Category Archives: Equality

A level playing field – Should Transgender athletes be allowed to compete in the category that matches their gender identity in the 2020 Olympics?

By  Rachael Pugh, Hannah Lake, Sula Douglas, Daniel Breacher and Ryan Williams (E119 19J Students)


This blog was written as part of a collaborative team work task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 80 blogs that were produced.


 

The participation of transgender athletes in Olympic competition raises issues not just about sport regulations but of society’s overall attitudes to gender. The whole subject of transgender people can still be divisive and misunderstood in our society. Many people have limited or no contact with transgender people, this can cloud their judgement leading to fear and rumours. From anger over which bathroom people can use, to which clothing a child gets to wear, it is a contentious subject. Transgender participation in sport is a complex issue and may well become more so in the future with the rise of gender neutrality. Sport has long had issues of discrimination and many sports’ governing bodies are working hard to provide fairness and reduce discrimination. Sport in general and the International Olympic Committee in particular, needs to find a way to make participation fair for everyone; transgender athletes as well as cisgender athletes.

One of the main points involved in this discussion is providing equality and equal opportunity for everyone. By excluding transgender athletes from participating in high level events such as the Olympics, we are not promoting equal opportunity. When looking at transgender participation not only high-level athletes need to be considered. Young people often look to athletes as role models. One role model is Laurel Hubbard, a transgender weightlifter, who transitioned from male to female.  After her transition, she went on to successfully compete in the commonwealth games, achieving a record breaking performance in the women’s weightlifting category (Brown, 2018). Kristi Miller, a transgender athlete and activist stated, “Hopefully Laurel’s given some hope to some young trans kid sitting around the world” (Davidson, 2018). Having visible transgender role models for young transgender people is very important – it gives the young people someone to look up to and as a consequence, helps to promote participation in sport for everyone.

However, Laurel’s wins and participation have created some controversy amongst other female competitors and their coaches. Jerry Wallwork, Head Coach for the Samoa weightlifting team said, “A man is a man and a woman is a woman and I know a lot of changes have gone through, but in the past Laurel Hubbard used to be a male champion weightlifter” (Davidson, 2018). Wallwork’s comments illustrate the issue of how gender is viewed in society and how often transgender people are not accepted. If more transgender athletes were allowed to compete – this would result in society being exposed to more transgender people in the media.  This exposure would allow them to become more accepted and allow young transgender people to be inspired and participate in sport.

Conversely, there is the issue of fairness for female athletes – how being transgender may give athletes an advantage over other female competitors particularly in the case of Laurel Hubbard who used to compete as a male weightlifter.  “The athletic advantage that Hubbard herself gleaned suggests as much. As a man, the Kiwi scarcely registered in the sport at international level. Today, as a woman, she is a world-beater,” (Brown, 2018).

Currently athletes who have transitioned from female to male can compete without restriction (BBC, 2019). However, for an athlete who has transitioned from male to female it is much more difficult. This is mainly because officials are trying to make it fair for all the female cisgender competitors and there are many physiological differences between males and females. These physiological differences are why we have separate male and female categories in sport in the first place. On average women have two thirds the strength of men, have smaller bones and a lower oxygen carrying capacity (Latham, 2018). The benefits of these physiological differences mean that men are usually stronger, faster and bigger. Not all of these physiological differences can be managed in the medical transitional process, therefore some of the advantages of being born male, remain in the transgender athlete.

When examining the difference between male and female bodies the issue of testosterone is often discussed. In order for a transgender athlete to compete as a female the IOC guideline from 2015 states “the total testosterone level in serum must be kept below ten nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months” (Ingle, 2019) however this is controversial as “women’s testosterone levels tend to range between 0.12 and 1.79 nmol/l, while men’s are typically between 7.7 to 29.4 nmol/l.” (Ingle, 2019). This means that transgender athletes, even those following the IOC Guidelines, could have testosterone levels up to 5 times higher than most female athletes. Higher levels of testosterone increase muscle mass and reduce fatigue both of which are important when competing at a high level of sport (Pietrangelo, 2016).

Many high profile athletes feel passionately about the potential damage to female sport when transgender athletes compete. Sharon Davies, the internationally renowned and celebrated swimmer, said ““I believe there is a fundamental difference between the binary sex you are born with and the gender you may identify as. To protect women’s sport, those with a male sex advantage should not be able to compete in women’s sport.” (Ingle, 2020). These higher levels of testosterone and other physiological advantages mean that cisgender women could have a disadvantage when competing against transgender women.

To conclude, on the one hand society now recognises peoples’ right to change gender however it is very difficult to create a level playing field in some areas and competitive sport is very much one of these. The question of how transgender people compete in Olympic events raises issues of equality of opportunity and fairness of competition. The sports’ governing bodies are attempting to address the issues of physical fairness through regulation but this is not a straight forward process. Scientific development may be ahead of society’s ability to regulate for its consequences in this area. Given the diversity of genders and people in our society this may be an area for adapting and compromising in 2020 and beyond.

 

REFERENCES

Davidson, H (2018) Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard’s eligibility under scrutiny (Online) The Guardian. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/apr/09/transgender-weightlifter-laurel-hubbards-eligibility-under-scrutiny (Accessed 28 January 2020)

Latham, A (2018). Physiological difference between male and female athletes. (online). (last updated 28 June 2018). Available at: https://work.chron.com/physiological-differences-between-male-female-athletes-20627.html (Accessed 27 January 2020)

Pietrangelo, A (2016) How testosterone benefits your body (Online)  Healthline. Available at https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-testosterone (Accessed 29 January 2020)

Brown, O (2018). Transgender weightlifter under strain: Laurel Hubbard’s exit may be blessing in disguise as eligibility debate rages (Online) The Telegraph. Available at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/weightlifting/2018/04/09/transgender-weightlifter-strain-laurel-hubbards-exit-may-blessing/ (Accessed 29 Jan, 2020)

Ingle, S. (2019). IOC delays new transgender guidelines after scientists fail to agree. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/sep/24/ioc-delays-new-transgender-guidelines-2020-olympics [Accessed 28 January 2020].

