by Kara Blizzard
In professional sports like tennis, women are generally expected to wear tight-fitting clothing. We don’t expect to see a female tennis player in a baggy t-shirt and shorts. According to Augustana professor Yvonne Becker, this tendency has to do with women’s “in-between-ness” in sport. As women become more involved in sports, said Becker, they remain “feminine” by being hypersexualized.
Becker went on sabbatical last year, and she is currently finishing up a PhD project through the University of Queensland in Australia. Her study is about how women find a place in the historically male-dominated arena of sport.
Becker coached women’s basketball at Augustana for several years, and she noticed that the athletes’ behaviour on the court was sometimes very different from their behaviour outside of basketball. In contrast, “the transition for male athletes seems easier,” said Becker. This led her to wonder about the ambivalence that female athletes experience when it comes to traditionally patriarchal sports. Sports generally focus on competition and winning, neither of which is generally dubbed “feminine.”
During her sabbatical, Becker spent time with prominent Canadian female athletes. She observed their behaviour during training and performance, and she asked them to complete an assignment in which they took photos of themselves both during sport and outside of sport. Becker interviewed participants about their transition from a home or social environment to a sport environment.
One question she examined is, “do the women actually try to renovate the space of sports, so that it is more comfortable for them than that patriarchal model of sport that we are so accustomed to seeing?” She asked whether the women, some of whom are mothers, bring aspects of their personal lives into their sport. Becker found that women play sports for many reasons, including fun, community belonging, acceptance, and a sense of achievement. Some participants find that playing a sport gives them a release from stresses and demands in their lives. It is “a space for them to be engaged in something for themselves.”
Playing sports, though, presents a challenge to many women. Becker described the “in-between-ness” of female athletes. They have to negotiate sport into their lives, around a work and a home environment. In many cases juggling a personal life and a sport becomes too much, and a woman has to choose one or the other. Becker’s project shows just how complex the relationship between women and sport can be.
Yvonne Becker is currently teaching Women and Sport, as well as other athletics courses at Augustana.