Older Sportswomen: Personal and Cultural Meanings of Resistance and Conformity

By Rylee A. Dionigi.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The interdisciplinary nature of ‘sport-as-leisure’ and ageing studies is highlighted in this qualitative examination of older sportswomen. This paper explores the multiple meanings that a group of older women attached to their experiences in Masters sport. The research takes an interpretive approach, drawing on post-structural theories of resistance and empowerment in sporting contexts and interdisciplinary studies on women, leisure and ageing. Masters sport (also known as Veteran’s or Senior sport) has developed into a sophisticated form of competition that provides space for older people to begin, continue or re-start participation in a range of individual and team events. The women in this study were competitors of the 2001 Australian Masters Games (N=70, aged 55-82 years) or the 2009 World Masters Games (N=23, aged 56-90 years) in events such as track and field, swimming, cycling, weightlifting, triathlon, marathon, tennis, badminton, hockey, basketball, netball and softball. The analyses of in-depth interviews and observations from the two sets of data revealed that these female athletes resisted traditional stereotypes of ageing and gender and experienced a sense of personal empowerment in the form of identity management, belonging, engagement and bodily competence. Simultaneously, however, the words and practices of these older sportswomen reflected and reproduced other dominant cultural ideals and philosophies, such as those commonly associated with youthfulness and/or competition. For example, many women celebrated and valued success in sport, the able and performing body and being selfish. Therefore, this study shows how the personal meanings, actions and talk of older sportswomen interweave broader cultural discourses of sport, ageing and gender.

Keywords: Masters Sport, Ageing, Gender, Leisure, Empowerment, Qualitative Research

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp.395-408. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 680.854KB).

Dr. Rylee A. Dionigi

Senior Lecturer, Associate Head of School, School of Human Movement Studies, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, NSW, Australia

Rylee Dionigi is Associate Head of the School of Human Movement Studies at Charles Sturt University, Australia. She has published in the fields of sport sociology, ageing and physical activity, exercise psychology and leisure studies. Dr Dionigi has expertise in qualitative research methods and extensive knowledge on ‘the older athlete’. Her book, Competing for Life: Older People,Sport and Ageing (2008), is the first published research monograph to present extensive empirical qualitative data on the personal and cultural meanings of competitive sports participation in later life.


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