Book Notes Out on the Field: Gender, Sport, and Sexualities

Out on the Field: Gender, Sport, and Sexualities Hot

From the Helen Jefferson Lenskyj's Out on the Field: Gender, Sport, and Sexualities:

    The term homophobia should not be understood in purely individual or psychological terms, although it has sometimes been reduced to these kinds of meanings. Homophobic violence is not confined to random, individual acts. Institutions such as the church, the courts and the educational system are responsible for homophobic violence when, for example, they bar lesbians and gay men from holding office, or deny them custody of their children, or fail to include sexual orientation as prohibited grounds for discrimination (Anderson and Nieberding, 1989; Levine and Leonard, 1984; Rumscheidt and Lloyd, 1988). Along with homophobia, heterosexism is a central concept in a radical feminist analysis of lesbians’ experiences in sport. Heterosexism is “the view that heterosexuality is the ‘norm’ for all social/sexual relationships” and support for the “institutionalization of heterosexuality in all aspects of society—including legal and social discrimination against homosexuals and the denial of homosexual rights as a political concern” (Moraga, 1983; 105). Heterosexism remains the dominant perspective of patriarchal culture.

    Heterosexuality is entrenched through social institutions such as the nuclear family, through cultural forms such as television and the print media, and, in its most violent manifestations, through pornography, prostitution and child sexual slavery (Rich, 1980). Hence it is appropriate to speak of “heterosexual hegemony” to describe the ideological control on sexuality issues that is primarily in the hands of agents such as medical professionals, educators, religious leaders and media personnel. However, since neo-marxists usually use the term hegemony to mean ideological control by consensus, as distinct from coercion, the term has its limitations when applied to heterosexual hegemony, which is in fact maintained by force and violence in many instances (Kinsman, 1987; Rich, 1980).

    Since men’s control and exploitation of women’s sexual and physical labour in the private as well as the public realm is a precondition of patriarchy, lesbian existence—specifically lesbians’ sexual, social and economic independence from men—poses a significant threat to male dominance. Regardless of their sexual identity, however, many middle- class women entering a male-dominated field such as politics, business or sport also experience the impact of homophobia. These women may challenge traditional race- and class-based definitions of sex-appropriate behaviour that label independence and achievement orientation as male attributes; hence successful women cannot be “real women,” so the argument goes. Some are accepted as “honorary men” while others are targets of sexual harassment (Backhouse et al., 1989). Any form of sexual harassment is, of course, demoralizing and destructive to women. However, homophobic harassment has a particularly insidious effect, by creating rifts between heterosexual women and lesbians, and by inhibiting the development of collective political consciousness and action.

    There is ample evidence of the chilly climate confronting lesbians in sport and physical education contexts. Many sport administrators make hiring and firing decisions based on women’s known or perceived sexual orientation, and the resulting poisoned work environment forces some lesbians to quit their jobs or abandon their hopes of an athletic career (Baxter, 1987; Kort, 1982; Macintosh and Whitson, 1990; Potera and Kort, 1986; Sabo, 1987; Vance, 1983).

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