Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Leisure in the Lives of Old Lesbians: Experiences with and Responses to Discrimination

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Leisure in the Lives of Old Lesbians: Experiences with and Responses to Discrimination

Article excerpt


In recent years, leisure researchers have given much attention to positive aspects of leisure and the benefits that people might experience through their leisure (cf. Driver, Brown, & Peterson, 1991). One popular view is that leisure is a context for self expression or self validation. Samdahl (1986) suggested, "Leisure has the potential for the holistic experiencing of one's self in ways not always possible within other contexts" (p. 149). The rationale for the continued study of leisure, according to Samdahl, "may lie in this dimension of self-expression" (1988, p. 38).

Theorists exploring the relationship between leisure and self have focused primarily on the ways that leisure can enhance and strengthen one's sense of self. Early discussions proposed this relationship (cf. Martin, 1975; Wilson, 1981) and recent empirical research has supported that view with evidence of an association between leisure and self-determination, selfaffirmation, or self-efficacy (cf. Coleman & Iso-Ahola, 1993; Kelly, 1983; Searle, Mahon, Iso-Ahola, Sdrolias, & van Dyck, 1995; Shamir, 1992).

A few leisure theorists, however, have suggested that leisure might have a negative side as well. Curtis (1979) proposed the term "purple recreation" to refer to recreational activities that challenge societal norms and expectations. Robertson (1993) and Sato (1988) reported that people who participate in negatively sanctioned activities achieve the same positive feelings and benefits, including self validation, typically associated with more acceptable recreation activities.

As the above studies attest, leisure researchers have looked for and found evidence that participation in leisure can produce positive benefits such as enhanced self esteem or a stronger sense of self. These benefits apparently occur whether people engage in socially approved activities or negatively sanctioned activities. However, our a priori belief in the goodness of leisure has prevented us from exploring the opposite side of this relationship. If leisure is indeed a context in which the self becomes exposed (cf. Samdahl, 1988), are there times when leisure can be detrimental by having a negative impact on self-esteem or self image?

The possibility that leisure might be a context for negative messages about one's self has not been adequately explored. This possibility becomes particularly germane for individuals who are subject to stigma and negative sanctions in other domains of their lives. Becker and Arnold (1986) suggested that any person or group may experience stigma based on an ascribed attribute that society views as important (such as age, gender or ethnicity). Individuals who do not have the "correct" attributes may be, or perceive themselves to be, stigmatized and the target of negative social sanctions. Discriminatory practices and oppressive ideologies typically result in reduced opportunities (Becker & Arnold, 1986) and restricted or blocked access to resources, activities and other opportunities (Germain, 1992). If these reactions occur in other parts of the lives of people who are "different," it is feasible to assume that they will occur in leisure as well. Thus, there appears to be a strong possibility that leisure might serve as a context that reinforces stigma or has a detrimental impact on some people's sense of self.

Goffman (1963) suggested that there are three sources for stigma: physical deformities, blemishes of individual character, and demographic characteristics such as race, nationality, or religion. A person who is stigmatized in this manner "by definition . . . is not quite human" (Goffman, 1963, p. 5). The sanctions taken against stigmatized individuals can range from deprecating humor, put-downs and acts of avoidance to harassment, intimidation, attack and murder (Allport, 1954; Lott, 1995).

Although dated, Goffman's (1963) and Allport's (1954) discussions of discriminatory behavior and the impact of stigma on one's identity are still useful today in understanding the lives of people who are members of disempowered populations. …

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