Women has been written “to respond to the void in critical knowledge about the ethnic ‘Other’ females in sport” (p. 2) and to provide a more comprehensive and more accurate depiction of the intricate and diverse lived realities of these women’s lives. The book has been edited by Aarti Ratna and Samaya Farooq Samie and presents the works of nine other scholars in ten chapters. This collection, which is published in the Routledge Critical Studies in Sport series, has been carefully edited to reflect a critical view of the current discussions regarding the ethnic ‘Other’ women as well as to provide wide-ranging viewpoints from scholars of various racial and ethnic backgrounds. The editors position their work as a personal and political project that has aimed to centralize the voices of women who are predominantly read as ‘Other’ in the boundaries of their ‘home’, that is ‘different than White female body’. The themes analyzed in this book are decolonization sporting ‘Other’ women; resistance of the sporting ‘Other’ women; and confronting ‘whiteness’.
Comparable to the women the book aims to represent, the chapters of the book are simultaneously similar to and different from each other. Collectively they aim to shift the readers’ gaze from “the supposed ‘problems’ of the female ethnic ‘others’ to debates about broader discourses, language, practices and social systems which operate in and through sport” (p. 4). And yet, each chapter is different from the others in representing a different perspective and a different group of women. The book is organized into three sections, each concentrating on a different aspect of research within this field. The first section focuses on the current knowledge and theoretical interventions in sport scholarship. These chapters compel the readers to go beyond the predominant discourses in the West and engage with perspectives that expose cultures of exclusion and oppression and reproduction of these cultures within the sport scholarship and research. The second part of the book, named “Experiences at the Intersections of Identity”, means to do just that: explore and unpack the multiplicity and complexity of identities in order to re-present the voices of a variety of ethnic ‘Other’ women from different parts of the world and reveal challenges and possibilities in their sporting endeavours. The final section of the book highlights the transformative ability of the female ‘others’ in their sporting fields and their agency in creating and (re)shaping their sporting cultures on their own terms.I fear that this omission acts to make invisible the opportunities and challenges that women face outside of Euro-American contexts, which in turn feeds into the monolithic public discourse regarding these women.
Against the backdrop of current monotonous public debates on ethnic ‘others’, especially women, the critical perspectives that run through all the chapters of this book are fascinating and refreshing. I found chapter 2, “De/colonising ‘sporting Muslim women’”, very stimulating and thought-provoking. Authored by Samie, it offers a critical reflection on the dominant portrayal of the sporting Muslim women in academic research as well as in public debates and media. Samie explains that despite numerous studies depicting Muslim women’s varied experiences and several Muslim feminist scholars’ works in emphasizing the Muslim women’s role in negotiating their entry into sporting fields on their own terms, “the essentialist and monolithic discourses in constructing sporting Muslim women as different, strange, incompetent and out of place is still evident at various levels” (p. 35) of academia, public forums and media. She argues that the colonization of knowledge and academia has resulted in depicting Islam and Muslim women as always less than, and inferior to, western cultures and western women. Moreover, the cultural practices of Muslim women have been depicted in homogenous patterns that have denied the diversity of these practices and have reinforced the image of Islam and Muslim women as backward, repressed and in need of enlightenment and rescue. Samie calls for decolonizing the knowledge on sporting Muslim women and concludes that identity of sporting Muslim women is a dynamic living process that does not fit within the current monolithic definitions available through media and academia. She further emphasizes that if “we are to move beyond oscillating from one extreme homogenizing depiction (all Muslim women are regulated) to another (all Muslim women fighting to be free from control are against men)” (p. 54), we “need to think critically about the process of knowledge production” (p.55) and whose perspectives we are privileging.
The editors Ratna and Samie and the rest of the contributing authors excel in breaking the monolithic discourse on ethnic ‘Other’ sporting women and illuminate the agency of these women in being sporting women on their own terms. However, in my opinion, in their attempt to decolonize the discourse and knowledge pertaining to ethnic ‘Other’ females, the editors somewhat overlook certain patriarchal and oppressive systems that work to keep these women out of the sporting fields (for example the experiences of the female fans in some countries as they are banned from entering sport stadiums). In addition, the main body of the book is focused on the experiences of the ethnic ‘Other’ women and girls in the West (i.e. Europe and North America) and although this is quite important and much required considering the current public discussions, it passes over the experiences of the women in other parts of the world. I fear that this omission acts to make invisible the opportunities and challenges that women face outside of Euro-American contexts, which in turn feeds into the monolithic public discourse regarding these women. In the introductory chapters, the editors do acknowledge their inability to represent the experiences of many ethnic ‘Other’ women, for example the indigenous women in Australia and North America; nevertheless, this inability, in my opinion, limits the richness of the book, especially considering the intriguing and remarkable research that the indigenous women are involved in and the possibilities that their research could provide for others.
Nonetheless, this book succeeds in engaging the readers to redefine the boundaries of knowledge production and encourage them to “go deeper into their interrogations of the hidden, complex and contested ways of understanding ethnic ‘Other’ girls’ and women’s relationship to sport and physical culture” (p. 6). This edited collection does well in creating a space for other researchers to join this important dialogue in order to further a critical understanding of the sporting, physical and social world of ethnic ‘Other’ females and disrupt the homogenous, ‘fixed’ perceptions regarding both sport and the ethnic ‘Other’ women.
Copyright © Sepandarmaz Mashreghi 2018
Table of Content
Introduction: Sport, Race and Gender: The Politics of Ethnic ‘Other’ Girls and Women
Part 1: Theoretical Interventions and Knowledge Production
Part 2: Experiences at the Intersections of Identity
Part 3: Everyday Struggles and Transformative Practice