Anthology inspires critical thinking about the importance, history and possibilities of women’s sports

Female athletes on the start of the 60 meters dash during the Ukainian Track and Field Championships on February 17, 2012 in Sumy, Ukraine.

While Title IX has not created gender equity in athletics operating budgets, there is no single event, act or piece of legislation that has had more impact on women's athletics because the sense of empowerment changed, UB historian Susan Cahn says.

UB historian Susan Cahn updates the popular work with readings dedicated to emerging issues

Release Date: December 13, 2018

Susan Cahn.

Susan Cahn

“Title IX has indirectly affected everything from recreational programs to women’s professional sports because the more women play the more women want to play.”
Susan Cahn, professor of history
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Dartmouth College Press has released an updated and expanded edition of “Women and Sports in the United States: A Documentary Reader,” co-edited by Susan Cahn, professor of history in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences.

The revised anthology mixes scholarly articles with material from the popular press that present the major issues and recent developments in women’s sports from a range of different viewpoints.

“So much has happened after 10 years that we realized we could do more to update the work,” says Cahn, an expert in women’s history and gender and sexuality in sports.

Cahn, with co-editors Jean O’Reilly, an editorial manager for the journal Addiction, and Jaime Schultz, an associate professor of kinesiology and women’s studies at Pennsylvania State University, introduces topics in the update not covered in the first edition, such as transgender and transsexual athletes, with discussions of accompanying controversies over who can compete and who are they competing as.

The history of women’s sports has been a measure of both progress and stagnation.  Just as women’s track and field was added to the Olympics in 1928 there was a prohibition against women running races longer than 200 meters. That pattern of enthusiasm and challenge is seen today, with an increased awareness of women’s sports coexisting with many of the same problems from a decade ago.

“There remains a disregard for women’s sports in the larger male-dominated sports world and a lack of media coverage,” says Cahn. “In some ways, we wanted to include readings that counter the notion that things are always getting better and talk about things that aren’t getting better, like sexual harassment scandals.”

But some things have improved for women’s athletics, a transformation that has seen attendance rise, scholarships increase and revenue grow. The pivot-point, however, is not necessarily Title IX, part of a 1972 congressional act that prohibited sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding.

Title IX does not mention sports specifically, but when it became clear that it would apply to athletics, some lawmakers sought to create an exception to the act.

They failed.

“It has not created gender equity in operating budgets, yet there is no single event, act or piece of legislation that has had more impact, because the sense of empowerment changed.” says Cahn. “Women feel entitled to compete and have equal resources – even though that’s not usually what they get.

“Still, Title IX has indirectly affected everything from recreational programs to women’s professional sports because the more women play the more women want to play.”

Cahn says she hopes the anthology’s selections get readers excited about women’s sports.

“I hope it problematizes for people so that they understand that sports is a cultural activity where all the problems and possibilities of society are present,” she says. “Racism, economic inequalities, Islamophobia and issues of dress. These issues that create conflict are present in sports, but at the same time there a sense of possibility that many women experience in sports, certainly not everyone, but sports remains a game-changer in the lives of many women.”

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