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  • Femmes et hommes dans les sports de montagne: Au delà des différences
  • Pascal Charroin
Ottogalli-Mazzacavallo, Cécile, and Jean Saint-Martin, eds. Femmes et hommes dans les sports de montagne: Au delà des différences. Grenoble, Fr.: C.N.R.S. / Maison des Sciences de l’Homme/Alpes, C.R.I.S-LARHRA, 2009. Pp. 490.

This work examines the sexual conditions of emergence and development of mountain sports and of the construction of masculinity and femininity, as well as the hierarchical relations of gender. In the introduction, the academic writers take care to define the terms and the concepts that prove to be polysemic: mountain sports which should not be confined to the competitive practice of climbing or mountaineering, something which must be understood in a plural way (femininities and masculinities, from vital to social, etc.). We can consider, on reading the work, that the practice of mountain sports is in the process of feminization. Certainly, sexual parity has not been reached (it is about two-thirds men), but the presence of women is more marked than in many other disciplines. However, inequality remains, not only from a quantitative point of view but also qualitative: the respective roles of male and female. If mountaineering is opening up to women, the position that they occupy is lower than that of men. Furthermore, as Catherine Louveau points out, sexual relationships intensify social relationships. Sport remains a bastion of masculinity and if some disciplines are not included in this, they are stigmatized as inferior. Mountain sports are a model of the cohabitation of characteristics considered as feminine and masculine: for example, the symbolism of the mountain as being more feminine and verticality masculine.

The scene being set, the second part approaches the essential feminist question of equality or specificity which can be summed up in the following way: is it in the interest of girls to “run after the boys” in order to look like them, to merge with them, at the risk of confronting them in pseudo-paradigm of iso-sex typing or is it advisable to assert a feminine specificity, at the risk of falling again into the so-little emancipatory traditional feminine ideal? All these questions have been historically recurrent since the end of the nineteenth century, in, for example, “le Club Suisse des Femmes Alpinistes” (1863–1930). Furthermore, the industrial sector is also invited to take up a position on the specificity or not of female mountaineers. The history of clothing during “les Trentes Glorieuses,” as well as the strategy of the Rossignol Company since 1982 bear witness to this. The second part goes on to historically question the imaginative world through the study of mountain geography, the artistic representations of the woman climber, and of elites and heroines during the interwar and current period.

In the third part, the construction of masculinities and femininities, and therefore the social relations of sex, is exemplified through the practice of sport by female mountaineers (pioneers) and male mountaineers during various periods. The actors and actresses seem to convey gender stigmas in the field. This microscopic vision of history has an essential function which is to show that the structures incorporate themselves in actors/actresses; the latter embody the former by a kind of coming and going and from the dialectics at work throughout the topics investigated by social and human sciences. So, in ski jumping, [End Page 157] the performances of some women are equal to those of certain men. Nevertheless, the International Olympic Committee, during the Vancouver winter games, will not be organizing women’s competitions (p. 311). The female athletes come up against the conservatism of the system and adapt themselves to it. So, the range of positions which on one side prove that women are keen on high-risk sports in all their social practices, sometimes show a defiance of gender standards, sometimes an allegiance and mostly a hybridization, a kind of adaptation according to circumstances (pp. 434–435). For their part, men “keep to their place”. Thus a strong control exercised by male coaches entails a greater vulnerability of female teenager climbers (p. 485).

Generally speaking the interest of this work is...


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