A Feminist Analysis of Selected Professional Recreation Literature about Girls/women from 1907-1990

By Henderson, Karla A. | Journal of Leisure Research, Spring 1993 | Go to article overview
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A Feminist Analysis of Selected Professional Recreation Literature about Girls/women from 1907-1990


Henderson, Karla A., Journal of Leisure Research


Key Words: Feminism, content analysis, recreation, women, girls, social roles, history

Since the emergence of the contemporary women's movement in the United States, professional literature about recreation programming for girls and women and about women in the leisure services profession has appeared only infrequently in the most visible professional publication of the field, Parks & Recreation. While a number of other journals are read by professionals, this publication and its predecessor publications have been the primary vehicles for addressing issues related to service delivery in the field of recreation, park, and leisure services. The growing body of knowledge about women and recreation that is now appearing in the research literature raises several questions: What was the history of girls'/women's involvement in recreation programs and services in the United States? How has the recreation profession addressed the social roles of American women in the twentieth century? What were the meanings that could be attached to women's and girls' involvement with recreation during particular historical time periods. These were the guiding questions for this feminist analysis of selected American professional recreation literature about girls and women from 1907-1990.

Social Roles as a Framework

The organizing conceptual framework for this analysis was social roles. Social roles are based on gender. Gender is rooted in society's belief that the sexes are naturally distinct social beings (Amott & Matthaei, 1991) and that certain behaviors are expected because of one's gender. The outgrowth of these distinctions is manifested in a sexual division of labor that results in social roles, defined as the particular interpersonal and social behavior of individuals due to perceived and actual sociocultural rules (Attanucci, 1988). For example, a social role expected of women is motherhood. Social roles are embodied in the interaction between people based on shared and perceived expectations that are learned in a societal context.

Social roles have been evident in both women's work and leisure (Henderson, Bialeschki, Shaw, & Freysinger, 1989). These social roles have varied during different periods of time in American history (Farley, 1987). To address the purpose of this study, the social roles of females were examined as these have been portrayed in the recreation literature from 1907-1990.

The Method of Research Inquiry

Historical information enables us to place our perceptions of the contemporary world into a meaningful context and provides a basis for future explorations "Lichtman & French, 1978). "Herstory" is a form of historical social inquiry that suggests women's lives are worth remembering and that we need to reexamine the value and interpretation of the past (Sochen, 1981). A feminist analysis framework places females at the center of the investigation and results in examining biases, unspoken prejudices, and stated values pertaining to women's social history. This feminist approach also spawns the questioning of girls'/women's place in the world, their social roles in society, and constraints placed upon their choices (Scott, 1984). A feminist philosophy assumes the importance and value of women.

The aim of feminist analysis is not only to explicate the lives of women, but to describe the ways that girls/women were included and to acknowledge the social roles that females played in society and within particular areas such as recreation, park, and leisure services. Challenges exist in describing the social roles of females within any movement or field, such as recreation where women have been invisible in a field dominated by men (Henderson, 1990). Much of the invisibility has been due to the assumption that men predominated in the public sphere and women's role was in the home or the private sphere (Lerner, 1977). Thus, a need exists for not only examining what has been said about women and girls in the literature, but also how that literature relates to the social roles of females.

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