Rolling While Female: The Experiences of Token Women Who Play Wheelchair Rugby



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People with disabilities represent the largest minority group in the world, yet they remain underrepresented in the sporting arena. Many social, structural, and physical barriers still exist that keep women with disabilities from leading full, healthy lives. Wheelchair rugby is a co-ed adaptive sport predominantly played by men. It is known for its hypermasculine culture. My research is the first to study women who play wheelchair rugby. Specifically, I examine how wheelchair rugby shapes women’s self-concept in a majority able-bodied world. I also examine how these women navigate and negotiate the ultra aggressive and masculine environment of wheelchair rugby. In-depth qualitative interviews with 19 female wheelchair rugby players, informal interviews with members of the wheelchair rugby community, and observations at wheelchair rugby events reveal that women who play wheelchair rugby use a variety of strategies to navigate a boys’ club. These include: acceptance of the status quo, enjoyment of their token status, participation in the majority culture, behavior policing, and resistance of the culture. My data also reveal that despite struggles with their appearance and presentation of self, women’s participation in wheelchair rugby results in increased self-confidence and feelings of normalcy. I examine the implication of these findings for creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment for women with disabilities, and make specific recommendations about how to grow and diversify the sport.



Disability, Gender