Really useful knowledge? Feminism, Gender and Physical Education

Year: 2017

Author: Flintoff, Anne

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

What counts as 'useful' knowledge about gender in PE? What kinds of research are needed to challenge gendered inequalities? How can we avoid the reproduction of what Kirk and Oliver (2014) have described as the 'same old narrative story' about girls and PE? Do we, in fact, still need feminist research in PE? In addressing these and other questions, this paper argues for the continuing importance of feminist research and professional debate on gender for PE and teacher education (PETE).
Tracing its development within the academy reveals a vibrancy and diversity of feminist thought, set against longstanding and continuing struggles in relation to its legitimacy, visibility and impact (David, 2014). However, gender research in PE has tended to follow the directions of research on gender and education more widely and as such could be viewed as 'one step behind' the mainstream debates (Flintoff and Scraton, 2006). It is also the case that the specific contributions of feminist research in PE, - for example, around physical power relations, (hetero) sexuality and embodiment - have not always been taken up outside our field. This paper focuses on the position and place of feminist knowledge in contemporary PE, and the ongoing challenges for researchers working within increasingly hostile, neoliberal university cultures for the production and dissemination of new gender knowledge (Mountz et al, 2015).
In the first part of the paper I scrutinise the nature of gender knowledge in PE and PETE (e.g. Soler, et al, 2016) and point to some of the consequences for gender equity in how particular discourses get taken up at the expense of others, and how some research perspectives may be at odds with the promotion of socially just, gender agendas. Drawing on my and others' research and teaching experiences, I highlight some of the challenges of teaching about gender in contemporary higher education classrooms. How do the gender relations influence our own classroom experiences and pedagogies when we teach about gender and social justice? Finally, I raise questions about the impact of gender relations on the nature of knowledge production in the academy, and ask what might be the consequences for women, their careers, and for the field of PE (Morely, 2013)?