Women’s Sport 2017 is On Fire!

By Helen Owton

The summer of 2017 has been an outstanding season for women’s team sports.

Team success!

In the Netball Quad series earlier this year, the England Roses missed out on the title by just one point to the Australia Diamonds at Wembley. England beat India by just nine runs in a dramatic world cup final at Lords thanks to Anya Shrubsole’s remarkable bowling.

The England football team reached the semi-finals losing to the home nation, Netherlands at EURO 2017 but becoming national heroes. The Red Roses steamed into the Rugby World Cup final with an intense game against the very strong side of New Zealand, the Black Ferns. It wasn’t the happy ending they were looking for but the nation got behind the event to watch two of the best women’s rugby teams in the world.

Record High Viewings!

Not only has the Nation been so successfully in so many different sports, but the public have demonstrated a huge hunger for more! The women’s EURO 2017 viewing statistics hit record highs of 4 million, beating Celebrity Big Brother and the British Bake Off marking the highest audience figures for Channel 4 this year (Kennel, 2017).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L09K1qg1i9c

Earlier in the year, the England v Australia Netball game drew in half a million viewers on BBC2. Women’s cricket is also in high demand selling out Lords with 26,500 people and 1.1 million tuning in to watch the World Cup on Sky (Whaling, 2017). Recently, the Women’s Rugby World Cup, held in Ireland reported a record total attendance of 45,412, a peak of 2.65 million tuning in to ITV in the UK to watch the final between England and New Zealand and a vast increase in social media engagement.

Looking ahead, this trend is likely to build rather than fizzle with 80,000 tickets having already been sold for the Women’s Hockey World Cup 2018. Household names are cashing in on women’s sport with Vitality, Investec, and SSE sponsoring various sports and television companies are battling to secure broadcasting rights for women’s sport. Now, Kia have continued their investment with the Ladies’ PGA deal. It seems that the opportunity to watch women’s sport has never been better and it is an ideal time for other brands to invest.

Indeed, as Sally Munday highlights: “Even more encouragingly, terrestrial TV broadcasters have played a big part in this incredible summer of women’s sport. The UEFA Women’s EURO’s were shown live on Channel 4, the Women’s Rugby World Cup Final was broadcast live in a primetime slot on ITV, and Channel 5 has just announced that it will show women’s cricket domestic highlights in 2018.

Now, when I read about sport or listen to the news, I’m wondering why there isn’t more of a distinction so I know whether they are talking about men’s sport or not. We can’t just say ‘Football’ and assume that it is men’s football.

*Gender and Sport is a topic covered in the E314 module on Contemporary Issues in Sport

Blindside of Rugby Six Nations: Where are the women?

By Helen Owton

Women’s sport tends to receive less coverage in the media than men’s sport making female sports role models less available to young people, particularly in sports that are more traditionally male dominated such as football and rugby. During the sensational Six Nations 2016, we have seen another example of unequal exposure of sport. Whilst women’s football seems to be increasing their exposure, women’s rugby still have even further to go.

On Saturday 27 February 2016, the TV coverage and social media was trending with #EngvIre #RBS6Nations tweets about the Six Nations game; this was the men’s rugby.  Afterwards, England Rugby sent out the following tweet:

Englandrugby tweet

And requested changing the hashtag to #SendHerVictorious.

England women maintained their unbeaten record by defeating Ireland (13-9). Despite their win, the next two rounds might prove tough for England; will they have the skill, speed, strength and tactics to beat Wales on 12 March 2016 at Twickenham and then France (away) on 18 March 2016? On Sunday 28 February, Wales beat France 10-8 and Italy took their first victory by beating Scotland 22-7 [full fixture list here].

Yet all these sensational women’s Six Nations games had no TV coverage and the fans were left hunting the internet for a link on England Rugby which streamed the England match live. The audience at home were not happy; people all over the world were complaining about the lack of live TV coverage, online streaming problems and the clear disparity of the women’s exposure compared to the men’s.

RL tweet

Mozambique tweet

Whilst the Six Nations website shows the current up-to-date standings for the men’s Six Nations, there is not one for the women’s Six Nations event. The newspaper coverage before and after the Six Nations women’s rugby games was equally poor. In 2016, this disparity simply does not make sense.

Risk and rugby

When Sarah Chester suffered a fatal injury in 2015 after being tackled in a rugby game evoked arguments of whether women should even be playing rugby despite men’s fatal injuries from rugby as well. We’ve seen similar fears in women’s boxing which is a moral (women who box risk fatal injury) in the well-known film Million Dollar Baby. Some might argue that these are fear tactics aimed at putting women off traditionally male-only sports.  However, the inclusion of women’s boxing at the 2012 London Olympics and the 2015 European Games at Baku has been a sign of progress.

