Runners, jumpers and throwers: embodied gender hierarchies in track and field



Publication Details

Ashbolt, K., O'Flynn, G. & Wright, J. (2018). Runners, jumpers and throwers: embodied gender hierarchies in track and field. Sport, Education and Society, 23 (7), 707-719.


There is currently considerable sociological research on women's experiences in sport, the social construction of gender in women's sport and inequalities between women and men. However, research is yet to examine how inequalities and gender construction occur in and through the hierarchies within women's sports. Track and Field, with its differentiated events is a sport characterised by hierarchies, with Track events at the top and Field events at the bottom. Inherent in this differential valuing of the events is a hierarchy of bodily expressions of femininity. This article reports on a study which explored how fifteen elite female athletes in Track and Field negotiated the cultural and historical hierarchies between events, how these hierarchies shaped the women's experiences and the ways they embodied gender. The study drew on Bourdieu's notion of the cultural 'field', and his concept of 'symbolic violence' [Bourdieu, P. (1993). The field of cultural production: Essays on art and literature, edited and introduced by Randal Johnson. Cambridge: Polity Press] to explore how the women negotiated the hierarchical structuring between events. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with the athletes across the disciplines of running, jumping and throwing. Results demonstrate how the hierarchies between women's events were structurally maintained through practices such as the privileging of bodies conforming to traditional norms of femininity; and how the women themselves were implicated in maintaining these hierarchies through their language, practices and gendered embodiment. Hierarchies within women's Track and Field are likely to impact aspiring athletes and shape their understandings of themselves as athletes and young women. Making visible such processes presents possibilities for discussions around gender and power in coaching and school contexts.

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