Elderly athletes running the marathon offer a barometer of what is possible in physical aging. Gender, however, has a strong influence on one’s chances in the marathon race, just as it has on the manner and pace with which one navigates the marathon of life. This article looks at the obstacles that women, especially older women, have had to overcome in order to compete in the marathon race. It explores the ways that gender has limited their real and perceived opportunities in pursuing strenuous sports and shows how male–female dichotomies have been used historically to perpetuate patriarchal views on the ways women could and should use their bodies. Finally, it illustrates how feminist inquiry and methods of analysis can help us understand why aging women in the past have more often been seen as “eternally wounded” than as special candidates for sporting excellence in later life.
In this paper I view the history of kinesiology in America through the lens of a shifting academic landscape where physical culture and building acted upon each other to reflect emergent views concerning the nature of training in physical education and scientific developments around human movement. It is also an organizational history that has been largely lived in the gymnasium and the laboratory from its inception in the late nineteenth century to its current arrangements in the academy. Historians have referred to this in appropriately embodied terms as the head and the heart of physical education, and of course the impact of gender, class, and race was ever present. I conclude that the profession/discipline conundrum in kinesiology that has ebbed and flowed in the shifting spaces and carefully organized places of the academy has not gone away in the twenty-first century and that the complexities of today’s training require more fertile and flexible collaborative approaches in research, teaching, and professional training.
Patricia A. Vertinsky
Despite growing indications of increased participation in healthful physical activity among the elderly, aging women tend to participate in exercise and sport to a lesser extent than their male peers. This paper suggests that strongly held beliefs about the potential risks of vigorous exercise deter many elderly women from being physically active. It then examines the gendered nature of myths and stereotypes concerning aging and physical activity and explores those social and cultural factors that have historically persuaded aging women to practice "being" old and inactive before "becoming" old. The purpose is to elaborate upon studies in the history of aging which indicate that popular perceptions rather than reality shaped social expectations, professional prescriptions, and public policy. These studies suggest how the creation of negative stereotypes around the aging female paved the way for an unbalanced version of the realities of female old age, at times delimiting aspirations and constraining opportunities for vigorous and healthful physical activity.
Sandra O'Brien Cousins and Patricia A. Vertinsky
Few studies have tried to describe in detail the actual lifetime exercise experiences of very old women. In this paper, in-depth, guided life-course interviews with three women born in or before 1900 are used to shed light upon the social forces affecting the physical activities of young girls before the turn of the century. The late-life exercise patterns of these very old women appear to be rooted in very different ways to their past. However, the information gleaned from the interviews supports the early activation hypothesis that young girls at the turn of the century who were afforded opportunities and social support to develop physical skill in sport-type activities, or were physically challenged in domestic or farm labor, still appreciate and take advantage of the health-promoting aspects of exercise over 80 years later.