Women’s sports media exposure

Since 2012, the talk appears to have been about what legacy was left for women’s sports but there is a very long way to go before there is gender equality in all sports. Despite the growing awareness of gender inequality in sport, it is well documented that women’s sport remains second to men’s sport in many ways (e.g. media coverage, wages, prize money, sponsorship and status), which has wider implications for equality in sport, and in society. Cooky, Messner and Hextrum (2013) reported that televised coverage of women’s sports was at its lowest yet at 1.6%. Whilst coverage increases slightly for major events (e.g. Wimbledon, Olympics), the type of coverage has been subjected to critical analysis. The reportWomen In Sport’ (2015, p. 3) produced the following figures on women’s media coverage:

  • Women’s Sport makes up 7% of all sports media coverage in the UK
  • Just over 10% of televised sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sport
  • 2% of national newspaper sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sport
  • 5% of radio sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sport
  • 4% of online sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sport

Additionally, they found that women’s sport received 0.4% of reported UK sponsorship deals in sport between 2011-2013. This sponsorship gives further greater exposure to men’s sport. Fink (2014) argues that “female athletes and women’s sport still receive starkly disparate treatment by the sport media commercial complex compared to male athletes and men’s sport” (p. 331). It’s 2016 and the way women’s rugby was reported demonstrated how rugby is still rated as second-class to the men’s. This then feeds messages that rugby (and other sports) participation is more appropriate for boys and men than for girls and women; that women are naturally inferior to men, and that women’s sport is less important than men’s sport. A lack of exposure to skilful sportswomen from a broad range of sports in the media could be a reason why the use of derogatory ‘like a girl’ comments perpetuates.

Whilst an argument could be made that there isn’t enough money generated in the women’s game to pay women higher salaries, improving the media coverage to the 9.63 million viewers who watch men’s rugby might generate the interest in women’s rugby thus improving their wages and the value of women’s sport. However, arguing for media coverage to be increased is difficult in light of the seemingly lack of value placed on women’s sport. If a report in 2015 on business leadership roles estimates that without any more efforts to promote women’s equality in management, it will take 100 to 200 years to achieve gender parity, then how long will it take to achieve gender parity in all sports? Given the statistics and the missed opportunity for the British press to report a double win in the women’s and men’s rugby Six Nations this week, the future looks long and winding.

The rugby world does seem to be making an effort to challenge stereotypes (e.g. Link to advert) and raise exposure (#SendHerVictorious) and respect to the women’s game but it’s about time the public and the media gave the women’s rugby the conversion they deserve!

  • Gender in sport is explored in our new module E314.

Why Tyson Fury’s sexist and homophobic comments make him unfit for BBC Sports Personality of the Year

By Helen Owton

One could be forgiven for being under the misapprehension that the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year accolade should be about more than a sportsman or woman’s exploits on track, field, court or ring. The clue’s in the name: “personality”. Most of us, I would think, would expect that the honour should be bestowed on someone whose achievements and bearing have struck a particular chord with the public, and have elevated their sport beyond the physical achievement. Apparently not.

I have to declare an interest here. I am among the 77,000 and more who have signed a petition (available here) pressurising the BBC to remove boxer Tyson Fury from its shortlist for Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) on the grounds that his shockingly sexist and homophobic remarks show him to be a man whose personality gives absolutely no grounds for celebration, still less for an award.

Fury’s comments include remarks about fellow SPOTY nominee Jessica Ennis-Hill’s appearance, saying that she “slaps up good” and “looks quite fit when she’s got a dress on”.

In response to the widespread public condemnation of his remarks, Fury has denied being sexist and his wife Paris has defended the boxer as his “show side” but he has continued his vile stream of unconsciousness telling critics in an interview with IFLTV’s Kugan Cassius that they can “suck my balls” and called those who have signed the SPOTY petition as “50,000 wankers”.

I’m a little bit backward I didn’t really go to school so which part of “a woman looks good in a dress” was sexist?… I stand up for my beliefs. My wife’s job is cooking and cleaning and looking after these kids, that’s it. She does get to make some decisions – what she’s gonna cook me for tea when I get home… She’s a very privileged woman to have a husband like me.

It’s also fairly disturbing that Cassius appears to agree with these sentiments.

Jessica Ennis: role model and high achiever.
Reuters/Damir Sagolj

Fury has been unrepentant since, as his Twitter comments amply illustrate:

 

Not only have his comments been sexist, but he continues this verbal diarrhoea by attempting to frame his homophobic beliefs as embedded in Christianity saying “the bible doesn’t lie”. Fury told Oliver Holt:

There are only three things that need to be accomplished before the devil comes home: one of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other one’s paedophilia. Who would have thought in the 50s and 60s that those first two would be legalised?

This link between paedophilia and homosexuality is not only extremely harmful but against the law. However, these laws brought in by the Equality Act in 2010 do not seem to be protecting women and LGBT people from this sort of discrimination.

Once again, I’m disappointed that a sportsperson lacking in such moral character has been able to receive exposure that celebrates his aggressive sporting prowess but ignores the greater problem that can be spread by these harmful beliefs. Many sports can be misused as an arena for promoting a skewed brand of heterosexual masculinity which feeds sexism and homophobia into all sports – whether played by men or women.

Fury’s brand of sexism and homophobia only serves to reinforce these findings. When these sorts of attitudes are evident and accepted in sport, it is hardly surprising that athletes have fears of “coming out” and sportswomen feel less valued.

The harm of invincibility

Of course, there’s no suggestion that this applies to Fury, but when athletes believe that they are invincible, above the law, or incapable of being hurt they can undermine respect for authority or social norms and can result in criminal activity or deviant behaviour because they believe that the “jock culture” of which they are a part takes precedence over any other authoritative structures outside their sporting world.

Indeed, a large body of research suggests that competitive sporting environments provide a unique socio-cultural context that offers possibilities for sexual abuse and exploitation to take place. For example, findings in one study indicated that male college student-athletes were responsible for a significantly higher percentage of reports of sexual assault on the campuses of Division I institutions (the highest level of intercollegiate athletes). Another study showed that while male college athletes made up only 3.3% of the collegiate population, they represented 19% of sexual assault perpetrators and 35% of domestic violence perpetrators.

