"Thanks to Title IX": Female athletes' identifications and team sports in transition

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Female athletes, Athletes, Title IX, Cultural studies, Lesbian, Team sports

Subject Categories

Gender and Sexuality | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


This dissertation addresses questions about the lived realities of women who play sports as women's sports became more integrated into the complex of sports and media institutions. Through ethnographic interviews with twenty-one women (who graduated from college between 1968 and 2000) and analysis of cultural artifacts, the impact of passage and implementation of Title IX legislation emerged as an important moment that had implications for how women articulated their athletic experiences and their processes of identification, especially in and through college. The question explored is: What have been the lived implications of Title IX for women playing on sports teams? In order to articulate the complexities of women's identifications and to pay attention to the cultural settings in which women were situated, the work is grounded in the theoretical frameworks of post-structural gender studies and cultural studies.

Historically, the "female athlete" has been considered a deviant figure-- especially for women who played masculinized team sports. This project demonstrates how articulating an identity as a woman and an athlete has been changing since the passage of Title IX. The phrase "Title IX" has taken on cultural force as a narrative about the increased institutionalization and incorporation of women's sports into the expanding global sports/media complex. As this has happened, women described ambivalent ways they were drawn into the sports/media complex as girls and into adult life. Women described being subject to changing kinds of surveillance from younger and younger ages. But they also complicated hegemonies of gender and sexual identifications articulated with and about athleticism, rewriting what it means to be a "female athlete."

Women in the project resisted the performative of "female athlete." They described the emergence of a new kind of (hetero) feminine athletic hegemony that is intimately bound with the incorporation of women's and girls' sports into the sports/media complex. In their stories, the women decentered performatives of gender and sexual identity in connection with their athletic identity, at least while they were engaged in structured team sports through college. Instead of describing explicitly the complex interactions of gender and sexual identifications and athleticism, women described the coherence of their performances as "teammates." Team structures, whether experienced positively or negatively, were centered in women's stories about their processes of identification. Team identifications were encouraged and facilitated by structures and institutions of sports that women were participating in through their college careers. The strong connection to the group and the women's individual identifications as a teammate isolated and protected them from some of the assumed deviance that has been associated with being a "female athlete." This team structure was more powerful in the women's processes of identification if they went to college after the fuller implementation of Title IX. When the environment for this group identification disappeared (most often when women graduated from college), they struggled to rearticulate identities without these structures and on their own.


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