Curious Tension: Feminism and the Sporting Woman 
by Susan J. Bandy


As a former athlete and a graduate student in Sports Studies, I embraced feminism in the 1970s. It seemed to be a natural alliance because I had experienced sports as personally liberating and felt that it offered females the possibility to become accomplished athletes, develop strong and healthy bodies, and defy societal views of females as physically and psychologically unsuited for sport.

Simone DeBeauvoir’s view of sport and physical activity in The Second Sex, which many consider the starting point of second-wave feminism, clarified what I felt. In 1949, she claimed that if a female could “swim, climb mountain peaks, pilot an airplane, battle against the elements, take risks, go out for adventure . . . she will not feel before the world . . . timidity.”

De Beauvoir shared similar views with earlier American feminists of the 19th century, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who understood the importance of educating and liberating the body as pivotal to some of the most basic concerns of early feminism.

As I studied the female athlete, women's sports history and feminism, I soon discovered that there were curious parallels between the women's movement and the women's sports movement in the United States. 


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