Meanwhile challenging homophobia in sport can be an intimidating task, particularly when the person handing out the abusive comments appears to be so intimidating and invincible. But nevertheless, some sports are raising their game – rugby, for example, rising to the challenge of promoting awareness of gay issues. It seems to be making a big effort to challenge homophobia, which also could enable a much less narrow definition of masculinity to be accepted in rugby.

Perhaps boxing should follow the example of men’s rugby? The BBC could help this shift by removing Fury from their list. It would certainly help the sport of kings climb off the canvas when it comes to promoting acceptable behaviour among its stars.

The Conversation

Helen Owton, Lecturer in Sport & Fitness, The Open University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Paralympians makes waves on the world stage but disability reform is badly needed

By Helen Owton

When I was at the Paralympic Games in 2012, I saw a person walk up to a woman in a wheelchair wheeling herself up a slope, grab the handles of her chair and start pushing her up the hill, much to the annoyance and surprise of the woman in the wheelchair. My friend brushed it off as someone only wanting to help, but I saw it as ignorance and a lack of respect, displayed in a venue where we were supposed to be widening our horizons about what disabled athletes can achieve.

Despite progress, negative public attitudes, ignorance and awkwardness about
disability prevail. According to a report by Scope, 67% of the British public feel uncomfortable talking to disabled people and 36% of people tend to think of disabled people as not as productive as everyone else. These attitudes affect every aspect of disabled people’s lives – in the playground, at work, in shops, on the street.

After the London 2012 Games, former Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thomson said it was important to remember how everyone felt in the euphoria of Britain’s success in the Paralympics, but that they are not everyday reality.

While there appeared to be progression on people’s attitudes towards disability at the time, she argued that “more still needs to be done to shift perceptions towards disabled people”. Grey-Thomson points out that disabled people are portrayed as Paralympian superheroes, “benefit scroungers” or victims – but not all three together.

The IPC World Championships in Qatar is an opportunity for these attitudes to be challenged again.

Athletes such as Stef “the blade stunner” Reid from Leicestershire are stretching the boundaries of what is expected of disabled people. She is not only a Paralympian, but also a model who became the first Paralympian amputee to be part of London Fashion week.

Earlier this year, Great Britain’s David Weir won silver in the London Marathon wheelchair race and will compete in the 1,500m and 5,000m against his rival Marcel Hug, “the Swiss Silver Bullet”, in Doha.

The first day of the IPC Athletic World Championships saw six world records smashed; one of these was Great Britain’s Sophie Hahn who won the women’s 100m long jump. Aled Davies also won gold in the shot put where he threw a championship record of 14.95m.

These stories stand in stark contrast to the lives of many disabled people living in the country she is representing on the world stage.

The UK welfare state that was developed as a way of supporting those who were sick, unemployed or who suffered injury is being eroded. We’ve seen a great deal of change to all of these benefits in recent years which has had a detrimental impact; 2,380 people have died after undergoing a work capability assessment (WCA) between 2011-2014 after being told they were “fit for work”.

As Grey-Thomson argues, we should be linking up politics, education, sport, and health and developing more NHS programmes, such as My Voice, My Wheelchair, My Life, which can transform wheelchair services for users and their families.

While athletes might be role models and provide inspiration to others, they can’t be the sole driver behind the need to change attitudes; they can only be part of the change towards a more equitable society. David Weir argues that the momentum has been lost since 2012 and 2013 but let’s hope there is sufficient media coverage so that we are well informed leading into Rio 2016.

The Conversation

Helen Owton, Lecturer in Sport & Fitness, The Open University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The IPC Athletic World Championships: World Class Athletes to watch

By Helen Owton & Karen Howells

Doha, Qatar’s largest growing city and economic centre of Qatar modern will host the IPC Athletics World Championships between 21st and 31st October. Against a backdrop of pollution and in a city that was built on the pearl trade, British athletes will compete amongst 1,300 athletes from 90 countries in a variety of track and field events across a number of different classifications. The IPC has revealed a list of 33 athletes, including a number of British athletes to look out for. Here we look at a selection of those to watch as this is the last major event before Rio Paralympics 2016.

2015 IPC Athletics World Championships, Doha, Qatar

Aled Davies – F42 Discus and Shot Put

Like many successful athletes Aled Davies came from a sports-loving family; as a child he was a good rugby player, a strong swimmer and was selected to swim for Wales. However, at the age of 14, he was invited to try-out for athletics with a group of elite Paralympians which introduced Davies to the throwing events. Born with hemimelia of the right leg, Davies announced to his parents whilst watching the 2004 Athens Paralympic games that he wanted to win a Paralympic gold medal. In 2012, his dream became a reality when he won Gold in the F42 discus and a bronze medal in the shot put. Not only has he won Paralympic medals, but he is the current World and European Champion in the discus and the shot put and World record holder in F42 shot put. Last year, however, appeared to be a difficult year for him. At the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in the F42/44 discus he felt he was thwarted in the final to lose to England’s Dan Greaves and returned to Wales with a silver medal. The year also saw him make the decision to leave his coach of nine years to work with Cardiff’s Ryan Spencer-Jones. Under the guidance of his new coach, these World championships see him lighter, stronger, more technical and more motivated towards medal success; this will be the opportunity to put the disappointment of the last year behind him and to further lay the foundations for success in Rio next year.

