The modern conception of organized, codified sport originated in Europe during the 19th century. At this time, instructors began to institute the practice of certain physical activities at school as a means of teaching morals, forming character, and initiating social exchange. Sport is particularly appropriate for forming men because of its public, physical nature. The values it instills—courage, strength, leadership—are also decidedly masculine. What, then, is made of the female athlete? Are the noble qualities that sports affirm inapplicable to women? In this thesis, I argue that female participation in sports often leads to masculinization, unless the sport is transformed into a type of “art” or otherwise feminized by focusing on its ability to enhance feminine roles (e.g. mother). This aestheticization/feminization renders female participation acceptable and allows women to receive their own “formation,” increase their aristocratic elegance, and participate in important social exchange. Sometimes these results come at a cost, such as marginalization or sexualization, but there are far fewer examples of such in the works of female authors. Society generally renounced physicality during the 17th and 18th centuries, and “sport” was an exclusively noble activity, so I will look predominantly at works from the 19th century—the period in which sport became codified, and consequently, “masculinized.” Because the 19th century is often considered a “Renaissance of the Renaissance,” I will also reference the 16th century to set the stage.



College and Department

Humanities; French and Italian



Date Submitted


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France, female, gender, sport, 19th century