Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
The goal of my dissertation is to further our understanding of the political ramifications of women's running stories by focusing on the intersections of feminist rhetoric, women in sports studies, political theory, and ontology. To this end, I examined six books written by women, about women, who participate in the sport of running. Since I am most interested in how gendered concepts teach us how to be "appropriate," and due to the fact that what is considered appropriate gendered behavior changes over time, I start from a place of understanding that "appropriateness" is necessarily both hegemonic and unstable. As a feminist rhetorical critic, I am foremost concerned with gendered relations of power, and am interested in working to move those relations towards the democratic end of liberty and equality. This dissertation examined the following five research questions: First, how do women articulate their running identities in the stories they tell? For example, do women depict running as central or influential to their self-concepts, roles, identities, ambitions and/or goals? If so, how? Specifically, what identities, concepts, or themes are common across stories? Second, do individual women explicitly discuss, or implicitly allude to, multiple identities or roles? If they embrace multiple identities or roles, how do they rhetorically navigate among them in the stories they tell? Third, how, if at all, do women articulate their experience of gender norms? Fourth, what are the points of possible contention, clash or disagreement in the discussion of women runners' experiences? How might the various perspectives that women (and others around them) express be in legitimate (agonistic, pluralistic) conversation with each other? And finally, in what ways might these stories hint at ontological change as a real possibility, and/or provide a canvas for an agonistic and plural relationship with the self and others? In other words, what commitments, goals, beliefs, and/or values do different perspectives have in common, that might bring them together to work for mutually-agreed upon change in the world, or in the political order? Upon completion of this dissertation, my feminist rhetorical analysis provided ample evidence that the texts I examined are clearly consciousness-raising documents, as their sole purpose is sharing stories of how women journey through life via running. This project illustrated that a particular kind of consciousness is raised when women's bodies are running, sometimes alone, but often together. This consciousness provides a freedom for these women to be more whole, strong, and authentic versions of themselves; running gives way to a mental and physical strength that these women may not have found otherwise. While for some rhetors and audiences, the essential question of women and girls' participation in sports looms large, for many other people, the issues have broadened and deepened from the original `to play or not to play,' and now encompass subtler concerns, from the wearing of the hijab in athletic competition to whether or not women should train during pregnancy. The female body is constantly on display and up for debate, and the female body in the realm of sports is no exception. Together, feminist rhetorical criticism and agonistic pluralism provided me with the foundation to creatively analyze women's running stories for their political and feminist ramifications, places where women are celebrated and heralded as strong athletes, as well as point out places where liberty and equality are still lacking.
This dissertation is Open Access and may be downloaded by anyone.