Sporting Females: Critical Issues in the History & Sociology of Women's Sports // Review

Article excerpt

Sporting Females: Critical Issues in the History and Sociology of Women's Sports Jennifer Hargreaves London: Routledge, 1994

Reviewed by Helen Jefferson Lenskyi Department of Adult Education Ontario Institute for Studies in Education Toronto, Ontario

Sporting Females is an extremely readable and comprehensive account of historical and contemporary issues in British women's sport over the past century. Also included are discussions of developments in women's sport in other countries, mainly in the western world. In this ambitious historical and sociological project, sport is broadly defined to include all forms of women's physical recreation, and the comprehensive review of the history of physical education and sport in English schools and communities throughout the century provides an important background to understanding contemporary patterns of activity. Of particular value and interest is the detailed information on autonomous, women - only clubs and leagues in the UK; rarely do accounts of such initiatives appear in sport scholarship.

The book's seamless quality can be largely attributed to the author's skilful interweaving of archival materials, documentary and media sources, secondary analyses, interviews with "hundreds of women," and oral histories. Given this interesting blend of sources, and the paucity of work on research methods in the history and sociology of women and sport, readers would no doubt be interested in having a more detailed description of Hargreaves' methodological approaches.

A more serious problem arising from the multiple methods and sources is that the reader is sometimes unable to determine on whose authority Hargreaves is speaking. And, with little explicit information on Hargreaves' own subject position, the reader is even less well equipped to evaluate her arguments. This problem is especially evident in her discussion of Olympic sport and sporting practices in Islamic countries. In three pages of discussion (pp. 231 - 233), only four sources are identified, and at least two of these are non - Islamic commentators. The reader is left wondering about the origins of this largely unreferenced discussion - is it based on the author's interviews with Islamic sports - women or observations in Islamic countries, or is it her synthesis of media coverage and secondary sources?

An example closer to home -- the discussion of Canadian sport policy -- reveals similar problems. In an unreferenced statement, Hargreaves credits the lobbying efforts of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport (CAAWS), "to a great extent," for recent reforms in "gender relations" in Canadian sport (p.184), and fails to recognize the role of Sport Canada's Women's Program throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, and, more specifically, the work of the feminist managers of that program in securing ongoing funding for CAAWS. Equally important, the effectiveness of liberal feminist groups such as CAAWS (and its American and UK counterparts) has been the topic of debate in feminist sport literature for several years, but Hargreaves presents such groups in largely unproblemative terms and does not refer to their critics.

Hargreaves provides an extensive and valuable analysis of the interactions of gender ideologies and sporting practices, and investigates the impact of race, class, sexuality and ability on women's sport choices. …