‘Abomination;’ as in, “the new IAAF policy on hyperandrogenism is an abomination”

– By Anna Posbergh

Anna is a Ph.D. student in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Over the past six months, I have been reading, researching, and writing about hyperandrogenism as it concerns sport and intersex athletes. And let me tell you, it has been an experience. The more I read, the more my own understandings of sex, gender, and sport become blurred and unclear. From Stella Walsh and Heinrich Ratjen in the 1936 Olympics, to the most recent ‘controversy’ around Dutee Chand, I am increasingly horrified, shocked, and fired up by everything I read and stumble across. For example, did you know that in early gender-verification tests, women were essentially forced to stand naked in a group and undergo a public gynecological exam? So basically, a woman’s “femininity” or “female status” was dictated by her external genitalia.

This degrading “verification” practice was short-lived, though, and one might think that it was because people found it to be a horrifying, discriminatory, and exploitative practice. You would be wrong. While the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) admitted the ethical issues around this crude testing protocol, they deemed these tests ‘inadequate,’ and slightly shifted the policy so that all female athletes instead, “paraded past three female gynecologists.” The gynecologists verified whether or not the athletes were female, thus eliciting the informal title of ‘nude parades.’ Ultimately, the practice of mandatory sex testing on female athletes continued until 1991 for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and 1999 for the IAAF.

Certainly, these issues come back to the representation and portrayal of women in sport and female athletes. Title IX was considered an important breakthrough for women’s sport forty years ago, but today we are still seeing strong evidence of discriminatory sex segregation in sport, with this ongoing hyperandrogenism ‘fiasco’ just one of countless attempts to temper women’s sports and police the boundaries between men and women.

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The NBA’s Tough-on-Crime Moment

– By Brandon Wallace

Brandon is a Master’s student in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

While the divide between players and executives in the National Football League (NFL) has rightfully dominated media sporting discourse over the last couple of years, a similar dilemma is quietly emerging in the National Basketball Association (NBA) – although for a different reason. One of the most prominent stories of the first half of the NBA season has been the seemingly deteriorating relationship between players and referees. Players have expressed frustration with the referees for increasingly showing disrespect to players on the court and having a ‘quick trigger’ when doling out technical fouls, ejections, and flagrant fouls (fouls that refs deem unnecessary, excessive, un-basketball-like, or violent, which amount to player fines). This is not a problem exclusive to rank-and-file players; the stars have arguably been hit the hardest. Big names such as LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and others have all been ejected this season for transgressions that most agree did not warrant punishment that excessive. Referees, on the other hand, have voiced their frustration concerning players criticizing them on the court, sensing what they perceive to be a fleeting level of authority.

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The McDonaldization of Racial Profiling in the Police Force

– By Tori Thompson

Tori is a Master’s student in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Racial profiling in police forces is a systemic national problem. Even though the United States Constitution states that “all men are created equal” and prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, state police departments continue to abuse the law for the ‘betterment of society’. Looking through the lens of sociologist George Ritzer’s Weberian concept of “McDonaldization,” I argue that racial profiling has become McDonaldized in American police culture. McDonaldization is “the process by which the principles of the fast food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world” (Ritzer, 2004). The principles of the fast food industry Ritzer refers to are efficiency, calculability, rationality and predictability. Currently, we can see the prevalence of these principles in American police protocol via racial profiling. This post argues that racial profiling has become a rationalized system of national crime fighting standards and illustrates how the principles of McDonaldization influence the marginalization of people of color.

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Skinny is the New Fat

– By Sunny Zhang

Sunny Zhang is a Ph.D. student in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Rail (2012) talks about eight postcards and counter-postcards in terms of an “obesity epidemic.”  A postcard is a picture painted to emulate truth in a specific moment while arbitrarily constructing a certain reality.  It creates a scene of simplicity out of a picture much more complex.  Through the repetition of these scenes however, postcards tend to spread misunderstandings that ultimately become truth.  While the postcards summarize the dominant views related to obesity and are motivated in no small part by greed and profit, counter-postcards dispute the distorting and over simplified postcards and provide alternative views.  Those dubbed by Mundy as “Obesity Inc.” (Mundy, 2001) are the push behind the disseminating of those postcards, which lead to unnecessarily medicalizing obesity, distorting statistics on the consequences of growing weights, ignoring the complicated realities associated with being fat, diverting scarce resources, and distracting public health efforts (Herrick, 2007).  In reading Rail (2012), I realize how categorizing obesity as an epidemic disease along with other more serious diseases, such as cancers, heart diseases, and AIDS, benefits the “Obesity Inc” including private gyms.  Many gyms in China receive governmental support and large tax deductions for the purposes of improving public health and disciplining obese bodies, despite already being lucrative businesses.  They are the ones who disseminate the ideas and preconceptions relating a fat body to obesity, and further spreading obesity’s relationship to various health problems.  By spreading this view, more and more people perceive themselves as sick or at-risk and, therefore, in need of treatment. The ideal treatment, including exercise and diet, thereby directly benefits businesses like gyms.

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PCS Students Reflect on Colin Kaepernick and National Anthem Protest Coverage

Graduate students here at the University of Maryland’s Physical Cultural Studies program have been profoundly affected and engaged with the recent national media coverage concerning Colin Kaepernick, President Donald Trump, and the protests by professional athletes to raise awareness about police brutality and race relations.  Below are three short essays from PCS students, as they reflect on the news and how it impacts their own studies as critical scholars of sport.

