Submitted by: Rebecca L Ellis (6853005)
31 January, 2014
APA 2302 History of Sport and Physical Activity in Canada
Submitted to: Eileen O’Connor
Faculty of Human Kinetics
University of Ottawa Females in sport and physical activity are only just becoming an accepted part of Canadian society. Over the last century, girls and women in sport have faced discrimination and have had to fight for their right to play. Even today, women are still subject to discrimination in sport through inequity and stigma implying that women are mentally and physically inferior to men. This paper will review and critically analyze three peer-reviewed articles, that depict how sport and society changed between the late 1800s and 2000, increasingly allowing women to claim their right to be physically active. The first two pieces of literature to be examined were written by Helen Lenskyj, entitled “Common Sense and Physiology: North American Medical Views on Women And Sport, 1890-1930”, and “Whose Sport? Whose Traditions? Canadian Women and Sport in the Twentieth Century”. The third piece of literature that will be analyzed was written by Patrick J. Harrigan and is entitled “Women's Agency and the Development of Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics, 1961-2001”. All three texts present key information about the history of women in sport from a feminist viewpoint, and highlight some improvements in the treatment of women in sport throughout the last hundred+ years.
“Common Sense and Physiology: North American Medical Views on Women And Sport, 1890-1930” Helen Lenskyj is currently a professor at the University of Toronto in the department of Social Sciences. In her 1990 paper, Lenskyj seeks to prove that women are not any more frail than men. She shows that medical professionals in the late 1800 and early 1900s, despite their best efforts, were not completely successful in controlling the physical activity choices of women. Predominant medical views in this time were against women participating in any high-intensity sporting activity, as they emphasized sex differences and concluded “that women were weaker than men”(Lenskyi, 1990, p. 51). However, it is apparent that doctors held to these preconceived ideas about women in sports, not on the basis of empirical evidence but because of socially constructed sex biases and social class biases. Lenskyj (1990) explains that women were being convinced that “heavy work was safe, but heavy play was dangerous”(p. 57), but there was no concrete scientific proof that women should not do the same type of exercise as men. Lenskyj succeeds in conveying her hypothesis, she not only explains the history of medical views on women in sport, but also proves that there was very little evidence of women’s physical inferiority. I feel that I now have a much better insight on the biases and discrimination that women faced concerning physical activity. Reading Lenskyj’s paper made me wonder, had I been alive in this time period, would I be involved in any sports or physical activities, or if I would “[conform] to male expectations”(Lenskyj, 1990, p. 55). I also learned that one hundred years ago, the field of medicine needed a lot of work, many doctors would diagnose conditions and prescribe regimens based on their personal biases rather than medical fact and reason. This paper is a secondary source which extensively covers the topic of femininity in sport during the time period of 1890-1930. It is a useful contribution to the field of sport history, as it situates the reader in history during this period. The quality of this text is excellent, as it is straightforward, clearly written, and well supported in all of its arguments. The organization of the text, however, could have been made more clear either with the use of headings or by organizing the information in the paper by year. I felt that the text was a bit