Generating female freedom among women's relationships in rugby union : narratives of sexual difference
Women's rugby relationships are generally analysed from the point of view of men's rugby, otherwise they are overlooked, or treated as incidental. By contrast, the overall aim of this study is to make sense of women's rugby experiences and relations to rugby as a sport in terms of the feminine friendship relationships they forge and develop through on-field play and the informal culture surrounding the game. This research was conducted and written from the perspective of an active participant as both observer and "research subject". Within the framework of Italian sexual difference thought, it is a dialogue between the main concepts which ground this thought and data concerning women's rugby experiences as gathered from my recollection of personal experiences; participant observation in one team in Barcelona and two in London; twelve conversational interviews with my best rugby friends from Barcelona and London; as well as innumerable informal conversations with friends and other rugby women. I have chosen sexual difference theory to make sense of women's rugby relationships because it allows me to approach women's experiences in rugby from the premise that women are not required to imitate or reverse men's rugby meanings in order to make sense of their experiences. This theory derives from Irigaray's premise that women and men are two irreducible subjects. Thus, this study challenges the existence of a neutral or abstract human being. In short, one of the central aims of this research is to challenge the belief that men's rugby experiences are neutral and abstract and, therefore, can be unproblematically applied to women's rugby. The premise that underpins this investigation is a belief in women's rugby experiences as both illustrative and creative extensions, through on-field play and off-field friendships, of the biological, historical and socially interwoven specificity of women's relationships. Thus, another purpose of this study is to engage the reader with the world of women's rugby and at the same time to delve into the analysis of the significant consequences engendered by women's intense relationships in rugby. The ultimate goal of this project is to show how meaningful relationships in women's rugby can strengthen women's beliefs in themselves and dissolve the doubts that women have about their specific ways of perceiving, organizing and "wording" the world (Richardson, 1996). This research is devoted to strengthening and supporting the concept of female existence as original in itself and capable of taking symbolic form. This research also explores the possibilities that alternative ways of writing about women's rugby experiences and relationships offer to sport feminists' sociology. For this reason, throughout the data chapters I have combined sexual difference theoretical concepts with creative non-fiction narratives of women's rugby relationships and experiences. This means that, inspired by my own experiences, recollections and conversational interviews with other rugby women about their experiences, I have created stories that interweave my subjectivity as a rugby player and as a listener with the experiences of others as narrated to me.