Sociology of Sport

Using Conflict and Feminist theory to discuss the role of sport, and women in sporting society. Theories are important in helping to understand sports role in society. Two theories are going to be discussed in this essay; they are the Conflict theory and the Feminist theory. These are going to be used to explore how sport contributes to society and social order along with women’s role in sport.

To investigate this, conflict and feminist theories were chosen because they will contrast each other giving a fair assessment of the topic. Conflict theorists place high amounts of emphasis on social class whereas; a Feminists’ view believes that sport is gendered. In this report the two chosen theories will investigate the relationship between both sport and women paying particular attention to their participation in sport and how it is perceived within society.

Noble women have been involved in sports such as jousting and archery since the medieval period. However, by the 18th century women had been relegated to the role of spectator, watching men play, and they had attracted the tag of the “weaker sex”. Their only involvement was in gentle, elegant and “ladylike” activities such as skittles, quoits and tennis. This was because that was acceptable behaviour at the time, society was male dominant and women learned from their peers how to behave in society.

During this phase, major developments were taking place in sports such as governing bodies were being set up and sports were being more organised with established rules. However it was males who were making these decisions and this had an effect on women’s participation in sport because the sports had the characteristics that men have because it was men who set them up. This backs up the feminist theorists who believe that sport is gendered. Nevertheless, women were active in non competitive activities such as fell walking and climbing in which they proved to be equally capable as men. However, due to their general lack of involvement in competitive sports it was thought by men and women alike that they were incapable of participating, it became self-fulfilling. In fact, in 1896, the first modern Olympics did not have any female competitors and it was said at the time that the Olympics were dedicated to the:

“Solemn and periodic exultation of male athleticism…..with female applause as a reward. ” (Pierre de Coubertin) In the 1996 Atlanta Olympics only 30% of the competitors and 10% of the coaches were women. So as you can see things have improved but feminists believe they still need to go a long way for women to achieve total equality. “The single most dramatic change in the world of sports over the past generation has been the increased participation of girls and young women”. (J.Coackley, 2003, page 216)

This may be a factual statement, but in many societies, women do not have an equal opportunity to participate in sport. Even in Britain, where laws have been set up, such as the sex discrimination act, to enforce equality this still remains true. This could be the case due to a number of reasons. Firstly, biological reasons, such as child-birth which could restrict their opportunities to participate in sport.

Secondly, physiological reasons, women are weaker in terms of raw strength. They have generally got smaller frames and smaller hearts. However, women do have a higher pain threshold than men and their vital organs are better protected. I can then come to the conclusion that women are actually more suitable to contact sports than men and research has shown that women out perform men on ultra- endurance races. This evidence runs along side the feminist theory that women are just as capable as men but it’s just seen in society that men are the dominant sex when it comes to sports.

Thirdly, social reasons women’s role in has traditionally been in the home which prevent them participating. Traditionally women have not been encouraged as sport is seen to be masculine. It’s this type of attitude that feminists want to prohibit because no or little changes can be made if people still perceive women as the weaker sex. Lastly, cultural reasons because sport is masculine it is seen to be un-lady like to participate in sport. Also some minority groups have dress codes for example, turbans which could prevent them playing sport but this affects both the male and female population. This is one of the weaknesses of the feminist approach; it does not address other factors which are also associated with gender in significant ways. These include social class, religion, race, nationality and disability because all of these are important issues when discussing discrimination in sport.

However, sport is not just gendered to support male attributes. Men can be disadvantaged in sports that are considered to be “feminine” and so suitable for men. For example dance, ice-skating and aerobics. These sports promote qualities such as grace, sensitivity, emotion and a general aesthetic appreciation. Conflict theorists disagree with the ideas of the Feminist theorists as Conflict theory believes that society is a system of social structures and relationships, which are shaped eventually by economic powers. (J.Coackley, 2003)

However, these two theories do share some of the same ideas. They both believe that there is inequality in society relating to sport, although the emphasis is not on gender. Throughout history there have been many links between society and sport and the discrimination that occurs today is often as a result of that history and tradition. Conflict theory focuses on economic issues, class difference, and the need for transformation in how society and sports are organised. (J.Coackley, 2003) This means that they believe that sportsmen and women don’t have control over the conditions of their participation. They also believe that sport: “Serves as a tool of economic exploitation and aggression” (J.Coackley, 2003) This means that people with power can use sport to promote attitudes and connections that enable them to sustain that authority and privilege.

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