My teammate and colleague Dale Stevenson now has a Master’s Degree in Disability Studies from the University of Manitoba. In the process of obtaining it, Stevenson has contributed an excellent study of Paralympic identity, through the lense of masculinity, to sport and disability literature. Most importantly and invaluably, the author is a disabled athlete himself.
His thesis: Paralympic Masculinities: Media and self-representation of athletes at the 2008 Paralympic Summer Games explores how Beijing Paralympians portray themselves, and were portrayed by media during the Games.
The article reviews disability and gender literature, illustrating a tension between disability and masculinity. When a man is disabled or becomes disabled he loses access to many traditional masculine traits. This study suggests that sport is a tool to achieve or regain “hegemonic masculinity.”
Stevenson also touches on several important questions and discussions about Paralympic sport and the movement. Is there a hierarchy of worth where less disabled athletes are perceived to have a higher value? Are the Paralympics below or parallel to the Olympics? Why do Paralympians aspire to compete in the Olympics? Is sport a means to build and/or regain masculinity? Does the Paralympic movement empower or disempower athletes?
I am not as steeped in gender studies as Stevenson and the authors he references – my academic understanding of masculinity is limited. This in mind, it appears that several characteristics of hegemonic masculinity are also traits of sport excellence, which can be displayed by both men and women. Mental and physical strength, control of emotions and controlled aggression are all skills that high performance athletes learn to help them win, not to establish gender dominance. This could help explain why so many female athletes in Stevenson’s study are described using so called masculine language. I would offer that the line between hegemonic masculine language, and language describing excellence in sport is quite blurred. The social, cultural and political causes and implications of such a linguistic similarity are what make Stevenson’s work so important.
Please read the full study here:
Stevenson, Dale. May 2010. Paralympic Masculinities: Media and self-representation of athletes at the 2008 Paralympic Summer Games. http://hdl.handle.net/1993/3973