This essay will outline sociological approaches to examining sport and leisure can help us to understand differences, patterns, and trends in gendered sports participation. It will be considering gender, sex, and the various approaches that follow it.
Browne (2011, pp.4) defines sociology as; “the systematic study of human groups and social life in modern societies”. Burton (2009, pp.1) reinforces this statement. “Society refers to people who interact in a defined territory and share a culture”.
There are a number of aspects that make up society, one of which is gender. “Sport is considered an arena where traditional gender identities are constructed, reinforced, and contested”. Humberstone (2002, pp.130) et al Houlihan (2008). The term ‘gender identities’ being the key point. It is a common for people to get confused between gender and its counterpart ‘sex’. The general assumption for sex is the sexual activity between male and female. The Oxford dictionary states “sexual activity, including specifically sexual intercourse” However the main connotation for sex. “It also marks the distinction between the male and female anatomy.” Bristow (2011, pp.1). ‘Biology is destiny’ is the idea that both women and men fulfil the social role that nature designed for them. Although, these biological facts do not necessarily disadvantage women nor determine their social destiny.
However, both sex and gender play a substantial part in affecting the participation of men and women in sport and leisure. Roberts (1999) et al. Blackshaw (2009) defines leisure as “a matter of choice and is characterized by its plurality and diversity.” He also recognised that there were some social impacts on leisure, one of these being gender. He recognised that women have less leisure time than men, recognisably for looking after children or other commitments.
Sport is generally a mirror of society. “How could a major cultural institution such a sport not reflect the societies in which it is practised?” Houlihan (2008). This is majorly significant; through sport, society creates many debates, such as feminism, sexism, and racism. However it is particularly reflective on gender and In the 1980, the sociology of sport was predominately focused this subject. “Sport came to be seen as a ‘school for masculinity’ Houlihan (2008) and in a time where power for women was substantially increasing, sport was seen as the last stand for male dominance. From the nineteenth century, women in sport have always been a question amongst society. Factors such as; sport being physically damaging to women’s bodies, being unable to produce young and women participating in sport was deemed wrong to the roles of females in culture. “Even the Pope spoke against women’s participation in some competitive sports events”. McPherson et al., (1989:227). Because of these, women’s participation in sport has been one of exclusion, and females have been refused from equal sporting experiences. Baron Pierre De Coubertin was defiant that he would remove women from Olympic participation more than twenty years after they had been accepted. It is clear that females in sport were seen as not the ‘norm’ in society.
Women’s participation in sport has always been significantly low to that of men. The National Statistics (2004) showed that “two thirds of men compared to just over half of women participated in at least one activity”. The House of Commons Women’s Football Report Session (2005-06) shows that “in 1993, there were 80 women’s football teams, but by 2004-05 there were 8,000.” This shows that participation levels are steadily increasing but the main reason for lack of interest is due to media coverage. The media effectively are advertisers for any sport, and there is lack of women’s sports coverage on television, the internet and in newspapers. Although the BBC since 2001 show coverage of the Women’s FA Cup which each year, viewing figures increase.
“Media discourse surrounding the minimal attendance and TV ratings of womens sports compared to mens sports justifies this discrepancy by arguing that it is precisely the gendered aspect of the even that works to alienate potential fans, men and women alike”. Raney (2006). In today’s society, women’s participation in sport is increasing, thus social capital occurring, however as the viewing figures increase, there be some criticism as to why this is. Women are nowadays made to be portrayed as ‘gorgeous’ girls and not trained athletes.
However, Gartner (2005, pp.19) cites, “football is still referred to as a man’s game. The reason for this can be found in the continuing male dominance, including patriarchal behaviour, in football up to the present.” In today’s culture, football is certainly deemed a patriarchal game, on the other hand, Mort (1996:10) states, “it has become fashionable to talk about a contemporary crisis in masculinity. While such an idea is over blown it does pose the sharp end of questions about the shifting nature of gender relations and gendered power.” So stating that males are losing their ‘masculine’ identity, feminism must surely be taking a hold or potentially now, we are coming into a culture where equality in gender is strong.
Despite this, over the last few years women’s marginalisation in sport and the on-going recognition for men’s dominance has been subject to research. “Feminism has been seeking out to change and equalize the social relations within which women and oppressed and disadvantaged. Scranton and Flintoff (2002).
There are different constituents of feminism. Liberal feminists believe that men and women have different natures and inclinations and believe that a women’s leaning towards family is influenced by natural choice. Boutilier (1983, pp.14) states, “Liberals do not attack per se social inequalities of wealth, power and prestige; rather they attack their distribution on the grounds as ascribed qualities such as sex, age, and race”. Liberal feminism therefore reflects the interests of white, middle-class women in developed societies but fail to address the problems of working-class women, black women and women in the developing world. It is based on the principal of individualism, that every human being is all important and therefore that all individuals are equal moral worth. Individuals are entitled to equal treatment, regardless of their sex, race, colour, or religion and women should therefore be entitled to the rights and liberties enjoyed by men.
The central theme of socialist feminism is that patriarchy can only be understood in the light of social and economic factors. Some have argued that women constitute the ‘reserve army of labour’, which can be recruited into the workforce when there is a need to increase production, but easily shed and returned to domestic life during a depression, without imposing a burden upon employers or the state.
Radical Feminism suggests that In all walks of life women are portrayed as inferior and subordinate to men. The central feature of radical feminism is the belief that sexual oppression is the most fundamental feature of society and that other forms of injustice are merely secondary. Most radical feminists believe that female liberation requires a sexual revolution in which these structures are overthrown and replaced. This goal is based on the assumption that human nature is essentially androgynous. Other feminists believe that if sex differences are natural, then the roots of patriarchy lie within the male sex itself. ‘All men’ are physically and psychologically disposed to oppress ‘all women’; ‘men are the enemy’.
Marxist Feminist “reject the possibility of any real equality of opportunity existing in a society where wealth and class rest in the hands of an elite ruling class” Boutilier (1983, pp.14) they see liberal reform as the cause of women’s oppression – the class system in society. Gender divisions cut across the class cleavages, creating tensions within socialist feminism over the relative importance of gender and social class, and raising difficult questions for Marxist feminists. As according to Orthodox Marxists, women seeking liberation should therefore recognized that the ‘class war’ is more important than the ‘sex war’. However, modern socialist feminists have found it increasingly difficult to accept the primacy of class politics over sexual politics. For modern socialist feminists, sexual oppression is as important as class exploitation. Many of them subscribe to Modern Marxism, which accepts the interplay of economic, social, political and cultural forces in society.
To conclude, the government can help equalise the participation levels of both genders in sport and leisure, this should be done by analysing the trends, such as social change, making sport readily available for all and encouragement should be enforced in the national curriculum from a young age to inspire both girls and boys to pursue sport in the future. Sport England and other schemes are currently doing a relatively effective job to ensure equality is within sports and as a result sport. This will provide society with equal opportunities for women and men without either masculinity or feminism dominating and causing debate amongst our culture, in turn, this would have a knock on effect, not only in sport, but potentially in politics and various other important key roles to society.