views updated


At the onset of the twenty-first century, few sports are still closed to women, who, in increasing numbers, at least in the Europe and North America, invade male purviews, and are more present in extreme sports. However, outside of some events in professional tennis, women routinely are less well paid for athletic performance, less praised and covered by the media, and less marketed. This last aspect has changed since the mid- to late twentieth century, with major companies discovering the consumer potential of women athletes' images to sell their products (Heywood and Dworkin 2003). Yet, especially in sports based on strength or physical confrontation, women are largely ignored, or attacked and ridiculed for exceeding the bounds of female nature. Women who lift weights or inflict and endure blows are still considered sexually deviant because building body mass or enjoying the danger and risk of combat—that "purity of their intention to harm" eloquently evoked by Leah Hager Cohen discussing boxers (Cohen 2005, xiv)—are seen as antithetic to an essentialist view of female nature—as passive, retreating, soft, and gentle. The issue of femininity continues to haunt women athletes in the Europe and North America, whereas in other parts of the world, they face complex cultural issues of modesty and the public exhibition of their bodies that can lead to prohibitions against their participation in sports. Conversely, the compulsory ideal of aggressive, heterosexual masculinity as desirable in men leaves no tolerance for male athletes to be openly homosexual and elicits antipathy and derision if they show any apparent signs of femininity.

Since ancient times women have been present, if not visibly active, in the basic human kinetic activities such as swimming, running, gymnastics, and perhaps wrestling. In most known human societies, their athletic pursuits have been at the very least restricted, if not curtailed, or even blocked, and they have been viewed as secondary or inferior to those of men.

Because of scant evidence for the presence of women in sports before the modern era, historians dispute whether forms of female physical activity that are forms of entertainment should be added to this history, or whether they should be discounted unless actual competition was involved (Guttmann 1991). Reasonable enough in terms of what modern sports entail—the enormous import of competition and its political and national ramifications—this distinction is reductive for cultures and historical moments that have notions of competition that differ from those of the contemporary global sports world. It does not take into account how much the mere fact of being able to train and practice a sport, even without competition, had to mean for girls and women otherwise constrained in their activities their daily lives, professional options, and rights of citizenship. And it casts aside entertainers such as acrobats—lionized in the competitive gymnastics of the early twenty-first century—or equestrians, who required real training and physical skills. Riding, for instance, became a plebeian and acrobatic, performance-oriented, form with the late-eighteenth-century advent of the circus, as female equestrians realized highly skilled feats on horseback. This is not unrelated to the spectacular—in every sense—rise in the public participation of women in athletic endeavors with the onset of the modern industrial age.


The religious nature of the sports arena or of a given sport sometimes elicited fears of women polluting it through physical contact—in particular, menstruation. This may be the root of the well-known absence of women from the original Greek Olympic games. The first record of women participants in the Olympics is dated 776 bce in a place called Olympia on the northwest coast of the Peloponnesus, but the games go back at least another 1500 years and may have originally been those of women. Abolished in 393 ce by Emperor Theodosios I (Flavius Gratianus, 346–395), the Games were at once an athletic and religious event dedicated to Zeus, in which only free, male, Greek-speakers could participate. However, the quadrennial Heraia, or women's games dedicated to Hera, held in the same place, indicate that, perhaps, it was the mixing of the sexes that transgressed the sacred. It was not, at any rate, a basic opposition to women practicing sports in any guise. Contrary to what was asserted before the 1970s, there were women athletes in ancient, classical Greece who were much more active than Roman women would be. The existence in the Hellenistic period of an administrator of the gymnasium, or gymnasiarch, of the women, implies that at least some women used the gymnasium, and under Roman and Byzantine rule, it seems that Greek girls and women were fairly active in sports (Guttmann 1991), calling into question the entrenched Sparta-Athens dichotomy, opposing athletic to sedentary and subjects to objects (Arrigoni 1985). Plato argued, against his contemporaries' views, for the Spartan model, and stated both in Republic and Laws that women should undergo the same exercise programs as men, and that "gymnastics and horsemanship are as suited to women as to men." (Guttmann 1991, p. 27).

