Coming on Strong: Gender and Sexuality in Twentieth-Century Women's Sports / Edition 1

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Today, there are women athletes who are media celebrities and a source of inspiration for many. But not long ago, being serious about sport was considered appropriate only for men and boys. Throughout the twentieth century, women's increasing participation in sport has challenged our conception of womanhood. Some celebrated the female athlete as the embodiment of modern womanhood, but others branded her "mannish" or lesbian. Ultimately, she altered the perception of sport as an exclusively male domain.

Susan Cahn's story of how sport has changed women's lives and women have transformed sport is an important chapter in the wider history of women's struggles to define their role in the twentieth century. For the women who dared to compete, participation in sport enabled them to expand the boundaries of women's activities and to claim that strength, skill, physicality, and competitiveness could be authentic attributes of womanhood. This is the legacy they passed on to the new generation of women for whom athleticism is becoming a way of life.

Drawing on historical records and contemporary interviews, Cahn chronicles the remarkable transformation made by women's sports in the the 20th century, revealing the struggles faced by women to overcome social constraints and behavior codes, and how sport has changes their lives. Photos.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Cahn, who teaches history at the State University of New York, here reworks her Ph.D. dissertation and comes up with a winner. Readers will be either amused or infuriated by her discussion of patronizing male attitudes toward the moral and physical dangers of female athletic activity during the 19th and early 20th centuries. And while subsequent years brought more enlightenment, women athletes have always had extra obstacles to overcome: in the 1920s and '30s, physical ed teachers preached ``moderation,'' downplaying or banning competitive sport. The '40s and '50s were marked by the attitude that all sports were mannish and the women who excelled in them were probably lesbians; it also brought the WW II phenomenon of the short-lived All-American Girls Baseball League. Following the '60s, a decade of progress and acceptance, women are still trying to wrest control over their athletic activities from men. (Feb.)
Library Journal
In roughly chronological order, Cahn (history, SUNY-Buffalo) illuminates issues of race, class, and gender in an entertaining social history that exposes society's pervasive infrastructure of male dominance. In a depressing litany of restrictions against women in athletics, Cahn illustrates her theme that the acceptance of athleticism as a masculine trait is only socially constructed, and thus, changeable. On the individual level, athletes often have to resolve differences between their love for sports and society's disapproval. By interviewing elite athletes, she explores compulsory heterosexuality and femininity. Special scrutiny is given to black track and field athletes, basketball, pro baseball, and lesbians. This book does in a scholarly way what Mariah Nelson's Are We Winning Yet? ( LJ 2/1/91) did in a more popular vein. The copious notes are a researcher's gold mine. Recommended for all academic libraries, community college through graduate level.-- Kathy Ruffle, Coll. of New Caledonia Lib., Prince George, B.C.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674144347
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 7/28/1998
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.11 (w) x 9.18 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

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

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 The New Type of Athletic Girl 7
2 Grass-roots Growth and Sexual Sensation in the Flapper Era 31
3 Games of Strife: The Battle over Women's Competitive Sport 55
4 Order on the Court: The Campaign to Suppress Women's Basketball 83
5 "Cinderellas" of Sport: Black Women in Track and Field 110
6 No Freaks, No Amazons, No Boyish Bobs: The All-American Girls Baseball League 140
7 Beauty and the Butch: The "Mannish" Athlete and the Lesbian Threat 164
8 "Play It, Don't Say It": Lesbian Identity and Community in Women's Sport 185
9 Women Competing/Gender Contested 207
10 You've Come a Long Way, Maybe: A "Revolution" in Women's Sport? 246
Notes 281
Index 351
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