chapter  9
18 Pages

Women's Sports and Embodiment in Australia and New Zealand

Women have had a long history of participation in sporting activities in Australia and New Zealand. At the elite level many women have performed well in international competitions. Despite this, there has always been resistance from the male-dominated public culture to support and promote female physicality as equally as male physicality. Sport is perhaps the most significant site where the gender order is maintained in both societies. In the process of maintaining the gender order, women have been embodied in and through sport and through participation in physical activity more generally. For over a century male (and some female) critics have argued that vigorous physical activity was not appropriate for women. Concerns about female physical activity were centred squarely on the preservation of the female body for its 'natural' function - the reproduction of the race. In the late twentieth century some of these old concerns about the protection of the female body from damage reappeared as women entered physical contact sports, such as the football codes and boxing, previously viewed as off-limits. Many women who participate in these sports have had their sexuality questioned as the kinds of physicality embodied in contact sports are still viewed by many as an inappropriate use of the female body, and ultimately a threat to the gender order in society. In the 1990s in Australia, and to a lesser extent in New Zealand, as a way of both deflecting concerns about sexuality and femininity, many controlling bodies of women's sports or the athletes themselves, began to focus on selling (hetero )sexiness to promote their sports including the releasing of semi-nude and nude calendars.