The fear of contact with menstrual fluid is a specific Shintoist prevention against the presence of women on the wrestling mat, one that is being slowly contested as women begin to participate in Sumo wrestling. Religious veneration of the art and the space of the contest is also behind a long-standing Thai prohibition against the participation of women in the same ring as men, and thus, in the national sport, Muay Thai, or Thai kickboxing. Thai women have increasingly challenged that barrier, and a head-on collision with these restrictions took place in the late 1990s, in full national view, with the career of champion kick-boxer Parinya Charoenphol, or Nong Thom (b. 1981). A male-born but female-identified fighter who fought as a transvestite, or ladyboy, he finally underwent a sex-change operation and transmuted into a delicate-limbed but strong woman fighter and trainer, upsetting both Thai and international views of gender, strength, and violence. On another level, women have for a long time trained and competed in Asian martial arts imbued with philosophical and religious dimensions, including in societies not otherwise inclined to promote the equality of women, such as Japan, where the extensive training of women in judo and other arts reflects a cultural commitment to discipline and obedience, instilled, unlike in Europe and North America, through fighting techniques rather than passivity.


Patriarchal control over the reproductive capacities of women and the deep-seated societal conviction that bearing children is the essence of women's social role has long been the strongest factor in allowing or blocking women from sports. In Sparta naked girls and young women participated in foot races, cheered on by male spectators who picked their wives from among the most athletic (Guttmann 1991). The Spartan view that foot races and wrestling promoted the development of healthy mothers of warriors was clearly eugenic, as was the rhetoric of fascist Italy, in its endorsement of accomplished female athletes to glorify the nation, in contrast to the subjection expected of all women (Gori 2004). The same aim led to the opposite view, with ludicrous early twentieth-century scientific concerns that the precious organs of women would be damaged or fall apart when subjected to strenuous exercise. The dogma of compulsory motherhood was so widespread and unmovable in early twentieth-century France that even some feminists prefaced their endorsement of women in sports as necessary to further reproduction and enhance maternity, and the conservative sex/gender ideology deployed through every avenue available—the press, medical corps, physical education specialists, writers, and so forth. Women were thus barred from any number of sports in the name of the sanctity of motherhood, combined with demeaning views of the female body as a womb surrounded by a fragile nervous system.

Some bans were clearly symbolic. For instance, the leading national French periodicals of the early 1900s claimed that women lacked calm and would always be unable to drive a car—a long-lived stereotype—and that their fragile nerves made then unable to handle a high-powered machine—although they had been flying airplanes. Power, mobility, and freedom were central tropes in the gender-enforcing efforts of the early twentieth century. (Zeyons 1994).


Across many cultures the partial or total nudity of athletes has been deemed antithetic to the modesty of women. Viewed as indecent in the Victorian era, in particular in the United Stated, the exposure of even parts of the female body was fiercely opposed as women were trying to enter sports such as professional swimming in the 1910s and 1920s (Warner 2006).

In the twenty-first century the near impossibility in some instances, to practice a sport in any competitive manner fully clothed, and covered in such a way as to not offend modesty remains a crucial issue for Muslim women in particular. This was brought home in the 2004 Olympics when the woman runner from Afghanistan was praised publicly for running with a scarf and thus honoring her country and religion. Such questions became a major obstacle in the career of the distinguished Algerian runner Hassiba Boulmerka—at first adulated, and then reviled in her home country—and may have contributed to her gradual erasure from international sports.

Questions of covering and exposure are related to gender in other ways as well: Thai transgendered kick-boxer Nong Toom, mentioned earlier, while still in a male body, fiercely and desperately resisted the custom of disrobing completely at weigh-in, and associated his femaleness with as much modesty as the sport allowed.