Sophie Hahn – T38 100m and 200m

Eighteen year old Sophie Hahn is like any other fun-loving teenager from Leicestershire, she enjoys music, loves animals and enjoys watching rugby. Her friends from her last school affectionately called her Chicken; a derivative of the German meaning of her surname. Like many other girls her age she was enthused by London 2012 and was inspired to join her local Athletics club. But unlike other girls her age Sophie is a World Champion and a World Record Holder in her sport. Only a year after she started running in 2012, Hahn, who has cerebral palsy, competed as a novice at the 2013 IPC Word Championships at the age of 16. At this competition, she faced another novice to international sport in the T38 200m starting a rivalry that is likely to be continued against the backdrop of Doha. Hahn, won her qualifying heat of the 200m with a time of 27.56, a championship record, however, the accolade was short-lived as Veronica Hipolito from Brazil beat her in the final taking both the gold medal and the championship record. Two days later, Hahn turned the tables in the 100m, shattering Hipolito’s world record which had been set in the semi-finals to win gold. Even going beyond this rivalry the T38 class promises to be highly competitive with Russia’s 100m Paralympic and European champion Margarita Gonchorova and China’s 200m Paralympic gold medallist Junfei Chen both vying for medal success.

Hannah Cockcroft, MBE

As a role model to Sophie Hahn, the unbeaten four-time world champion ‘Team Hannah’ is aiming to win three world titles in 2015. At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, she won 100m and 200m T34 titles and she is set on retaining her world titles at the next World Championships. Having proved her dominance in the sprint events, ‘Hurricane Hannah’ has now set herself a new goal of winning gold in the 800m which appears to be the event she is most determined to win. Last year she won gold at the IPC European Championships in T34 100m and T34 800m. Also, at the IPC Grand Prix she three gold medal; T34 100m, 200m, and 800m, beating Australian rival Rosemary Little. She hold the world record in 4 events: T34 100m (17.31), 200m (30.51), 400m (59.42), 800m (2:04.49) While she keeps a very impressive catalogue of world records and medals, Cockcroft appears to be sufficiently motivated to balance her training with her academic studies by completing a Journalism and Media degree at Coventry University. As she says, “You have to keep working to keep winning”.

Stef ‘the blade stunner’ Reid

Stef Reid is also from Leicestershire; she started competing for Great Britain in 2010. In 2011, she won bronze medals in the 200m and long jump at the IPC Athletics World Championships. In the last Paralympics in London 2012, she won Silver in the T42-44 long jump. In 2013, she had a difficult year, but in 2014 she was back to her best (if not better) by setting a new long jump T44 world record in Glasgow. Also, she appears to be stretching the boundaries for disabled people. She is not only a Paralympian (2014 T44 European long jump Champion; London 2012 T42-44 long jump silver), but also a role model who became the first Paralympian amputee to be part of London Fashion week as a catwalk model which also helps raise the profile of women, Paralympians and disability. The forthcoming the IPC Athletics World Championships will be an opportunity to show off her form in preparation for her aims of winning gold in the Rio Paralympic Games next year.

Stef Reid: A life-changing ambition to win Gold

There are too many world class GB athletes to single out in this article, but we also recommend watching out for Richard Whitehead (T44 200m gold medallist in 2012), Jonnie Peacock (T44 100m gold medallist in 2012), David Weir (800m, 1500m, 5,000m and marathon gold medallist in 2012), Paul Blake (silver in T36 400m and bronze in T36 800m in 2012), the SportAid one to watch – Hollie Arnold (ranked No 1 in the world), and newcomer Sophie Kamlish (T44 100m and 200m). David Weir argues that the momentum has been lost since 2012 and 2013 but this is an exciting event not to be missed as this is probably the last big event before the Rio Paralympic Games 2016.

1 Year To Go until the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games

Guinness and Gareth Thomas rugby tackle homophobia

By Helen Owton

With the Men’s Rugby World Cup about to start, the sport of rugby appears to be making strides to tackle homophobia in sport. The most recent TV advert from Guinness stars Gareth Thomas telling his story about coming out in rugby.

The Out on the Field (2015) survey found that 60% of gay men and 50% of lesbians have been subjected to homophobia in sport which means that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people in sport must regulate conversations, behaviour and identities on a daily basis because of the implications of ‘coming out’. The assumption in rugby that as well as being aggressive and competitive, all ‘real men’ must be heterosexual means that ‘gay’ becomes a derogatory identity label and an abnormal lifestyle. The Guinness advert challenges this stance and perhaps shows that attitudes are starting to shift.

Researchers who have studied issues of gays in sports largely agree that organised sports are highly homophobic (Anderson, 2002) although there is some more recent debate about whether men’s heterosexual ‘gay’ behaviours (e.g. kissing each other on the mouth) indicates more openness and acceptance (Anderson, 2005). This TV advert is a step towards even more openness and acceptance.

Gareth talks about how he hid his sexual identity and his feelings, however when an individual feels unaccepted and alienated from society problems can occur. Whilst in this advert he refers to his sexuality as being ‘so minor’, in his autobiography, Gareth discloses how he felt during an all-time low:

“The more I thought, the more self-loathing I generated, the more attractive suicide seemed […] The sea was grey and merged with the horizon. Standing there, on the edge of the cliff, it all seemed so easy. A single step and I’d walk off, into the sky. No more pain. No more loneliness. No more lies. No more causing chaos for people that I loved” (Thomas, 2014, p.155-156)

Evidently, it’s not easy for sportspeople to ‘come out’ because of the homophobia they feel they might experience from fans and from their team mates that they share changing rooms with. Homophobia is deeply embedded in the hidden codes of narrow forms of heterosexual masculinity which rests on the belief that to be a ‘real man’ you’re not gay.

Like Gareth Thomas, gay men come out because many report feelings of ‘living a lie’ and feel isolated and alienated from society when they are hiding a part of themselves. He was fortunate enough to receive a positive and assuring response from his friends, family, rugby coaches and teammates which will hopefully mean that more sportspeople will feel more comfortable about coming out to their teammates.

