- Qualifying Times: Points of Change in U.S. Women’s Sport by Schultz, Jaime
“Consider the ponytail . . .” (p. 1). So begins Jaime Schultz’s Qualifying Times: Points of Change in U.S. Women’s Sport. In addition to the “seemingly innocuous mass of hair bundled together on an individual’s head,” (p. 1) readers are also asked to ponder tampons and sports bras among other “banal elements” of U.S. women’s sport and physical activity. Tennis outfits, competition, sex testing, aesthetic fitness, and cheerleading round out the author’s examination of some pivot points around which girls and women’s sport has moved. It is the aforementioned mundane elements that prompt Schultz’s examination of them, as ordinariness marks their significance as cultural forms. It is “precisely because they seem so common-sense and commonplace,” explains the author, that each is “powerfully connected to gender ideologies” (p. 8). Indeed, hair, tampons, bras, etc. matter.
The work of eminent historian Gerda Lerner provides both the inspiration and guide for Schultz’s own “points of change” thesis as it relates to women’s sport history. What might our understanding of history look like and how would “traditionally masculinist approaches” (p. 8) to the study of the past be unsettled if we were to make women, their lives and bodies, the points around which our analysis emanates? Novel in its approach, Qualifying Times gives all sport historians, regardless of theoretical orientation, interest, or expertise, much to consider.
At its core Qualifying Times continues and deepens important discussions among scholars in recent decades concerning power, gender, and athleticism. Schultz joins a host of scholars who note that sport, with corporeality at its core, is an enormously significant space in which women’s bodies are “othered,” defined as different (from men) and given less value as a result of that difference (whether perceived or real). Moreover, Qualifying Times throws into sharp relief the ways in which ideas about gender, and specifically femininity, are constructed, strengthened, contested, and re-imagined across sport spaces. The dynamic complexity of this process is evident, as sport and athletic involvement is a site of empowerment and confinement for female participants. This seemingly incongruent duality is skilfully captured in a number of locations throughout the book including the final content chapter, “Something to Cheer About.” Is, for example, the relatively new activity, competitive cheerleading, a site of agentic potential for its female participants or merely a newly packaged activity bound by historically rooted and often narrow understandings of femininity?
While previous scholarship has grappled with similar tensions, Qualifying Times takes us in a slightly different direction through its examination of previously underexplored spaces and elements, where ideas about femininity, athleticism, and embodiment have been contested. For example, an “attendant yet rarely acknowledged issue . . . menstrual protection,” (p. 47) is the topic of the book’s second chapter “Commercial Tampons and the Sportswoman, 1936–52.” Indeed, the issue serves as one element, and perhaps the strongest, in Schultz’s creative “points of change” line-up. Impressive is Schultz’s discussion [End Page 530] of “menstrual management,” namely the tampon and the expanding emancipatory spaces these technologies afforded female athletes across the early-to-mid decades of the twentieth century. This “liberation” occurred despite and amid continuing unease about women and their bodies. “Menstruants” were, after all, still considered “contaminants,” (p. 67) and thus concealing a woman’s monthly (with the aid of a tampon) did little but perpetuate the stigma associated with menstruation.
Qualifying Times is a germinal text in the sense that it will certainly have influence, in myriad ways, on future work in sport history. With that in mind, it is incumbent upon us to engage the author’s charge and move succeeding scholarship beyond an analysis of white middle-class women. Arguably, the potential for a deeper, more critical understanding of cultural negotiations for power, both ideologically and structurally, comes from an intersectional interrogation in which multiple marginalized identities are considered. Sport historians...