Although medieval women had little or no sports practice, aristocratic women were at least expected to know how to ride; the norms of such traditional societies allowed bold actions by women when useful to society and their social class. Despite the cumbersome apparatus used by French women to ride, a sort of side armchair mounted on the horse's back, the sambue (Frieda 2003), women leading troops on battlefields—which is not to say that they fought—evading pursuers in feudal political upheavals, and participating in hunting, the quintessential aristocratic pastime, are evidence that some did so with ease.

Riding remained the principal outdoor activity of aristocratic women of the Renaissance (1350–1600), again, often in the context of hunting. It is thought that queen Catherine de Medici (1519–1589) brought to France, as a young bride at the court of Francis I (1494–1547), the side-saddle that made it possible for women to move beyond the slow amble and ride at a fast pace. She also brought a form of pantaloons that addressed the ever-present issue of women's modesty. One of the traits required of the courtly ladies in the French king's immediate entourage was precisely "courage on horseback," and Catherine lived up to the requirement, capable both of sustaining falls and of riding hard and fast, jumping hedges and fences (Frieda 2003, p. 50).

Thus, a decisive factor in increasing the participation of women in sports has been technological change, and, from the end of the eighteenth century, the increased presence of women in sports is linked to industrialization and the expansion of mechanical conveyances. These were initially risky enough to draw only the bold and, curiously, to make gender barriers fall. The advent of the hot-air balloon at the end of the eighteenth century attracted substantial numbers of women in spite of its dangers. Between 1783 and 1848, sixty-eight women (versus 491 men) took to the air in the developing forms of these balloons. But out of the fifty-six such pioneers who were professionals, in the first half of the nineteenth century, twenty were women, so that female aerostatics were more professionalized than the were the male. Sophie Blanchard (1778–1819), married to an aeronautic engineer, accompanied him in 1804 during a flight and in 1805 completed a tour with solo demonstrations in a small hydrogen balloon with stops in Rouen, Bordeaux, Montpellier, and Toulon, then another tour with her husband from Antwerp to Amsterdam and Rotterdam. She continued alone after his death in 1809, but met her own death in an accident in 1819 when her balloon caught fire and she was thrown from the basket at a celebration at the Tuileries in Paris. Jeanne Genevieve Garnerin, in 1798, was the first woman ever to execute a parachute jump; her niece, Elisa Garnerin, completed thirty-eight balloon ascensions followed by parachute jumps between 1815 and 1835 (Zeyons 1994, pp. 212-213). After mid-century, flying the balloon—a new fad at weddings—became commonplace and lost its sporting value. Yet Louise Poitevin in the 1850s astonished spectators with elaborate airborne stunts, and in 1902, the magazine La Vie au Grand Air [Outdoor life] sponsored a women's long-distance sporting event, with a record of 408 km.

The budding airplane industry provided women with a golden opportunity in a new type of sport. Between 1908 and 1914, more than ten French women were well-known pilots. Marie Marvingt (1875–1963), licensed in 1910, was an accomplished sportswoman. She practiced flying balloons, hydroplaning, riding, swimming, canoeing, mountain climbing, skiing, bobsledding, playing tennis and golf, fencing, wild bear hunting, boxing, and jiujitsu, and was the most decorated woman in French history, receiving thirty-four medals. On May 27, 1910, she established the first woman's flying time record at forty-three minutes and participated in military operations during World War I (1914–1919) (Zeyons 1994, pp. 212-213). Flying was no frivolous pastime, because several women also died in airfield accidents (Suzanne Bernard in 1911, Denise Moore in 1912, Raymonde Laroche in 1919) (Zeyons 1994, p. 214)


The nationalistic investment in modern competitive sports, especially at the Olympics, combined with globalization's rapid exportation of specific forms of athleticism to other countries, has paradoxically provided a backdoor for women in sports, even though nationalist ideologies are usually inimical to women. By the late twentieth century, the participation of women was a routine element of most countries' victory strategies. In contrast, at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, because of modesty controversies about women in swimming, the U.S. Olympic Committee had declined to field a women's team, whereas other European countries were being represented.

