The embody-ment of power? : women and physical activity

Gilroy, Sarah Isobel (1996). The embody-ment of power? : women and physical activity. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000d3a0

Abstract

The thesis examines the connections between being physically active and becoming empowered. It centres on the experiences of women and investigates their involvement in physical activity and how this relates to the rest of their lives and their subjectivities. In so doing the research explores the relation between physicality and social power, and considers the role of the body in the construction of gender power relations. The key concepts used to explore this area are agency and structure, hegemony, negotiation, empowerment and physicality. More broadly the research has been informed by debates in feminist postmodernism and poststructuralism.

The main data set were generated through interviews with twenty-eight women with additional information coming from questionnaires returned by one hundred and seventy-two women representing a range of activity levels, ages and class locations. The findings were generated largely from the experiences of white women living in a market town within commuting distance of London.

The findings demonstrate the potential for women to become empowered through their bodies, as a result of being involved in physical activity. The acquisition of new skills and the discovery of new physical potential in their bodies such as feeling stronger, having more energy, were foregrounded by the women as being important to them. This led them to feeling more positive about themselves and their potential. There was nothing to suggest that particular activities were more empowering than others, although the context and purpose of the activity was found to be important. There is little evidence of there being any difference between working-class and middle-class women in terms of their experience of empowerment or disempowerment through physical activity. The findings also highlight the need to set an understanding of physical activity within the context of intra-household relations. By doing this it is argued that we are better able to understand how the construction of women's subjectivities operates simultaneously across fields of activity.

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