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The Canadian Historical Review 85.1 (2004) 184-185
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The Girl and the Game: A History of Women's Sport in Canada. M. Ann Hall. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press 2002. Pp. xii, 284, illus. $26.95
The history of sport is reaching maturity. Burgeoning scholarship has integrated sport within the larger context of Canadian society and gender relations. Bruce Kidd and Colin Howell have recently written important overviews of Canadian sport;I now M. Ann Hall has added the first comprehensive history of women's sport in Canada. An excellent work, it is impressively researched and considers women's sport in the context of larger social and cultural issues.
The theoretical foundation of the work is that 'the history of modern sport is a history of cultural struggle.' Because sport has been a bastion of male hegemony, women's entry into and advances in sport met resistance from the male establishment. Many radical feminists, in turn, dismissed sport as a homophobic area unworthy of serious study. The book is also a compelling narrative: 'The story of the many ordinary women (and some men) who contributed to the development of women's sport in Canada.' Hall emphasizes the activism and agency of women in opening playing fields to both genders. 'It is not a book about how women have been victims of an oppressive sports structure, which is clearly not the case at all ... women through the years have been strong active agents in creating the kind of sports they want for their children, their daughters especially.' Although Hall's book gives little attention to university sport, I reached similar conclusions in a recent article about women students' agency in expanding their role in intercollegiate sport. Particularly in chapters 4 and 5, Hall recounts the accomplishments of pioneering women from the 1950s through the 1970s who demolished barriers, but who found their athletic prowess less interesting to the media than their physical beauty or, conversely, their alleged lesbianism.
The notion of biologically restricted bodies was first challenged by the 'new woman' at the turn of the twentieth century, women who took up bicycling and rode into new spheres in education, work, and suffrage. The First World War inaugurated a golden age for women's sport, and the 1920s were the heyday of grassroots involvement, often by working-class women. The Edmonton Grads were acknowledged as world champions of women's basketball; the first Canadian women participated in the Olympics; and women sportswriters such as Phyllis Griffiths reported [End Page 184] their feats. Yet traditionalists - both male media and women physical educators influenced by trends in the United States - warned about the intensity of female competition. With the economic problems of the Depression, followed by the Second World War and the social conservatism of the 1950s, women's sport receded in visibility for a half-century, although it continued at the community level.
Although 'many feminists of the 1970s saw sport as too trivial' for involvement, cultural changes emanating from the movement empowered women. Still facing media stereotypes about restricted bodies, more and more women engaged in aerobics and organized sport. Increasing participation rates brought the gender issue centre stage as a political issue by the 1980s. In 1981 Abby Hoffman, a former Olympic athlete, became director general of Sport Canada, which soon formulated a Policy on Women's Sport that called for equality. Court cases challenged discrimination, and provincial human rights commissions addressed at least fifty sport-related cases. Political institutions began to reduce the barriers that had afflicted women's athletics from their inception.
In a final chapter, 'The Commodification of Physicality, 1990s and Beyond,' Hall addresses recent trends and speculates about the future. She emphasizes the positive - 'remarkable changes' and 'hope for the future' - but also a 'dark side.' As women have become more competitive and entered formerly male domains (ice hockey, rugby, and wresting are now sanctioned intercollegiate sports), their activism has altered social roles and stereotypes. To raise the profile of women's sports, however, women have inherited...