Coming On Strong: Gender And Sexuality In Twentieth-Century Women'S Sports

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9780029050750: Coming On Strong: Gender And Sexuality In Twentieth-Century Women'S Sports
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A look at how women have transformed sport and how sport has transformed women draws upon historical records and contemporary interviews to chronicle this transformation and to reveal the struggles women have faced.

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About the Author:

Susan K. Cahn is Associate Professor of History, State University of New York, Buffalo.

From Kirkus Reviews:

A spritely, subtly reasoned consideration of women and sports- -a study that goes beyond the historical record to examine athletics as both a reflection of and a challenge to culturally enforced notions of gender. Focusing on organized scholastic, amateur, and professional competition in 20th-century America, Cahn (History/State Univ. of N.Y. at Buffalo) sets a well-documented history within the wider context of shifting expectations in a time of often bewildering change. As a mirror of social attitudes, Cahn argues, sexually differentiated rules, often imposed by female ``reformers'' attempting to carve out a distinct sphere for women's sports, not only restricted ``the use of space and time'' but also ``acted to limit female activity and to create an impression of lesser physical capacity.'' In the process, cultural truisms were forged that reinforced the established order--as in countless magazine articles comparing athletic performance to discern a ``biological basis for gender inequality'' in which ``male superiority appeared both normal and just.'' Most telling were those occasions when a brilliant success, such as Helene Mayer's 1938 national fencing title, would be followed by ex post facto rules changes--''for chivalry's sake'' the US fencing organization imposed a retroactive ban on mixed-sex competitions, stripping Mayer of her number-one status. For some other standout sportswomen, the additional barriers of race, class, and sexual preference led to further marginalization--an injustice redressed here in a sensitive treatment of the struggle of African-American, working-class, and lesbian athletes. Although Cahn's thematic approach leads to occasional factual and analytical repetition, her skillful blend of commentary, press reports, and firsthand testimony from many of the athletes themselves combines with original social critique to cast a fresh perspective on a long-standing debate. An insightful study that manages to be simultaneously entertaining, informative, and provocative. Recommended for students of both sport and society. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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