Sociologists consider sports as a microcosm of the society. On the one hand, sports are viewed as the product and on the other hand, the reflection of the society. Sports, moreover, have a therapeutic value especially for people with disabilities (DePauw and Gavron 2005). Historically sport has been dominated by able-bodied, white, heterosexual males. According to the feminists the sports is a male domain in which the female gender has a secondary status. Hence, the female gender and the female sex are in themselves disabilities, apart from the more apparent physical and mental handicaps (Hargreaves 1994).
The disability movement began after the Second World War in 1945 when the war veterans returned home with injuries sustained and the eventual disabilities acquired in the war. The disability movement was initiated to help fully integrate them into the society. Simultaneously, the medical theory with emphasis on medical recovery of these disabilities was born. The medical theory, though, a necessity at the time has some glaring weaknesses. The medical theory emphasizes the role of medicine and prostatic limbs coupled with psychological cures in order to make disabled individuals fully functioning members of the society and the sporting world (Thomas and Smith 2009).
A more realistic theory aimed at the individuals with disabilities is the social theory. This theory demands that individuals with disabilities be made an integral part of the society, at par with the able-bodied. This theory employs a holistic approach to the problem. The social theory deems economic, political, and social interventions necessary to alleviate the problems of individuals with disabilities (Depauw and Gavron 2005).
The physical and the psychological disabilities are a hindrance for both men and women to take meaningful part in sports. The condition of the women requires special attention as they are already handicapped due to their sex and gender.
Culturally most of the Western societies, if not all, are patriarchal in nature. This predominantly implies that women are reduced to the status of second class citizens. This fact is apparent in everyday life and in every sphere. So pervasive is the male dominance that the very identity of womankind is distorted and in ways utterly oppressed and suppressed to the determent of the physiological and the psychological development of the individuals suffering from disabilities. The feminists have tried to mend the situation but the myth of frailty and the necessary corollary of weakness that accompanies it have helped perpetuate the male dominance on and off the playing fields (Hargreaves 1994).
The women with disabilities, especially the women involved in competitive sport or any other physical activity are largely a marginalized section of the population. These women are segregated and lack opportunities to advance in their respective sports. In addition women seldom are a part of the decision-making bodies or organizations looking into the affairs of these sports. Even if they are, these sportswomen with disabilities have little power to enforce their say as they lack equal power (Elias 1994).
It is a fact that these brave women have made in-roads into purely male dominated sports as boxing, wrestling and golf, but even today in the twentieth first century, in these post-modern times, their status is not clearly defined. Neither their achievements are praised the way they should nor are they the recipients of the accolades due to them. Further, their meritorious services to a particular sport are always under negative scrutiny by the media, and the society at large. It is sad that more than often these brave souls are at the receiving end of insidious insults, and race, sex or gender related innuendos (Cahn 1994).
Owing to our capitalistic economy these women are seldom sponsored by mainstream corporates and thereby, they are unable to support themselves in pursuing their sporting dreams. They lack the financial power to own expensive, cutting-edge sport equipment. If by a lucky chance they land a corporate sponsor these women have to dress-up and maintain a certain look whether they are easy with it or not. Their much prized possession, their bodies are objectified and they are treated as nothing more than sex objects. (Hargreaves 1994).
Being a social minority these women have limitations placed on their participation in society and also face limitations within the sporting world. Religion is one of the major factors in many societies that limit the participation of women, especially disabled women in sports. Other potential limitations are caused by class. For instance, the socially ostracized African-American, middle-class women are at the lowest rung of this hierarchal ladder (Elias 1994).
No significant political mandates in form of much needed legislation have been introduced to curb the negative tendencies in the macho society. No bills or amendments in the present laws have been undertaken to uphold the cause of these sportswomen. Surprisingly still there is a complete lack of awareness of the problems faced by these individuals at the community, state, and federal levels (Festle 1996).
The part played by the media is also not positive regarding these sportswomen. Since the 80s individuals with disabilities have been featured in commercials, in media briefings, as commentators, and in articles in newspapers but a lot more needs to be done in promoting these sportswomen and their cause. The reality is that the level of visibility is still very low, as is the comfort level of the populace. Media houses still to a great extent give prime-time to able-bodied male sportsmen as opposed to sportspersons, especially sportswomen with disabilities. These sportswomen are never taken seriously by the media and they are considered nothing more than bizarre novelties. In this manner their hard-earned achievements are blatantly and carelessly underestimated. Sportswomen with disabilities are seldom given attention due to them except when something negative, as involvement with performance-enhancing drugs or something of the like, is unearthed (Barnes 1992).