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The Guardian: “Expensive academic conferences give us old ideas and no new faces”

In their recent article for The GuardianJulian Kircherr and Asit Biswas posit the important point that the costs of attending contemporary academic conferences have dramatically increased, to the detriment and exclusion of early-career researchers.  Many researchers “who manage to attend academic conferences,” Kircherr and Biswas write, “expect many benefits. They hope to find their next collaborators. They hope to broaden their horizons to develop new research ideas.”  The author’s experiences, however, suggest otherwise: “…conferences usually do not deliver on these promises. There are always the same old faces, with a few more wrinkles every year, using obfuscating jargon to present the same old stuff.”

In the article, Kircherr and Biswas raise important, fascinating points about the politics of the academic conference industry and the struggles early-career researchers endure in their attempts to enter various fields of inquiry.  You can read their full article here.

New Podcast Episode – History of Physical Culture in Suburbia

A new episode has just been posted by Somatic Podcast, the ongoing digital audio and critical sport studies project founded by Physical Cultural Studies alumnus Dr. Oliver Rick of Springfield College and current PhD candidate Sam Clevenger.  In this episode, Dr. Rick explores the history of American suburbia and the relation of physical activity spaces to the development of suburban communities.  He talks suburbanization history with lauded American historian Dr. Andrew Wiese, author of the award-winning 2004 book Places of Their Own: African American Suburbanization in the Twentieth Century.  He also talks in the episode with local residents of the suburban community of Lexington, Massachusetts, discussing how residents have worked to preserve green and physically active spaces within the community.

You can listen to the episode via the Soundcloud link below, or on Somatic Podcast’s website.

Femininity: Measuring Up

– By Sunny Zhang

Sunny Zhang is a Ph.D. student in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

My parents did not love me less because I was a girl.  I was eight years old when I learned taking off my shirt in a martial arts class was inappropriate for a girl. It wasn’t until then that I paid attention to the gender comportments.  When I was nine, my mom finally overruled my dad, who always liked to keep my hair short, saying I should have long hair because I’m a girl.  When I was 11, on the Henan wushu professional team, I started to accept that boys were stronger than girls and that it was okay for boys to be better than me.  Even in my early twenties, trying to pursue my academic dreams, my mom attempted to dissuade me from applying to Master’s and Ph.D. programs because I was a girl. She cited a litterateur from 400 years ago who said, “Not having too much knowledge is the virtue of women.”  These behaviors, derived from gender differences, do not originate from the anatomy but are the cultural constructions of a society.

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Pain: A Chaos Narrative

– By Eric A. Stone

Eric Stone is a Ph.D. student in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Pain has an element of blank;

It cannot recollect

When it began, or if there were

A day when it was not.


It has no future but itself,

Its infinite realms contain

Its past, enlightened to perceive

New Periods of pain.

-Emily Dickinson

The way in which we understand pain, as a species, is a process of learning. As Arthur Frank writes about illness, so too is pain “about learning to live with lost control” (1995, p. 30). We shudder at the thought of lost control; we abhor it. To lose control is to lose one’s ability to function in society. If we cannot exercise control over ourselves, we are unwelcome. Some illnesses and injuries, of course, are easier to conceal, to control, than others. Society expects us to hide our flaws, our imperfections, and we can often acquiesce to these unreasonable expectations. But we stare, we gawk, we notice when bodily control is lost. We treat those who have lost this control differently, because they have lost what we see as one of the defining characteristics of humanity, what separates us from animals: our ability to walk upright on two legs. “When adult bodies lose control, they are expected to attempt to regain it if possible, and if not then at least to conceal the loss as effectively as possible” (Frank, 1995, p. 31). It is silently, tacitly understood that those bound to a life without the use of their legs are deserving of one thing, pity. We immediately think about the loss of this mobility, this loss of humanity. In my case, this loss of mobility has defined who I am. This is my ethnography of pain, my embodied journey with the constant companion that has invisibly shaped my life.

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A Picture Says a Thousand Words? How Images in Popular Media Reinforce the Cartesian Dualism

– By Julie Brice

Julie Brice is an M.A. student in Physical Cultural Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

A couple of weeks ago, the live action version of Beauty and the Beast was released in theaters with leading actress Emma Watson playing the iconic character of Belle. However, this film differs slightly from the original 1991 version and now features a more feminist-inspired Belle who invents a washing machine so she can spend more time reading and also teach little girls in the village to read (Furness, 2016). Much of this change in the storyline has been credited to Watson, a well-known feminist who has spoken multiple times at the UN for gender equality and has her own feminist book club. However, recently Watson has been in the news not for the movie, not for her political beliefs, but because she posed semi-nude for a Vanity Fair photo shoot (Wilson, 2017), resulting in an abundance of headlines questioning her feminist beliefs (CNN, n.d.; Moraski, 2017; Reuters, 2017; Vagianos, 2017; Wilson, 2017). Many came to Watson’s defense, including legendary feminist Gloria Steinem who said in response to the critique, “Feminists can wear anything they fucking want” (Vagianos, 2017). Although I completely admire and agree with both Watson and Steinem, I still found myself and continue to find myself upset about the image, as well as with other images of women posing in more revealing clothing. There are many reasons why I am bothered by the image, but for the purposes of this post I want to turn to body studies and the concept of “thinking through the body” (Blackman, 2008).

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