Chapter

Active Womanhood and the Science of Sex Differences, 1890s–1940s

Martha H. Verbrugge

in Active Bodies

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780195168792
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199949649 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195168792.003.0002
Active Womanhood and the Science of Sex Differences, 1890s–1940s

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Chapter 2 examines how female physical educators (primarily white teachers) conceptualized active womanhood: How did female bodies resemble and/or differ from male anatomy, physiology, and physical aptitude? Were women’s and men’s psychosocial traits similar and/or divergent? What did sex differences imply for female exercise, recreation, and sports? Answering these questions proved difficult as American notions of fitness and femininity changed, scientific debates over human differences intensified, and professional physical educators sought social legitimacy between the 1890s and 1940s. White gym teachers fashioned complicated views that sustained the value of their profession, affirmed bourgeois whiteness and heterosexual femininity, justified both sex segregation and gender equity in the gym, and left room for new ideas about active womanhood.

Keywords: white physical educators; physical sex differences; psychosocial sex differences; nature/nurture debate; sex segregation; gender equity; femininity; heterosexuality

Chapter.  6397 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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