The importance of women in the Olympic race for a country's medals total has sometimes superseded disdain for women athletes or the devalued status of women in the home country. At the 1988 Olympics China reportedly had the highest proportion of women on their team of any other country, although women constituted only 25.84% overall of all competitors (Riordan and Jixiang 1996, p. 133). From 1993 to 1996 China rose to the status of world power in sports, and this trend has been attributed entirely to its women athletes. This is "… referred to in China as the blossoming of the yin (female) and the withering of the yang (male)" (Riordan and Jinxia 1996, p. 131) This nice record was subsequently tarnished by revelations of widespread use of anabolic steroids, including among many sportswomen, and with government-sponsored involvement, something of course also prevalent in Europe and North America (Riordan and Jinxia 1996). At the 2004 Summer Games, Hasna Benhassi (b. 1978) won Morocco won a silver medal in athletics in the women's 800 meters, and she was picked best sportsperson on a Moroccan radio survey of forty-three press institutions in December 2005.

Despite campaigns by extreme Islamic fundamentalists to bar women from public competition, national imperatives propelled women from the Muslim world—some of them Christian as well—to long overdue recognition. At the 2004 summer Olympics, just about every Muslim country of the globe (except Iran and the United Arab Emirates) sent at least one woman—sometimes several—even within small delegations. Iraq, Kuwait, Chad, The Comorro Islands, Djibouti, the Gambia, and Jordan all had at least one woman competing. Turkey had the most and perhaps the most varied, along with Egypt and Algeria, whereas tiny Bahrain, Albania, and Azerbadjan had two, the latter competing in target shooting. Although many or most of these women competed in track and field, and sometimes in swimming—precisely those areas likely to fuel modesty controversies—it is noteworthy that a substantial contingent competed in martial arts, chiefly judo, tae-kwon-do, and even wrestling, with several competitors from Algeria and Tunisia ranking in the top ten in the finals. The only competitor in judo from Afghanistan was a woman, Friba Razayee (b. 1985), one of the first two women from the country to compete at the Olympics. Egyptian women competed in archery and in fencing, as did Algerian women, and in women's weightlifting, one gold medal was won by the Turk Nurcan Taylan (b. 1983) and a silver medal by Indonesian Raema Lisa Rumbewas (b. 1980).

Women who are injured while competing internationally, and yet, forge on, are heroized: Such was the case of the Indian heptathlon competitor J.J. Shobha (b. 1987), a gold medalist in the 2003 Afro-Asian games, who received the Arjuna award in 2004 for returning to the competition with a bandaged ankle, and finishing third in the final 800-meter event and eleventh overall. A famous example of this fervor is the young U.S. gymnast, Kerri Strug (b. 1977), who, in 1996, was carried wrapped in a U.S. flag by her coach to the victory podium.

The degree of nationalistic passion elicited by a sport with such questionable assumptions—women's gymnastics—is noteworthy, both with respect to the issues of femininity in sport and of children in the public imagination of sports and bodily performance. Women's gymnastics displays blatant gender discrimination, with exercises that emphasize being limber, agile, and graceful, whereas the men's competition involves real adult men whose performance stresses muscular strength rather than contortions of the body. Girls and young women, performing arduous aerial feats, are domesticated for viewers of this immensely popular sport through what Ann Chisholm describes as the "cuteness" of female children, which both contains femininity and reaffirms it in an unthreatening way (Chisholm 2002, p. 429). In fact, women's gymnastics regularly sacrifices the emotional and physical welfare of very young girls, who are often still children, dressed and made up in enticing apparel, to the ambiguous desires and aims of coaches, parents, the public, and the nation.


