Informal Protest Through Everyday Performance: Understanding Women'S Rugby As Dissent

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This research is an examination of private, informal forms of protest. I conducted in-depth interviews with female adult rugby players about their personal and political experiences with contact sports and gender. I suggest that political process theorists (see Tilly and Tarrow 2007) broaden their conventional understanding of politics to include power relationships inside everyday interactions. The 47 athletes interviewed in this study, drawn from 9 adult women's rugby clubs across the United States, attach contentious meaning to their sport. Both gendered bodies and gendered selves are produced through athletic practices. The symbols of organized sport practices and physical strength are among the most widely used and easily identifiable cultural indicators of masculine authority. Women's involvement in contact sports such as football, ice hockey and rugby is still widely considered nonconformist behavior. If we understand gender as a social accomplishment, following West and Zimmerman (1987), we can see that female contact-sport athletes are constantly required to justify their breach of gender norms to the people around them (as well as to themselves). Most of the players in this study explicitly describe their rugby experiences in terms of a larger collective effort to challenge dominant cultural institutions. While the majority of them express mixed feelings about being identified as "political" actors at all, they describe their experiences in terms of structural gender inequality, express frustration with it, and articulate a determination to work for widespread social change by performing alternative gender identities. These findings support and build on Rupp and Taylor's analysis of drag queens (2003). These athletes are engaged in creating change inside small communities, immediate social networks, and close relationships - without the direction of the formal movement organizations which have long been the focus of social movement scholarship. This study contributes to the explanatory value of the political process approach to social movements while also bringing attention to the important part that proponents of women's sports currently play in the redistribution of power across gender lines. It also contributes to the feminist critique of the separative self (Keller 1986, England 1993).

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gender; rugby; protest


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Union Local


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Berezin, Mabel M.

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Sanyal, Paromita
Williams, Linda Brooks

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Ph. D., Sociology

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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