General Anthropology Division
Oral Presentation Session
This paper explores how women learn to use their bodies, move, and therefore become a different ‘kind of being’ than men, by focussing on the enskilment of sports. The ways we move shape our very senses and the kind of being we become (Carter 2018). The material bodies and social expectations of girls and women, however, have strong effects on how women move and ‘are supposed to’ move. MacKinnon argues: ‘women have learned actual disability, enforced weakness, lack of spirit/body connection in being in motion’ (1987:20). Women emancipation and empowerment through sports might be understood as reversing the learned weakness in women. On the other hand, these programmes are arguably ways of disciplined leisure (Coleman and Kohn 2007), in which women embody cultures of recreation, consumption and self-improvement.
The increasing participation of young women in sports is often celebrated as empowerment, development and modernization, and more broadly for its ideological and symbolic effects. Sport can provide a potential space to challenge unequal power relations, but the persistence of a romanticized notion of development often conceals modernist ideologies concerning power, prowess, space and social difference. Based on ethnographic research among kickboxers and runners, this paper explores the ways in which ideas about gender, class, race and religion are enskilled and sedimented in the body through sports. What are the effects for the increasing number of women engaging in sports? This project explores how processes of becoming human through sports relate to (both policies and experiences of) empowerment and disciplined leisure.