The Olympic Games were reinstated in 1896 in Athens to encourage international cooperation through sport by French sports educator Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin (1863–1937). His views were openly hostile to women and he maintained in his lifetime the position that they had no role to play in them other than crowning the victors (Graydon 1983). There was not one woman athlete at those 1896 games, but women did begin to trickle in over the next few decades, especially from Scandinavian countries, with France and the United States being the rear guard. The number of women at the Olympics began to rise against obstacles at every step, and the 1984 summer games marked a turn in this respect. Yet the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has continued to maintain an often hostile regulatory function vis-à-vis women and can propel or terminate the career of aspiring women athletes. It has recently approved such limited sports as steeplechase and beach volleyball but continues to ban women's boxing. This ban not only squashes the Olympic hopes of women who have trained for them and will be too old for the next games, but also as shown, by a lawsuit filed by an amateur boxer and her coach, it discriminates openly against women boxers even when they compete in allowed venues, by excluding them from IOC-funded training facilities and funding. At the onset of the twenty-first century, as it was at in 1896, the IOC, stacked with conservative representatives of countries with low opportunities for women and an investment in conservative, normative, gender policies, remains an enemy of female equality in sports.

Yet, the economic and social importance of sports has moved some governments to equalize opportunities for women through law. In 1972 a section of the Education Amendments, called Title IX, prohibited sex-based discrimination in all federally funded education programs, including sports. The enormous importance and business implications of athletics in schools and colleges is a shaping factor in U.S. sports and it has, for a large part, left girls and women behind. The implementation of Title IX brought with it furor and controversy over gendered readings of sport. Battle lines were drawn between supporters of equality for women and entrenched bastions of male-dominated sports that, while resisting the arrival of women in their midst, regardless of change at the Olympics level, argued that women were taking away scarce resources from them. Title IX was thus challenged by the male wrestling establishment, and their claims were embraced by a wide array of conservative forces opposed to the presence of women in sports. The law, its language, and its implications were intensely scrutinized by commissions under the younger president Bush (b. 1946) and was in danger of being scuttled had not public outcry and mass political action by feminist sports advocates stemmed the tide. The disputes over the implications, often misunderstood, and the interpretation of Title IX language continue to affect the way sports are practiced and envisioned in the United States.


Constructions of masculinity are often founded on maintaining the radical separation and identification of physically specific sexual trait and gendered roles, expressed by limiting the physical and social possibilities of women. Heteronormativity adds the burden of privileging the homosocial context of sports while radically preventing its homoerotics from surfacing, and stamping out homosexuality when possible.

Whereas there has been pervasive resistance to women in all sports, contact sports have raised the most hackles: After much opposition soccer and basketball have gained some degree of recognition. But this is still far from being the case in combat sports that engage the body in intimate contact, such as wrestling and boxing. Wrestling is seen as a male-dominated sport even though there are women wrestlers, as clearly sexual in the kind of synergy it produces between men, as, "in wrestling, the key image is the violent embrace of two men, and the conflict reaches its resolution when one man mounts the prone body of the other." The play of dominance and submission is clearly homoerotic, and "the most violent postures are also the most apparently sexual" (Mazer 1990, pp. 116-117) while male wrestlers play out an intimacy between men that is "otherwise considered taboo by mainstream America" (Mazer 1990, p. 117). Mazer does not see an equivalent spectacle between women and suggests, rather, that the homoerotic display is really for heterosexual male consumption, fed by lewd and proscribed displays of nude female flesh on stage.

Boxing has encountered, if possible, a worse reception. Although thousands of women worldwide are registered as amateurs or fight as professionals, train hard, have a following, and are sometimes credited with providing a better performance than the male fighters on the same card—women are almost always on the undercard: The recognition women boxers receive is scant. In effect their role in the sport has been given mass exposure largely through external forces such as popular movies. Women's boxing in the United States only became legalized quite late following a lawsuit by a young female boxer who wanted to fight with men. Instead, the court ordered the Golden Gloves organization to provide similar venues for female fighters. This case went to the courts in 1982, before the case for girls in wrestling had been considered, and the outcome was that "the court protected boxing from the potential disruption of coed competition, and in refusing to issue a preliminary injunction it brought amateur boxing more time to adjust to the idea of sanctioning female fighters" (Fields 2005, p. 126).

