The Gendering of Nationalism through Sport: The Case of Women and American Football

Authors: Holly Oberle*, American University in Cairo
Topics: Gender, Recreational and Sport Geography
Keywords: Gender, Sport, Nationalism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 4:30 PM / 6:10 PM
Room: Washington 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Two narratives of American "gridiron" football speak of the sport as pure American exceptionalism as well as its raw “manliness.” Each deserves reconsideration. This article explores the increasing participation of women, highlighting first the Women’s Football Alliance, a full-tackle all-women’s league in the US. However, it faces a number of challenges; namely, Title IX, the very law that was supposed to guarantee equal access to athletics. Subsequently, the improbable globalization of the sport and the implications for gender is examined. Despite the failures of the National Football League to increase its international exposure, gridiron football clubs have been appearing organically all over the world in such diverse places as Australia, Finland, and Brazil. As the geography of the sport expands, its status as a “male-only” domain is being undermined. Gridiron clubs outside of North America tend to have both men’s and women’s teams, and international audiences see the sport as more “gender-neutral” than do American audiences. In fact, in places like Panama, the women’s league is vastly more popular than the men’s, inspiring nationalist celebrations. Seizing on this, the International Federation of American Football has been working to attach its international competitions to other global events such as the World Cup, and discussions regarding the sport as a future Olympic event (especially for women) are in the works. This development opens up questions regarding the historical intersection of nationalism, sport, and masculinity, and the implications for women as they are recruited into modern nationalist spectacles such as global sporting events.

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