A Novel Idea: Portrayals of Lesbians in Young Adult Sports Fiction

in Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal
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  • 1 Department of English University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN 55105
  • | 2 Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455
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Over the past two decades, sport media scholars have demonstrated that female athletes are portrayed in ways that trivialize and undermine their accomplishments as highly skilled competitors, thus denying them power. More recently, scholars in a related field of knowledge—homophobia in women’s athletics—have also addressed the various ways in which power is denied to sportswomen. Although scholars within both bodies of knowledge have investigated institutional structures, ideologies and practices by which men continue to monopolize sport, few studies have explicitly linked sport media scholarship to the literature on homophobia in women’s athlet. An additional limitation in both fields of knowledge is that analyses focused primarily on adult female athletes; examinations of adolescent females are virtually nonexistent. A final limitation is that the vast majority of studies have focused on print and broadcast journalism, thereby ignoring another influential medium, young adult sports fiction. Therefore, the purpose of our investigation was to extend the knowledge base in three ways: 1) to explicitly link two bodies of knowledge concerned with women’s athleticism--sport media and homophobia/heterosexism; 2) to focus on a population that has been sorely neglected; and 3) to investigate a rich new area of analysis-young adult literature-particularly as it relates to the presence, and characterization of, lesbians in sport.

The sample consisted of novels meeting the following criteria: (a) published for a young adult audience, (b) featured a female athlete as protagonist, (c) had sport as a major characteristic of the story, and (d) and be published during or after 1970. Using a qualitative methodology, we examined themes and character portrayals related to the suppression and oppression of young sportswomen in general and lesbians in particular. More specifically, we were interested in whether manifestations of homophobia in women’s athletics (e.g., silence and denial) were present in the novels under consideration. Results indicated that a lesbian presence was subverted in numerous ways, ranging from explicit verbal attacks on female protagonists accused of being “freaks,” to more subtle, apologetic constructions in which female athletes were characterized as ultra-feminine. These findings suggest that the homophobic and heterosexist coverage given to sportswomen in print and broadcast journalism extends into young adult sports fiction.

The authors aknowledge equal contributions to the preparation of this manscript.

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