For Gareth Thomas to ‘come out’ not only challenges heteronormative assumptions about sexuality in sport and promotes diverse sexualities, it enables athletes to feel open and proud of themselves for who they are. It helped to affirm his sense of self that his sexuality was respected and accepted by others as well.

However, you don’t have to be gay to challenge these assumptions; James Haskell and Ben Foden have both posed for Attitude (gay magazine) and Ben Cohen works to eliminate homophobia through his StandUp Foundation.

The sub culture of rugby seems to be raising awareness of gay issues and seems to be making a big effort to challenge homophobia which also could enable a much less narrow definition of masculinity to be accepted in rugby. Furthermore, Guinness appear to be using their brand to tell stories of adversity and ‘double lives’ in rugby, for example, Ashwin Willemse’s story of becoming a Springbok:

This topic will be covered in a new OU Sport and Fitness module coming soon.

‘The Silent Voice’ in dance and ballet

By Helen Owton & Helen Clegg

Dance is generally considered to be more accepting of gay men and research (e.g. Risner, 2009) shows that gay and bisexual men comprise 50% of the male population who dance in the US compared to 4-10% in the general population. However, whilst the dance world may acknowledge the presence of a larger proportion of gay men there remains an implicit homophobia in terms of a demand for heternormative performance (Risner, 2007). Ever mindful of the audience male dancers are expected to conform to a narrow concept of the masculine ideal that perpetuates the heterosexual “norm”. For example, in Risner’s (2009) study one participant, when being encouraged to dance with more strength, was told not to dance “like a fag” by his dance teacher.

As Strictly Come Dancing start their rehearsals, we consider ‘the silent voice’ in dance and ballet. Whilst dance is considered more accepting of homosexuality, the majority of this association is regarded towards the acceptance of gay men in dance, not women. Even discussions about inclusions of a same-sex couple in Strictly Come Dancing only involve gay men. Whilst homophobia in dance exists in different ways in dance (compared to sport) with masculinist comparisons and heterosexist approaches means that there seems to be a kind of quiet internal “acceptance” that obscures larger social issues that makes encounter. However, what strikes us is the lack of visible lesbians in professional dance.

Whilst the sexualising of dance and lesbianism for the purpose of the ‘male gaze’ exists in a pornographic sense, there seems to be a silent voice in professional dance about lesbians. Black Swan received the most complaints about the lesbianism portrayed in the film being pornographic and distasteful; an “overtly sexualised ‘hot-but-non-threatening’ feminine lesbian.” (Dixon, 2015, p.45) In Black Swan, a heterosexual woman was represented as experimenting with other women and seemingly “functioned instead as a kind of ‘sexy’ addendum to female heterosexuality.” (Dixon, 2015, p.45) However, when feminine lesbians are portrayed in this way, “Girl-on-girl action is presented as exciting, fun, but, crucially, as entirely unthreatening to heterosexuality.” (Gill, 2009, p.153)

“It may well be tempting to think that lesbians have equality, recognition achieved, on the basis of the supposed tolerance of the kinds of images made visible and perpetuated through the medium and marketing of films like Black Swan, which are then replicated to convey a similar sentiment in the promotion of places like Sitges as ‘cosmopolitan’. What I am arguing, however, is that whenever and wherever this does occur, we have to be completely and utterly certain that inequalities are not simply being reiterated at the exact moment the opposite is being said to have been achieved; to be certain that is, that in perpetuating and celebrating such representations we are not all simply hiding behind the faces of white masks.” (Dixon, 2015, p. 52)

Lesbians have been more connected to sports (Griffin, 1998) and there is a long standing connection between homophobia/heterosexism and women’s participation in sport (Iannotta & Kane, 2002). Women’s team sports are sometimes seen as an environment that promotes the expression of homosexuality. Does being a female dancer/ballerina render sexuality inauthentic because they are more feminine?

Boulila (2011) describes her experience at an LGB salsa class where one of the women believed that the very fact that she was a lesbian meant that she embodied the very “antithesis of elegance in dance”. This may be linked to the intertwining of the stereotype of “butch lesbians” which has been associated with sports and the idea that female dancers are there to embody heterosexual fantasies of the audience. Such binary categorisations of heterosexual and homosexual women in dance, particularly in ballet, encourages the belief that lesbians just don’t dance. Indeed, when asked to estimate the number of lesbians in their dance company across 36 companies only 1 dancer (a participant of the study) was identified as gay (Oberschneider & Bailey, 1997). Whilst this paper is nearly 20 years old more recent work (see Boulila, 2011) and blogs suggest that the idea of lesbian dancers continues to be believed to be a misnomer. We argue that lesbians do dance they just aren’t “coming out”.

So where does this leave us moving forward for women and lesbians in dance? Whilst it is not their sole responsibility to ‘come out’ it does question why there is such a silent voice of lesbians in dance and also an association between femininity, lesbianism and authenticity. Ballet and other forms of disciplined dance appear to be a closet for lesbians which is why it is so important to have ‘queer’ spaces in dance (e.g. Matthew Bourne) that disrupt gender binary frameworks; Firebird (by Katy Pyle), Ineffable (by Lohse) and the Queer Tango Dance Festival 8-12 July 2015 held in (anti-gay) Russia continue to challenge binary frameworks (e.g. male-female, feminine-masculine) for gay women as well.

References

Boulila, S. C. (2011). You Don’t Move Like a ‘Lesbian’: Negotiating Salsa and Dance Narratives. In 18th Lesbian Lives Conference, University of Leeds.