In 1993 the boxing federation dropped the prohibition against female competitors after another suit by a 16-year-old woman in Seattle who asked to fight other girls, not boys. The U.S. Amateur Boxing Federation (USABF) was ordered by Federal District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein to allow girls to compete until the matter went to trial, but it did not oppose, and instead, opened its doors to girls. Thus, in 1993, Dallas Malloy became the first USABF-sanctioned female fighter (Fields 2005). However, professional women's boxing in the United States continues to suffer from accusations of being circus-like on the basis of a few controversies, in particular over mixed-matches (e.g., a woman fighting a man), which do little to promote female professional boxing but unleash virulent and contradictory views of sports, violence and gender—who is a legitimate opponent? Is it still too shameful for a man to suffer defeat from a woman? Such negativity is not necessarily universal. Women's boxing has found an enthusiastic home among some women in Egypt, Jordan, and India; and in Germany female boxing, epitomized by the stellar career of Regina Halmich (b. 1976), enjoys a completely different status from in the United States. In the latter, women's boxing has to become newsworthy through the performance of famous daughters, but Halmich is a widely respected athlete whose views about sports, society, and politics are heard and who has a huge following.


In the twenty-first century the most persistent gender-based problem faced by athletes in many countries, especially the United States, is the constant questioning of their femininity and the threat of being accused of being lesbians. As Pat Griffin puts it: "women's sport advocates have spent 100 years defensively promoting an image of women athletes as feminine and heterosexual to gain some modest degree of public acceptance" (1998, p. 213). Women in sports are thus constantly pressured into reaffirming femininity and heterosexuality and confirming that prescribed gender roles are unavoidable. Women athletes always have to respond to suspicions regarding their normality. In a mainstream sport such as tennis, only the talent and gumption of a Martina Navratilova (b. 1956) countered homophobic campaigns, but the press does not desist.

In team sports lesbians are expected to stay in the closet and be ignored, whereas the fact that lesbians are active in sports is common knowledge: "lesbian baiting is still used to control all women in sport" (Griffin 1998, p. 214). Virulent double standards affect the permission given heterosexuals to speak of their personal and romantic life—a subject of shaming and silence for lesbians and gays and a publicity and recruitment tool for heterosexuals. In cases of sexual relations between coaches and team members, male coaches in such inappropriate situations are only fired under great pressure and are defended by administrators, parents, and athletes themselves, even when they have been shown to be abusive. Yet outed lesbians are exposed and banned from the sport (Griffin 1998). Heterosexist discourse has successfully framed the question so that merely talking about homosexuality is talking about sex (Griffin 1998), whereas prattling all over the press about the sex-appeal of male stars or the beauty of female athletes is acceptable. This, one must add, affects gay men as well, as in the famous case of baseball player Dave Pallone (1990) who was hounded out of the sport.

The press plays a determining role in this ideology of sports and gender. The leading sports journal in the United States, Sports Illustrated, promotes a heterosexist, homophobic, and masculinist gender order. In its yearly swimsuit issue, curvaceous female celebrities with no athletic credentials model alluring and scanty garments. In its front page outing of basketball coach Pam Parsons and her lover, it contributed to ruining Parsons' and her lover's professional options, but does not pay such attention to male coaches caught tinkering with their charges. In its July 1, 1999, homophobic coverage of Nong Toom ("He'd rather fight and switch" by Rick Reilly), it held the accomplished boxer's struggle with gender crisis in the public arena to ridicule. Mainstream magazines outside of the sports industry play up the image of famous women athletes in town clothing, wearing evening gowns, to underscore the image of the complete woman whose femininity is reasserted. And some women athletes have cooperated or played with—depending on one's view-point—the ambiguous public fascination with the bodies of strong, muscular, women; for instance, women boxers who have posed seminude or nude for Playboy.

Outside of Europe and North America, or of the norms of those countries, women athletes face other serious conflicts. Women athletes in the Arab and Muslim worlds contend with a double hurdle: They are largely marginalized by European and North American sports commentators and organizations, except insofar as their performance embodies social and cultural conflicts in their home country while their achievements are ignored, and condemned by the conservative and militant forces at home over issues of modesty, exposure, and complicity with Europe and North America.

