To follow up on reading Sarah Shephard’s book about women in sport, I decided I wanted to keep going on the topic, so I went ahead and picked up Jaime Schultz’s 2014 title, “Qualifying Times: Points of Change in U.S. Women’s Sport.”
Having read both, I can’t help but be happy that I picked both of them up. While the topic seems the same, and certainly both books do touch on some of the same issues and both historic and current situations, they’re from two different perspectives. Shephard’s book focuses largely (but not exclusively) on women in sport in the UK. She does make reference to several points of US women’s sports, but by and large, a lot of what she’s focused on is overseas. Thus, in comes Schultz’s book, which focuses almost exclusively on the American side of things. Read one after the other, they seem to nicely fit together, fill in some gaps and have given me a better overarching perspective on women’s sports.
Alright – back to Schultz’s book.
I was hooked from the introduction of this book, which is literally titled: The Politics of the Ponytail. Have I ever thought of the ponytail in terms of sports? Not particularly, at least until now. Showcasing how this hairstyle ties into discussions about gender, age, sexuality, sexualization and femininity, Schultz does a phenomenal job of capturing the reader’s attention from the get-go. Boom. Let’s go.
Schultz then really kicks off the book with her first chapter, highlighting women’s dress in the sport of tennis and its evolution over time. Considering the era I’ve grown up in, it’s hard to imagine women playing tennis in a full petticoat with corsets and blouses and the like. With current context in mind, these outfits seem highly impractical and outrageous; of course, at the time, concerns weren’t focused on practicality, but rather on propriety. Sport often followed society and vice-versa; women HAD to be covered up, and that included on the courts. (Compare that to women’s beach volleyball, which for a time enforced that female athletes HAD to wear bikinis! Times change.)
The second chapter of Schultz’s book moves onto a topic that, it seems, remains often in the background of women’s sports: menstruation. She discusses the upbringing of the commercial tampon and its history, and how it was promoted to female athletes. Over time, once again with the changes in society, marketing turned more to those in the workplace during World War II. Honestly, this topic is probably not something a lot of people think about when it comes to women’s sports, but I was glad to read about it in Schultz’s book and get a fresh perspective and some historic data about it.
Schultz continues by discussing the idea of ‘competition’ and what was – and was not – considered the ‘right’ kind of competition for women. Physical education and women educators, intercollegiate competition, and sport and politics (including World War II) are among the topics of discussion. Following this, the author goes on to discuss the history of sex testing and female athletes. This chapter was honestly a little shocking to me. To think about the horrible experiences these athletes – some of them Olympians! – had to go through… one can only imagine how degrading that would be. Ugh.
Schultz then goes into the ‘beauty myth’ and society’s aerobics culture in the 1980s. Women were encouraged to have “fit” bodies, but often not for health purposes – rather, for purposes related to (shocker!) their sex lives. It’s incredible to me how the media used to (or maybe still does) ignore female athletes. How far have we come?
The author continues with a chapter literally titled “A Cultural History of the Sports Bra,” a fascinating look into the history of the sports bra (a concept that’s been around longer tan you think.) She touches on the controversy surrounding Brandi Chastain and her infamous photo in the 199 World Cup, where people focused more on the fact that she took her shirt off than the fact that she & her team had just won the World Cup. I really found this chapter interesting, and it’s quite sad to read about how the media chooses to cover female athletes.
The final topic Schultz covers in her book: cheerleading. I had no idea that MEN were actually some of the first cheerleaders in history – but then again, I guess it makes sense, considering women were excluded from a lot of things back in the day. I can absolutely recognize the athleticism that the women involved in these activities have. Hell, I can’t even do a somersault, let alone a backflip or any of the other incredibly complicated moves they pull off seemingly with ease.
Schultz closes out her book with a recap of where we are today in terms of women’s sports in the United States, and overall provides an important look (throughout the text) about women in sports from historical, social and political perspectives. I’m absolutely going to recommend this book to any & all who are interested in sports, women, politics, history and the like.