Analysis of sport is an inherently controversial affair. Likewise, the sociology of sports incorporates varied and often conflicting theories of society. All the sociological theories whether critical, reproductive, economic or neo-classical, are mainly occupied by and pay special attention to the achievements and problems of the white, heterosexual, able-bodied, Protestant male sports figures. Only a few committed feminist sports sociologists, against heavy odds, pay attention to the pressing plight of the sportswomen with disabilities (Hargreaves 1994).
The hegemonic nature of the sports in the Western society because of the society’s predominant preoccupation with the ideal of masculinity as opposed to femininity; and to an able-body, in diametric contrast, to disability, is the normal state of affairs. This status quo is to persist for years to come even after the determined feminist onslaught to achieve some semblance of parity for sportswomen with disabilities, in order to be looked up to, not as an exception but the norm. This remains as elusive a dream today as it was for the women with sporting ambitions during the prudish Victorian age. In conclusion, there is much discrimination and comparatively few opportunities for women with disabilities, in sports (Hargreaves 1994).
Barnes, C., & British Council of Organizations of Disabled People. (1992). Disabling imagery and the media: An exploration of the principles for media representations of disabled people. Place of publication not identified, NY: BCODP.
This book is mainly concerned with the issue of the involvement of media in sports. The author is of the firm opinion that the media houses have predominantly covered the exploits of the male athletes as opposed to the female ones. The media houses, whether they are print or electronic, have been partial to the problems of the sports figure, especially sportswomen with disabilities. This book, in details, explains the discriminatory practices of the media concerning sportswomen, especially sportswomen with disabilities. This book thoroughly analyzes the coverage given to national and international sporting events, and provides valuable insight into the much neglected field of women’s sports.
Cahn, S. K. (1994). Coming on strong: Gender and sexuality in twentieth-century women's sport. New York: Free Press.
This book is written with a complete feminist perspective to women’s sports. In addition, this book provides a comprehensive historical and theoretical perspective to women’s sports. This is a very well-researched book that deals with the evolution of women’s sports in North America.
Creedon, P. J. (Ed.). (1994). Women, media, and sport: Challenging gender values. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
This is one of the few books of sports sociology specifically pertaining to the part media plays in the coverage of national and international sports. The author shows no partiality to all the stakeholders and without mincing her words lucidly paints the picture of the sporting world. This book addresses the problems faced by the female sports figures. The trials and travails of the sportswomen in the face of adversity lends this book a special place in the annals of sports sociology.
DePauw, K. P., Gavron, S. J., & DePauw, K. P. (2005). Disability sport (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
This book can be called the Bible of disability sports. From the definition to the future of disability sports this book covers all the important aspects of disability sports. This book is highly recommended for the serious study of the concept of disability sports by the scholars and the lay reader in order to gain insight into the relatively new world of disability sports.
Elias, N. (1994). The established and the outsiders: A sociological enquiry into community problems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
An academic treasure-trove, this book delves into the world of community problems faced by the sports figures, whether male or female. This book is a valuable study of the sociology of sports at the community level. It discusses in detail the social, economic and political aspects that have been the main impetus behind molding the sports sociology at the local level.
Festle, M. J. (1996). Playing nice: Politics and apologies in women's sports. New York: Columbia University Press.
Chapter-wise this book gives a sound analysis of the impact of politics on sports. This book debunks most of the political myths that have been essentially associated with sports. The author of this book advocates more political interventions in sports by the local, regional and federal legislative bodies in the United States.
Hargreaves, J. (1994). Sporting females: Critical issues in the history and sociology of women's sports. London: Routledge.
Hargreaves is a pre-eminent feminist sports sociologist. Her book is a comprehensive round-up of the women’s sporting world. As Cahn lays emphasis on the women’s sports in North America, Hargreaves shifts the focus to United Kingdom. Hargreaves’s well-researched book pays equal attention to both the history and the theory of sports sociology, especially women’s sports sociology.
Thomas, N., & Smith, A. (2009). Disability, sport, and society: An introduction. London: Routledge.
This book is an in-depth historical and theoretical study of the disability sports. Besides enumerating the milestones in the evolution of the disability sports, the authors of this book also provide an invaluable peep into the future realm of possibilities in the world of disability sports. This book is a must read for all the people interested in the disability sports.