Although women athletes in professional sport are uniquely positioned to expose the limits of gender essentialist ideology and challenge its relationship with inequality, little empirical research has considered how professional women athletes understand and negotiate gender ideologies. Drawing on 19 in-depth interviews and one e-mail exchange with U.S. women’s professional soccer players, this article finds that sportswomen strategically endorse constructions of gender difference while simultaneously universalizing White, middle-class women’s experiences. “Privileging difference” is a narrative whereby players recognize belief in women’s physical inferiority to men and argue for women’s moral superiority to men as a source of value and reward for women’s sport. Sportswomen’s moral authority is defined from a position of racialized class privilege, as players construct an idealized woman player who sacrifices material reward for emotional satisfaction and who emphasizes future change over present conditions.
Allison (email@example.com) is with Department of Sociology, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS, USA.
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