In European and North American countries with long histories of colonialism and racism, such as the United States, France, or Great Britain, athletes of color, of all sexes, face supplementary pressures in conforming to gender stereotypes as part of an expectation of representativity for their communities. The imperative of femininity has deeply affected leading Black female athletes, for instance, from Wilma Rudolph (1940–1994) to the Williams sisters, Venus (b. 1980) and (b. 1981) Serena—the former widely respected and applauded for her acceptability, the latter often subject to disparaging remarks across constituencies, including other athletes, that translate racist views of black female identities as well as conservative gender views.

Even when accepted, women athletes must follow gender scripts in ways that remain foreign to (clearly) heterosexual men, who are indulged by the public and press for a variety of failings and transgressions (some of them criminal). Women are not allowed such latitude and are held to a higher standard—the public presentation of female athletes continues to stress their conventional roles as mothers and wives or girlfriends, their marketability as erotic female icons of beauty, or as involved in charity work. These features are a welcome corrective to aggression and competitiveness, which are still assumed to be mostly masculine and thus, ultimately, disturbing in women.

Competitive sports, whether they are still in effect a man's world or not, maintain that fiction through retrograde regulations, codes, and visual signals, such as the ring girls of boxing and other tournaments, and by structural contexts that send implicit gendered messages. At the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, for instance, billed as raising the visibility of women, a roiling controversy flared between the Gender Equality ministers from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and the municipality of Athens, led by a woman mayor, over an alleged request by the Athens City Council to boost permits for brothels to meet demand during the Games. For the 2008 games, China, a country disproportionately represented by women athletes, has already signaled the content of that symbolic visibility by picking a women's musical world fusion ensemble, The Twelve Girls Band—an enormously accomplished, yet gender-conventional group of women performers from across China and musical genres—to star at the opening ceremony.

see also Gender Roles: I. Overview; Gender, Theories of; Hierarchy; Manly (Masculine) Woman; Nationalism; Violence.


"Anger over Greek Olympic Brothels." BBC News Sports. Available from

Arnaud, Pierre, and Thierry Terret, eds. 1996. Histoire du Sport Féminin. Paris: L'Harmattan.

Arrigoni, Giampiera. 1985. "Donne e Sport nel mondo Greco" [Women and sport in the Greek world. In Le Donne in Grecia [Women in Greece]. Bari: Laterza, pp. 55-201.

Beautiful Boxer. 2005. [film]. Dir. Ekachai Uekrongtham. Thailand.

Bonfante, Larissa. 1989. "Nudity as a Costume in Classical Art." American Journal of Archaeology 93(4): 543-570.

Burnett, Mike. "Women Weigh in for Sumo." BBC Sports Online. Friday, 4 May, 2001, 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK. Available from

Cahn, Susan K. 1993. "From the 'Muscle Moll' to the 'Butch' Ballplayer: Mannishness, Lesbianism, and Homophobia in U.S. Women's Sport." Feminist Studies. 19(2): 343-368.

Cahn, Susan. 1994. Coming on Strong: Gender and Sexuality in Twentieth-Century Women's Sport. New York: Free Press.

Chisholm, Ann. 2002. "Acrobats, Contortionists, and Cute Children: The Promise and Perversity of U.S. Women's Gymnastics." Signs 27(2): 415-450.

Cohen, Leah Hager. 2005. Without Apology. Girls, Women, and the Desire to Fight. New York: Random House.

Davis, Janet M. 2002. The Circus Age: Culture & Society Under the American Big Top. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Fields, Sarah K. 2005. Female Gladiators: Gender, Law and Contact Sport in America. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Frieda, Leonie. 2003. Catherine de Medici. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Gori, Gigliola. 2004. Italian Fascism and The Female Body: Sport, Submissive Women and Strong Mothers. London: Routledge.

