Balancing Acts: Women in Sport - Essays on Power, Performance, Bodies and Love

Justin Wolfers & Erin Riley (eds)

Balancing Acts: Women in Sport - Essays on Power, Performance, Bodies and Love
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Balancing Acts: Women in Sport - Essays on Power, Performance, Bodies and Love

Justin Wolfers & Erin Riley (eds)

Focusing on a critically underrepresented part of Australian culture (the many ways non-male participants in sport negotiate the traditionally male spectacle of athleticism) this accessible and inclusive collection investigates the way sporting bodies and achievements are portrayed in Australian media and daily life.

The book understands the term ‘sport' in the widest possible sense, and applies the definition of ‘women' in the same broad way to include trans, gender diverse, non-binary, intersex, and otherwise non-cis women. Several essays are also written from and/or about queer, gay, and bisexual women.

Essays examine the way women athletes' experience are marginalised and under-reported, and attempt to de-centre the status quo of sports writing and commentary as currently dominated by male perspectives and expertise.


A collection of 21 essays on women and sport, Balancing Acts runs the gamut from historically focused essay on the reception of women playing AFL, to a text-message story of a an amateur soccer team, to an interview with poet Fay Zwicky (shortly before her death) on the ways in which sport is like poetry.

In the very clever ‘Australia is Open: to Hold! to Receive! to Take!’, Ellen van Neerven gathers her restlessness at not sleeping, at being away during the Australian Open tennis, and at being an Indigenous woman on Australia Day into an assessment of her bodily experience of tennis and racism.

‘Becoming-Object, OR: Body as Body of Work’ starts as a journal entry about getting a callback for a role in Battle of the Sexes and morphs into an interrogation of the parallel physical processes of becoming an actor and an athlete.

The bone-deep weariness of the athlete is beautifully captured in an essay on chess and emotional lifting, ‘Fuck you, Bobby Fischer’, which also asks the question of what is possible for women, who like almost all men, are not the elite of their sport.

If sport is power, performance, bodies, and love, then women’s interactions with and in sport are contested at each turn. The power of the trained athlete is pitted against the power of the patriarchy to deny its space. Sport is, on an individual level, a relationship to one’s own body; in the balancing act between women and sport, that relationship is forever being appropriated.

A collection of essays on women and sport is a collection of essays on women and life. This is a well-conceived and welcome collection that in its breadth and scope gives a hint of a vast body of work we have not yet seen or considered. Sort of like women and sport.

Marie Matteson is a book buyer at Readings Carlton.

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