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In this non-fiction book, sports journalist Anna Kessel investigates the role and treatment of women in (mainly) competitive sport. I’m going to be honest and say that this was not entirely what I expected; the sub-title ‘How Sport Can Change Our Lives’ led me to think that this would be a study of how sport or exercise can make us feel good, give us confidence and improve our health and fitness. As someone who partakes in a lot of high intensity, but non-competitive exercise, this really appealed to me.

However, the book is actually a feminist study of how women have been treated in the world of competitive and professional sport throughout history and right up until the present day. Despite being not what I thought it was going to be, for the most part this was an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. I liked that it talked about how exercise in general for women is generally only promoted in popular media in terms of how it can improve our looks and our sex lives. (I was looking at the cover of a so-called health magazine aimed at women recently, and almost every headline was talking about how to get sexy legs, or washboard abs, how to have better sex etc – instead of focussing on the health benefits. This is something that I feel particularly strongly about.) It also talked about the issues that girls suffer in PE at school – if you are not naturally athletic for instance, you are generally written off from day one. At least this is how it has been for many young girls, although I am certain it is the same for boys too.

The book is very clearly well researched, with interviews with several sporting personalities or women working in sport, and Kessel underlines some of the discrimination that women are subject to in sport – it amazes me that in 2007, there was such a huge furore about a woman commentating on Match of the Day! What century are we living in for goodness sake?!

However, a lot of the book focussed on aspects that didn’t interest me so much – obviously this is a very subjective opinion, but I have zero interest in football, whether it is played by men or women, and so I did struggle to keep my attention for the parts of the book dedicated to the passion of football fans.

I also would have liked more about exercise in general, not necessarily competitive or professional sport, and an exploration about how we should be exercising for health and well-being, rather than to get the perfect beach body, would have been very interesting.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in sport and/or feminism. I liked Kessel’s engaging and conversational writing style and will keep an eye open for more work by her in the future.

 

 

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