An Exploration of the Gendered Culture of Mountain Biking in Nova Scotia
Inclusiveness and safety are two key values recognized by Canadian Sport Policy to be the foundation of participation in sport. Despite these values, inequitable participation and risk-taking practices are attributed to the masculinization of mainstream sport. Less is known about the culture of alternative sports, and more specifically the sport of mountain biking and the gendered practices of mountain bikers. Using the qualitative methodology of hermeneutic interpretive phenomenology, this study explored the experience and practices of four women and four men mountain bikers in Nova Scotia, Canada to better understand the complex gendered culture of this sport. Data revealed that a masculine gender hierarchy with hegemonic masculinity being the most valorized ideal was the prominent gender order in this heterogeneous sport community. Participant narratives highlight practices that create and perpetuate patriarchal gender relations that contribute to the privileging and marginalizing of some participants, while also putting others at risk of injury. In contrast to such practices, some participants engaged in practices that challenged hegemonic masculinity. These alternative practices of masculinity allowed for inclusivity with the establishment of multiple styles of mountain biking and the creation of women-only and family-oriented spaces. These developments resulted in the culture of mountain biking becoming fragmented into subcultures. The gendered practices of each subculture can be placed along a continuum with highly competitive participants actively demonstrating hegemonic masculinity being at one extreme. At the other extreme are participants who are developing a welcoming, connected, non-competitive community and practicing alternative versions of masculinity. Specific mountain biking contexts are associated with practices that either maintain or challenge the masculine gender hierarchy and provide insight into the gendered culture of the sport and more specifically, the role of competition. The ideology of competition as conquest characterized hegemonic masculinity and perpetuated the masculinized culture of mountain biking. In contrast, the concept of flow was highlighted as an intrinsic performance that transcended the performance of gender. Findings led to recommendations on how sport providers can implement healthier conceptions of competition to maximize the enjoyment, participation and safety of sport through the achievement of flow as the optimal experience in sport.