Sports Literature and the Quest
for a Female Sporting Identity
Susan J. Bandy
The female in mainstream American sports literature is the quintessential outsider, and her voice registers her condition as one of marginality: nonexistence, invisibility, muteness, blurredness, and deformity. She is nonexistent as an athlete, invisible in the arena, voiceless as a female character, imprisoned within an oppressive, phallocentric language of a male author, and reduced to stasis and immobility.1 According to Luce Irigaray in her critique of Freud, this is the case for all women in literature and dominant discourse who are “off-stage, off-side, beyond representation, beyond selfhood” (The Speculum 22). Irigaray further argues that according to the ‘“logic of sameness’ in this language, woman is always described in terms of deficiency or atrophy” (This Sex 69). There is masculinity, and there is its absence. In mainstream sport literature, the male voice affirms sport as his arena and asserts his place in it, made real and authentic by the absence or lack of the female, in both character and voice. A female character in this literature is not one of Christian Messenger’s “frontier roarers, ritual hunters, school sports leaders, publicly acclaimed heroes, team members, and anti-heroes” who populate this literature. Rather she is Hemingway’s Lady Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises, Margo Macomber in “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” Fitzgerald’s Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby, and Malamud’s Memo Paris or Iris in The Natural. In these and other classics of American sport literature, female characters embellish male athletic prowess and heroism and fulfill their traditional and archetypal roles as temptress, mother, or commodity. She is, according to Messenger, an adversary to “some aspect of male physical self-definition” because “women never truly belong in any male ritual sports narrative except as a problem, prey, or potential sacrifice” (154).
As the voiceless “other” in this literature, she is an outsider; and, as Colin Wilson proposed in his classic work, The Outsider, she lives in another world, another reality, which creates a divided and fragmented self. In the case of