Dixon, L.J. (2015). Black swans, white masks: Contesting cosmopolitan and double misrecognition in a gay tourist town. Sexualities, 18(1/2), 37-56. Available: http://sex.sagepub.com/content/18/1-2/37.full.pdf+html

Gill, R. (2009). Beyond the ‘sexualization of culture’ thesis: An intersectional analysis of ‘sixpacks’,‘midriffs’ and ‘hot lesbians’ in advertising. Sexualities, 12(2), 137–160

Oberschneider, M. & Bailey, J.M. (1997). Sexual orientation and professional dance. Archives of Sexual behavior, 26(4), 433-444.

Risner, D. (2007) Rehearsing masculinity: challenging the ‘boy code’ in dance education, Research in Dance Education, 8(2), 139-153

Risner, D. (2009) Stigma and Perseverance in the Lives of Boys who Dance. Lampeter, TheEdwin Mellen Press.

The young dancer of the year misses the pointe about gender

By Helen Owton & Helen Clegg

“BBC Young Dancer 2015 is a brand new award for young people that showcases the very best of young British dance talent. Young dancers enter in one of four categories of dance: ballet, contemporary, hip hop and South Asian dance. BBC Young Dancer 2015 culminates in a grand final at Sadler’s Wells, when the best dancers in each category will dance against each other for the title.” (BBC website)

BBC Young Dancer of the Year 2015 was a wonderful showcase of the young talent currently within the dance world. In light of the lack of male representation in dance, The BBC Young Dancer of the Year award seems to have provided boys and men with a platform in which to be valued and recognised. However it also highlighted the gender inequalities in the dance world and suggested that these are reflective of a more pervasive gender imbalance within the workplace. It seems that the BBC have avoided much public scrutiny over the gender imbalance that existed on the programme. Some comments on social media were not happy with this:

“Guess what BBC – we don’t care. First a gender imbalance for the individual finals… Then the judges were mostly male as well, but that’s as per usual. And finally – the only female grand finalist came from an all-female category?! Hate to be a gender-ist, but the female and male bodies as well as personalities make for a different quality in dancing and I would be bored stiff watching an all-male dance performance at any point (this followed by an all-female), a mix is best.”

Whilst there was scrutiny over why particular dance styles were selected over others, and why and how dance styles could be compared to each other, there does not seem to be a discussion about why there was such a lack of female representation on the show. During this discussion we don’t want to take credit away from the boys who made it through to the final, but point out the inequalities that existed from the way the program was set up.

The Judges

Firstly, let’s take a look at the female-male distribution of judges. Only 33% of the judges were female on the shows. Just 30% of leading dance experts was female who selected the grand finalists. For the final, just one female was placed on the judging panel.

Dance is considered a female activity (Risner, 2009) so where are all these women at the top? For example, Arlene Phillips is a world-renowned director and choreographer, who is missing from these panels of experts. The BBC was accused of sexism and ageism when Arlene was taken off the Strictly Come Dancing panel. Indeed, figures show that older women are less likely to appear on TV.

Additionally, why wasn’t Darcey Bussell on one of the judging panels; particularly in the ballet finalist? For Ballet these were the leading panel of experts: Dominic Antonucci, Ballet Master of Birmingham Royal Ballet and Christopher Hampson, Artistic Director of Scottish Ballet with Kenneth Tharp, chief executive of The Place, who judged across all categories.

According to McPherson (2005), “men dominate executive, administrative, and artistic positions of nearly every ballet company in the United States” and women report feeling excluded from informal leadership and decision making networks ringing very true in the world of ballet. Instead of being held up as one of the leading experts in ballet, Darcey Barcell, CBE, former principle dancer of the Royal Ballet at 20years old and widely acclaimed as one of the best British Ballerinas was reduced to being the presenter of the show. Indeed, Williams (1992) argues that subtle forms of workplace discrimination push women out of male dominated occupations that involves decision-making.

With such a high percentage of judges being male, it’s no wonder that just one of the dancers in the final was female out of 6. Not only this, but in each category, there was always a lower percentage of females apart from one category which was all-female:

  • Ballet: 40% female
  • Contemporary: 40% female
  • Hip hop: 40% female
  • South Asian: 100% female

However, this is not just a problem with the BBC Young Dancer competition. In 2014, The Young British Dancer awards saw an all-male line up for the six available awards as well.

Possible Explanations

It is well documented that males are the minority in dance education environments (Risner, 2007). Dance in the Western World is generally considered a female activity and so those boys who dance are considered effeminate and often assumed to be homosexual (Polasek & Roper, 2011, Risner, 2014). Risner (2014) has documented widespread verbal, emotional and physical bullying of young male dancers due to these constructions. Thus it is possible that boys who decide to attend dance classes, despite such bullying, are those who are skilled at dance and so the variance in dance ability and passion for dance may have much greater variance for girls than boys with boys being at the top range of the distribution.

Furthermore, within the dance studio environment boys are nurtured and often receive preferential treatment compared to the girls and this may be in part to prevent boys from disengaging (Polasek & Roper, 2011, Risner, 2014). Stinson (2005) talks about how such privilege within, not just the studio, but also the dance world is accepted by both men and women and as such often goes unchallenged. Whilst female dancers are often encouraged to remain passive within the dance class and simply respond to commands, male dancers are often encouraged to participate more fully and challenge the passive position of student dancer as this enables them to reclaim their masculinity (Risner, 2007, Stinson, 2005).

The combination of highly dedicated and skilled males who hold an elite position within the dance class and are encouraged to put themselves forward and challenge the status quo may explain the gender inequality in both the BBC Young Dancer finalists and judges. It is possible that young male dancers were more encouraged by their dance teachers to audition for the competition and were more confident in their abilities to take on such a challenge. This could explain the number of male dancers in the semi-finals since this is a higher proportion of male dancers than female dancers given that male dancers are a minority in the dance world.

