Playing with history 

Graduate conference welcomes sports historian and feminist scholars

History in the Making (HIM), the longest running graduate history conference in Canada, drew graduate students, historians and members of the academic and sporting community for two days of discussion related to the history of sport, leisure and games.

Co-chaired by students Lindsay Pattison and Jessica Mills, the 15th edition of HIM included several sessions that touched on gender and sexuality.
Twenty scholars from across Canada, the U.S. and Belgium presented their research.

On the morning of March 6, Pattison presented her research into unconventional dress in the sport of Ultimate (formerly known as ultimate Frisbee).

Since first played in 1968, Ultimate quickly gained popularity on university campuses across North America. Because it’s so new, relatively speaking, it differentiates itself from mainstream games in numerous ways.

Men and women play together: a rarity in organized sports. Often times, you’ll find a carnival-like atmosphere on the field. Some teams play in various states of undress, with the men wearing skirts and other feminine accessories.

“Nudity and cross-dressing function well as an articulation of difference in Ultimate partly because they already carry discursive connotations of non-conformity,” Pattison writes in her essay.

As for women, “by playing in clothes and decoration that sexualize their bodies, while at the same time ‘playing with the boys,’ women can be seen to be claiming their ‘place’ on the field – laying an overtly feminine claim to a conventionally understood-to-be-masculine space.”

“Sports is a realm where social inequalities between the sexes are still very apparent,” Pattison said in reference to a presentation by Université de Québec à Montréal students Christian Hébert and Nicolas Dupretz.

The MA students used sociologist Charles Tilly’s book Durable Inequality as a starting point for a discussion about men’s and women’s participation in sports, such as how much women’s work frees up men to be able to play.

Later in the day, influential scholar Susan K. Cahn from the State University of New York at Buffalo delivered the keynote address about sexed bodies and gendered selves.

She focused on the case of South African track runner Caster Semenya, whose gender was questioned after winning gold at the 2009 world championships in Berlin.

Cahn took her paper in an interesting direction by placing her own story front and centre. She explained how she’d been teased for being athletic and was mistaken for a man and how she’s negotiated the sometimes complicated woman-athlete identity.

“Her address was quite amazing, gutsy, and personal. At the same time, it was rooted in research and scholarship,” Pattison said. “She’s such an important figure in the field and really helped us cap off a successful conference.”

See the History in the Making conference site.


Concordia University