Friendships Worth Fighting for: Emotional Bonds between Women and Men Karate Athletes as Sites for Deconstructing Gender Inequality

Sport is argued to be one of the few remaining ‘male domains’ and as such a key arena for constructing masculine identity and reproducing ideas of men’s (hierarchical) distinction from women (Connell, 1990; 2011). It is also recognised and enjoyed as a field founded on generating, encouraging, and amplifying emotions (Elias and Dunning, 1986). As a shared emotional (yet ‘masculine’) experience, sport lays the grounds for building close, intimate, friendships which, in men’s single-sex sport practice, are suggested to be underpinned by sharing sexist ideology (Curry, 1991; Anderson, 2008). Karate is a sport utilising kicks, punches and throws, with intensified emotional excitement due to its close-spaced, fast paced, sweaty body-to-body practice. Within this arena men and women train together, spar together, hurt together, laugh together, contend directly with one-another for sporting capital, and build close emotional friendships. How do such friendships impact upon ideas of difference between women and men, and the (sexualised) subordination of women? Drawing on the sociology of intimacy literature, this paper argues that sex-integrated karate practice not only challenges expectations/interpretations of women’s bodies (Anderson, 2008; Channon and Jennings, 2013; Guérandel and Mennesson, 2007), but can also situate women and men within supportive, mutually respectful, cherished relationships which further pull into question the expected sexualised – and thus unequal – relations between women and men in society (Jamieson, 1997).

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