Graydon, Jan. 1983. "But It's More Than a Game. It's an Institution. Feminist Perspectives on Sport." Feminist Review 13: 5-16.

Greene, Laura. 2004. "Thai 'Ladyboy" Kickboxer's Gender-Bending Knockout." National Geographic On Assignment. Available from

Griffin, Pat. 1998. Strong Women, Deep Closets: Lesbians and Homophobia in Sports. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Guttman, Allen. 1991. Women's Sports: A History. New York: Columbia University Press.

Halmich, Regina, Andreas Lorenz. 2003 (1976). Noch Fragen? Die Autobiographie der Boxweltmeisterin/Regina Halmich [Any more questions? The autobiography of the World Boxing Champion, Regina Halmich]. Pfaffenweiler: Wero Press.

Heywood, Leslie, and Shari L. Dworkin. 2003. Built to Win: The Female Athlete as Cultural Icon. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Hong, Fan, and J. A. Mangan, eds. 2004. Soccer, Women, Sexual Liberation. Kicking Off a New Era. London: Frank Cass.

Hoppe, Stephanie T. 1998. Sharp Spear, Crystal Mirror: Martial Arts in Women's Lives. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.

Jinxiang, Dong. 2003. Women, Sport and Society in Modern China. Holding Up More than Half the Sky. London: Frank Cass.

Kesich, Gregory D. "Female Boxer, Coach Sue Over Unequal Treatment." Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegraph, March 5, 2007. Available from

Laget, Françoise Serge Laget; and Jean-Paul Mazet. 1988. Le Grand Livre du Sport Fëminin. Belleville-sur-Saône: SIGEFA.

Majumdar, Boria. 2004. "Forwards and Backwards: Women's Soccer in 20th-Century India." In Soccer, Women, Sexual Liberation. Kicking Off a New Era, ed. Fan Hong and J.A. Mangan. London: Frank Cass.

Mangan, J. A., and Roberta Park. eds. 1987. From "Fair Sex" to Feminism: Sport and the Socialization of Women in the Industrial and Post-Industrial Eras. London: Frank Cass.

Mazer, Sharon. 1990. "The Doggie Doggie World of Professional Wrestling.: The Drama Review. 34(4): 96-122.

McCoy, Bernie. "Friday Night Fights: Don't Bother." Women Boxing Archive Network, February 5, 2006. Available from

Messner, Michael A., Margaret Carlisle Duncan, and Kerry Jensen. 1993. "Separating the Men from the Girls: The Gendered Language of Televised Sports." Gender and Society. 7(1): 121-137.

Mrozek, Donald J. 1987. "The 'Amazon' and the American 'Lady': Sexual Fears of Women as Athletes." In From Fair Sex to Feminism, ed. J. A. Mangan and Roberta Park. London: Frank Cass.

Pallone, Dave, with Alan Steinberg. 1990. Behind the Mask: My Double Life in Baseball. New York: Viking.

Riordan, James, and Dong Jinxia. 1996. "Chinese Women and Sport: Success, Sexuality and Suspicion." China Quarterly. 145: 130-152.

Sautman, Francesca. 1997. "Hassiba Boulmerka's Raised Fist: The Body of Evidence and Muslim Herstory." Found Object. 7: 9-34.

Serwint, Nancy. 1993. "The Female Athletic Costume at the Heraia and Prenuptial Initiation Rites." American Journal of Archaeology 97(3): 403-422.

Suggs, Welch. 2005. A Place on the Team: The Triumph and Tragedy of Title IX. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Theberge, Nancy. 2000. Higher Goals: Women's Ice Hockey and the Politics of Gender. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq.)

Warner, Patricia Campbell. 2006. When the Girls Come out to Play. The Birth of American Sportswear. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Wigginton, Russel T. 2000. The Strange Career of the Black Athlete: African Americans and Sports. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Zeyons, Serge. 1994. La Femme en 1900. Les Années 1900 par la Carte Postale. Paris: Larousse.

                                 Francesca Candé Sautman