Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

"The Boys Won't Let Us Play:" Fifth-Grade Mestizas Challenge Physical Activity Discourse at School

Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

"The Boys Won't Let Us Play:" Fifth-Grade Mestizas Challenge Physical Activity Discourse at School

Article excerpt

Drawing on feminist, critical, and poststructural theories, the purpose of this research was: (a) to understand fifth-grade mestizas self-identified barriers to physical activity, and (b) to work with them to develop strategies for challenging these barriers. Data were collected over the 2005-06 school year. Our interpretations are divided into three sections: (a) the barriers the girls identified to their physical activity participation; (b) how we worked with them to study their primary self-identified barrier to physical activity--"the boy's won't let us play;" and (c) how we refocused our research to help the girls publicize their barrier to challenge the inequities in physical activity at their school.

Key words: activist research, Borderlands, gender, race


As the students reported: "If we don't stop it in the fifth grade, next year there s going to be a whole bunch of boys terrorizing all the girls and making them feel bad" (Maggie Mae); "If we don't end it now ... the boys are going to keep doing it" (Maria). "We need more forums within which students' critiques of current practices and visions for other possibilities are put first" (Cook-Sather, 2002, p. 11).

Over the years, scholars doing quantitative research documented the connections between children's physical activity and health (e.g., Kientzler, 1999; McDonough & Crocker, 2005). Despite this connection, trends have shown declining physical activity among many children, especially girls and minorities (Gordon-Larsen, Adair, & Popkin, 2001; Kann, Warren, et al., 1996; Lindquist, Reynolds, & Goran, 1999; Wolf et al., 1993). For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS; 2000] reported that girls are less active than boys, and significant documentation has attested to the high rates of obesity, physical inactivity, and type 2 diabetes in Hispanic children and youth (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2001; USDHHS, 2000). According to the CDC, Hispanic children have the highest rates of obesity, are significantly (25.9%) less likely to participate in organized physical activity, and significantly less likely (11.2%) to report no moderate-to-vigorous physical activity compared to their White counterparts ((8.2% and 46.6%, respectively; CDC, 2001).

Given the decline in girls' and minority children's physical activity, scholars suggested ways of designing interventions that better meet activity needs (McKenzie, et al., 2002; McKenzie, et al., 1997; Trost, et al., 2002). For example, Harrison and colleagues (2002) claimed physical activity and preventative programs needed to be more culturally relevant. Kientzler (1999) suggested we need to listen to girls, learn more about their perspectives on physical activity, and be careful that we do not rely solely on researchers' suggestions to design interventions for inactive girls. Wilson, Williams, Evans, Mixon, and Rheaume (2005) suggested providing girls with choices and making them part of any intervention design process.

Despite these intervention suggestions, Azzarito and Solmon (2006) pointed out a critical gap in our understanding that will ultimately prevent physical activity interventions from meeting their full potential. They claimed that researchers have failed to sufficiently address how gender and race influence individuals' embodiment and how this failure related to young people's physical activity participation. To better meet minority gifts' physical activity needs, we need to look at how intersections of race and gender relate to physical activity opportunities and participation.

Race, Gender, and Embodiment

Scholars doing feminist, critical, and poststructural research have begun to better understand how race and gender influence girls' embodiments and their activity participation (Azzarito & Solmon, 2006; Hamzeh, 2007; Oliver & Lalik, 2000, 2004a). For example, Duncan and Robinson (2004) found that African American young women and girls are often socialized out of physical activity at early ages. …

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