Faculty Publications


Are sisters doing it for themselves?: An analysis of gender and the sport initiation

Document Type


Publication Date

January 2002


When men begin to feel the challenge from women to their dominant position within the "institution of organized sport," they feel the need to increase the masculinizing power of sport in order to recharge and re-establish their dominant position (Messner 1992). This reclaiming of sport as a male preserve also re-establishes the beliefs and values inherent within the masculine ideal in order to support patriarchal relations and the male-female gender dichotomy which seems central to hegemonic power (Dunning). These perceptions mirror some of the observations of initiation characteristics (Alfred University; Bryshun; Holman; Johnson) which serve as a site to perpetuate and replicate masculine identities and reinforce patriarchal relations. It would seem to follow that the initiation ceremony, cloaked in secrecy and homosociality would be an active forum where males may actively express their masculinity without the disruption seemingly caused by the feminine presence. With the proliferation of females being able to actively participate in sport coupled with an increasing awareness of the activities which accompany many initiation ceremonies it is possible to examine the differing aspects of the initiation ceremony that focus on not only the gender of the participants, but on the abuses and stereotypes that are reinforced as a result of certain practices. The genderization of initiation ceremonies is a common theme exhibited on both male and female teams (Bryshun; Holman; Johnson). The use of demeaning, provocative clothing, as well as cross-dressing by male initiates, is intended to demean and humiliate the novitiate. This stereotypical misogynist practice would not serve its intended purpose if being a woman in our society meant being extended the same respect, dignity and equality as it is for men (Robinson). Many initiations involve homoerotic activities or demeaning exercises at the expense of gay men. Again, if homosexuality were an acceptable lifestyle culture, the initiation would not have the intended degrading effect. The heterosexualization of both male and female initiations serves to further excise "the demons of homosexuality," and to convey to the membership acceptable practice and comportment within the culture of the team. For most of the athletes, their contact with initiations extended back to their varsity experience and into their high school years. The university initiation ceremonies are organized by veteran players in terms of location, content and timing. The actual initiation experiences included, team games, nudity, sexualized games, scavenger hunts and illegal practices. Many of these practices are configured to introduce new members into the power based, hierarchical structure of the team and to the masculine model which the initiation ceremony reinforces. The perpetuity of this imbalance of power model is contingent upon the use of alcohol, secrecy, confinement and the cycle of status from initiated to initiator. The life of the initiation ceremony is sustained by the membership in the belief that it serves as a necessary "Rite of Passage", functioning to foster a sense of cohesion among teammates, maintained by the cycle of initiation and transmitted folklore.


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Journal Title

Journal of Canadian Woman Studies/Les Cahiers de la Femme