The valuing of male dancers, at the cost to female dancers, may also explain the gender inequality in the final contestants. This is not to say that the male dancers did not deserve to be in the semi-finals or finals; far from it. What we want is equally confident and privileged female dancers and a challenge to the inherent gender divisions within dance. Boys also need to know that they are achieving in dance because of their talent and not their gender. Boys need to come to dance unafraid of being bullied and without the fear of having their masculinity and sexuality under scrutiny; Russian boys and men don’t seem to experience this sort of discrimination. Girls need to come to dance knowing they will be as equally valued as boys and have permission to move from passive student to empowered dancer.

Where do we go from here?

Whilst it was a pleasure to watch all the finalists dance, we would like the gender imbalances in dance, for both males and females, to progress in a way that both male and female dancers feel valued for their abilities and skills. So then we are no longer distracted from such talent by the stark gender inequalities presented to us in such programmes as BBC Young Dancer of the Year.

References

Polasek, K.M. & Roper, E.A. (2011). Negotiating the gay malestereotype in ballet and modern dance. Research in Dance Education, 12(2), 173-193

Risner, D. (2007) Rehearsing masculinity: challenging the ‘boy code’ in dance education, Research in Dance Education, 8(2), 139-153

Risner, D. (2014). Bullying victimisation and social support of adolescent male dance students: an analysis of findings. Research in Dance Education, 15(2), 179-201.

Stinson, S.W. (2005). The Hidden Curriculum of Gender in Dance Education. Journal of Dance Education, 5(2), 51-57.

This article was originally published on The Psychology of Women’s Section Blog.

Read the original article here

Shaking up gender relations in sport

By Helen Owton

Despite, England’s devastating loss against Japan (and I haven’t quite recovered from their cruel defeat), the nation’s eyes and attention now fall on the people who were partly responsible for the England’s Women’s Football Team success and impelled them into the semi-finals.

In the lead up to the Women’s FIFA World Cup, Mark Sampson was subjected to criticism (e.g. playing too defensively, selecting the right team) and he has had to prove himself during these few weeks. Not only does he have to prove his coaching, but he has had to be careful not to take all the credit for the women’s success. This isn’t just about football. Indeed Owen Jones argues that “men must embrace feminism, but not steal it” and Mark has given a lot of credit to the ‘England Heroes’ and his right hand person and England Assistant Coach, Marianne Spacey; it’s good to see women and men working dynamically and collaborating in their coaching roles behind the scenes to enable this success. Nonetheless, none of this changes the fact that there are so few women coaches, managers and officials in football, not only in the men’s game, but in the women’s game as well with just a global percentage of 7% of women coaching in football. Additionally, men hold 97% of European coaching licences and only 65 women hold a UEFA Pro Licence compared to 9,387 men.

Whilst more men are helping to progress the growth of the women’s football game and the viewing figures stormed to a peak audience of 2.4 million in the U.K. during the semi-final game between Japan and England, let’s not forget that the liberation of women is down to women and this is the same in football. The strides behind the scenes have been down to the struggle and sacrifice of women in football.

Helena Costa was the first female to coach a professional men’s football team, Clermont Foot but she resigned on the first day of her job. We don’t know the reason why she resigned but there has been some speculation and it might well involve a gendered argument particularly given the undercurrent of sexism that troubles football.

Women coaching men

In fact, there appears to be very few high profile examples of women coaching men in the whole of sport in the U.K.; Amelie Mauresmo coaching Andy Murray in tennis; Giselle Mather (Britain’s most prominent female full-time professional rugby coach at London Irish);Margot Wells coached husband, Allan Wells and is now an elite sprint and fitness coach working with members of the England Rugby Team; Mel Marshall was named Swimming Coaches Association Coach of the year in 2014 after Adam Peaty’s success – seven Commonwealth and European medals and two world records. They all seem to prove their critics wrong.

Recently, Murray has been angered by comments about his female coach but if he wins Wimbledon even more strides will be made for female coaches. Murray says that working with a female coach has meant that he’s been able to talk more openly and he argues in an article for L’equipe that ‘It’s a crying shame there aren’t more female coaches’. Tennis appears to be one of the more progressive sports for women with equal pay and mixed doubles, but prevailing gender norms are still reinforced. Once again, these progressions have been down to the struggle and sacrifice of women, particularly one woman in: Billie Jean King who has relentlessly fought for equality in professional tennis. These few examples of successful women coaches show that although they are in the minority, when they do get the chance they make a big impact.

It is evident that women are powerful influencers both as individuals, coaches, collaborators and enforcers of change in the world of sport. Sport is unquestionably missing out on something dynamic and influential if they do not have women involved and they have obviously started to realise this. Whilst initiatives are being created to include more women in coaching, women also need to be situated in more powerful positions (e.g. Executive committees) to challenge cultural attitudes that still need to change so that both women and men do not have to put up with sexism from the public, from organisations and sexist coverage that puts women off working in particular sporting fields and makes their job harder. The criticism women referees have received at this FIFA World Cup means that these initiatives would also improve the standard of refereeing at future International football tournaments as well, but we must remember that women are frequently subjected to harsh criticism when working in male-dominated roles.

We are taking the right steps forward to challenge this undercurrent flow of sexism but we still have a long way to go before women coach men in premiership leagues. We may be lost for words after England’s defeat in the semi-finals against Japan, but let’s keep the dialogue going about women’s position in football so that the next Women’s World Cup is not played on artificial turf.