Examining women's experiences of sport participation and (dis)empowerment




Lim, So Youn

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Sport has demonstrated the capacity to generate positive personal change for girls and women (e.g., Blinde, Taub, & Han, 2001; Brandy, 2005). While it is suggested that women’s participation in sport can empower them and provide a safe place for them to be themselves, sport experiences can also reinforce the traditional gender roles and expectations and make women feel powerless (e.g., Brace-Govan, 2004; Wheaton & Tomlinson, 1998). The inconsistency of outcomes from women’s sport experiences suggests that sport does not automatically result in positive outcomes (Chalip, 2006; Green, 2008). Therefore, this study utilizes Zimmerman’s framework of Psychological Empowerment, empowerment at the individual level of analysis (Zimmerman, 1995), to explore the sport experiences of women and the empowerment processes and outcomes associated with those experiences. By utilizing the framework, this study aimed to examine how sport experiences affected female participants’ daily lives across different life domains and to identify which attributes of these sport experiences facilitated women’s empowerment or disempowerment. To understand how sport experiences relevant to empowerment, this study utilized an interpretive approach. Twenty three Korean female sport participants were interviewed in-depth using a semi-structured interview technique with probing. The interviewees were asked about their backgrounds of sport participation and then described their sport experiences that they think have strengthened and weakened their capabilities. As results, nearly all the components and elements of the framework were indicated in the interview data. Both empowering and disempowering outcomes and sport elements associated with the outcomes were identified. Some of the women’s empowerment was limited to the sport context, while others infiltrated other life domains such as at work, school, or home. The findings in this study suggest to re-think the conceptualization and boundary condition of Zimmerman’s empowerment framework by proposing two concepts of individual-level empowerment: self empowerment and action empowerment.



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