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Concepts of sex and gender in sport

This is an excerpt from Understanding Sport Organizations-3rd Edition by Trevor Slack.

By Berit Skirstad

Sex segregation is a core organizing principle of most modern sports and is deeply embedded in sport organizations. Physical education is the only school subject that is segregated in many countries. Sport is a male domain. As Meyerson and Fletcher (2000) have argued, men have generally made organizations for themselves, and this seems as truer of sport organizations as of any other kind of organization. Modern sports originate from the public schools in England in the nineteenth century. In some countries, traditional sport organizations were divided according to sex, resulting in separate male and female sport federations. The sports of shooting and sailing did not divide into classes by sex in the 1970s and '80s, but now they do. Equestrianism is the only Olympic sport that is not organized around sex segregation. In the Olympic disciplines of dressage, show jumping, and eventing, the women and men compete against each other and have done so for over 60 years (Dashper, 2012). There is formal equality in the sport situation, and they use the same equipment and clothing (Plymoth, 2012).

We must understand several key concepts in connection with gender and organizations. Sex is “a biological category associated with a person's chromosomes and expressed in genitals, reproductive organs, and hormones” (Ely & Padavic, 2007, p.1125). Sex is used to label the dichotomous distinction between females and males based on physiological characteristics that are genetically determined, whereas gender is used to label the psychological, cultural, and social dimensions of masculinity and femininity. The difference between sex and gender is meant to differentiate between the biological and the cultural (Hall, 1990). The main aim of gender studies in organizations is to fight the gender bias in practices and structures. To properly make this fight, one must understand this distinction, and that “in particular is among the most personally sensitive topics one may study” (Alvesson & Billing, 2009, p. 11).

Femininity and masculinity refer to the values, experiences, and meanings that are associated with women and men or that define a feminine or masculine image (Ely & Padavic, 2007). Concepts of femininity and masculinity change over time and across cultures (Alvesson & Billing, 1997).

In sport management research within the last decade, Adriaanse (2012), Adriaanse and Schofield (2013, 2014), and Adriaanse and Claringbould (2016) have drawn upon the sociologist Connell's conception of gender as a social structure involving a specific relationship with bodies. Connell (2009, p. 11) argues that “gender is the structure of social relations that centers on the reproductive arena, and the set of practices (governed by this structure) that bring reproductive distinctions between bodies into social processes.”

Gender is a social structure that differs from culture to culture and is multidimensional. It is not only about identity, work, power, or sexuality, but rather all these things simultaneously. These points will be explored later.