Female athletes pressured to look feminine: Sociologist

September 29, 2003

Sex still sells in sport, creating pressure to conform to a "heterosexy" image that hurts women's sport and keeps many lesbian athletes "in the closet," says a University of Toronto sociologist.

In her recently published book entitled Out on the Field: Gender, Sport and Sexualities, Professor Helen Lenskyj provides exposés of coaches' and administrators' complicity in perpetuating the chilly climate for female athletes, in general, and lesbian athletes, in particular. She examined case studies throughout Canada, the U.S. and Australia.

"Lesbians in sport don't reveal their sexual orientation because they fear being ostracized," says Lenskyj. "There's pressure from coaches and sometimes from other athletes to keep their lesbian identities hidden and present themselves as heterosexual with all the trappings of long hair and makeup," says the sociology and equity studies professor from the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education of U of T (OISE/UT).

In addition, lesbian athletes may be fearful of "coming out" because it could hurt their teams' chances of attracting sponsors, says Lenskyj. "Unless female athletes are cute, have pony tails and wear revealing clothes, their teams won't get the sponsor dollars that other, more traditionally feminine sports like figure skating, may receive," she says.

Lenskyj says society needs to consider women athletes as athletes first and foremost, not sex objects, if it wants to encourage young girls to play traditionally male-dominated sports like hockey. Out on the Field: Gender, Sport and Sexualities is published by Women's Press.
CONTACT: Professor Helen Lenskyj, OISE/UT, 416-923-6641 x 2326, hlenskyj@oise.utoronto.ca or Sue Toye, U of T public affairs, 416-978-4289, sue.toye@utoronto.ca

University of Toronto

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