Evans, A.B., Allen-Collinson, J.
From ‘just a swimmer’ to a ‘swimming mother’: women’s embodied experiences of recreational aquatic activity with pre-school children
(2016) Leisure Studies, 35 (2), pp. 141-156.
Increased academic attention on the gendering of leisure pastimes in recent years has highlighted the centrality of the gendered body in influencing how leisure is accessed, experienced and transformed. To date, however, little attention has been paid to how women experience aquatic leisure activity, the second most popular form of leisure activity in the UK, and where female participation predominates. This paper presents results from research investigating the aquatic leisure experiences of 22 women, with children aged under 3, in the North-East of England. A number of key themes emerged from the data, which highlighted the centrality of the gendered, lived body as a key social construct contouring participant perceptions in the swimming pool environment. Women reflected upon their self-perceived physical deficiencies when wearing revealing swimming costumes, particularly under the critical gaze of ‘other’ bodies, whether present or imagined. The co-presence of other bodies was also central in shaping lived experiences, and the presence of ‘dependent’ children’s bodies shifted bodily intentionality away from the self towards perceived maternal responsibilities and the management of perceived risks, including ‘dirt’ and ‘germs’ and the negotiation of the tacit rules of the swimming pool. Results also suggest that the emphasis on maternal responsibility in aquatic leisure activity and timing of parent-toddler sessions could lead to reproduction of gender inequalities and the exclusion of some fathers from participation.
aquatic activity; embodiment; Foucault; gender; leisure; sociology