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Disabled Sports Women and Gender Construction in Powerchair Football

Sports and physical activities are ideal fields to study gender construction. Much research aims at shedding light on these processes. Women involved in ‘male’ sports have been extensively studied, and mixed-sex activities have sometimes been used to support these studies, but research has rarely focused on populations of disabled athletes. Yet, the phenomenon of gender construction takes on a particular meaning in the context of disability, insofar as the relations between sports, gender and disability raise the issues of production and negotiation of bodily norms in a specific way. We will try to understand this gender construction phenomenon through the study of ten French powerchair football players, with whom we conducted a participant observation over two and a half years, as well as in-depth interviews. We will pay particular attention to the case of three sportswomen who competed in an almost exclusively male champion ship. We will see that these women are confronted with a dilemma: going against the stereotype of the asexual Paralympian female athlete while performing masculinity to gain legitimacy in a men’s world. These sports women thus ‘play the game’ of masculinity through a set of discursive, behavioral and clothing strategies in order to find a place in powerchair football, while still preserving some of their ‘femininity.’