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Advances in Applied Sociology
2013. Vol.3, No.5, 222-229
Published Online September 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/aasoci) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/aasoci.2013.35030
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 222
Socio-Cultural Constraints of Female Sportsmanship in the
Tunisian Society: A Category of Analysis
Samira Welhez i 1, Makram Zghibi2, Najmeddi ne Oues l e t i3, Chamseddi ne Guinoubi4,
Najwa Jerbi1, Mohamed Jabr i 1
1Higher Institute of Sports an d Physical Education, Kef, Tunisia
2LASELDI (Laboratoire de Sémiolinguistique, Didactique, Informatique),
University of Franche-Comté, Besançon, France
3Higher Institute of Education and Training Contained, Tunis, Tunisia
4Research Laboratory, “Sports Performance Optimization” National Center of Medicine
and Science in Sports (CNMSS), Tunis, Tunis i a
Received April 22nd, 2013; revised May 22nd, 2013; accepted May 30th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Samira Welhezi et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
This study focuses on the socio-cultural constraints in women’s access to the practice of competitive sport.
Through a sociological approach, we explore the field of lived experiences from a population of twenty
young Tunisian women practicing competitive sports. We have chosen this work for the qualitative
method through semi-structured interview. The main objective of the research is to determine the socio-
cultural constraints to women’s access to sports based on their past lived experiences in the field of sports.
It comes to understand the challenges related to the issue of gender as to the sportsmanship of women in
the Tunisian society. The patriarchal ideology deeply internalized by ancient traditions, is an indirect con-
straint that prevents access to sports by Tunisian women because it is a male issue. Stereo-types and
prejudices are a source of social resistance that leads to the exclusion of women from the sporting scene
indirectly and implicitly. The education received by the Tunisian girl justifies the social hierarchy be-
tween the sexes. They are under enormous pressure to respect the family traditions that are conflicting
with the nature of sports. The female body is dependent to constraints imposed by the social environment.
Its image is a constraint to the sportsmanship of women. The results show that gender allows us to ana-
lyze the social and cultural barriers to women’s sports.
Keywords: Sport; Body; Gender; Women
As a pioneer in the emancipation of women in the Arab-
Muslim world, Tunisia has provided woman of all rights of
participation in the workforce. In sporting field, the mobiliza-
tion for greater participation of women is reflected in policy
choices aimed to give the women’s sport favors, structural and
financial supports. The access of women to any field of active
life is often connected to grade level and to the degree of her
accession to education and to teaching, which is fully vested for
women in Tunisia. But this seems to have no immediate impact
on the rate of licensee girls in the field of sports. In fact, despite
a quantitative increase, the participation of women in the sports
sector is still undersized compared to that of men.
The objective of this work is to study the impact of “gender”
on women’s access to the sporting field. We interviewed a po-
pulation of girls practicing a competitive sport. The interviews
allowed us to elucidate the different gender constraints that
hinder women’s sports career. The results enabled us to identify
the socio-cultural barriers to women’s access to the sporting
sphere in Tunisia and to determine the impact of gender on
their withdrawal from this field.
Access of Tunisian Women to Sporting Field
Social studies admit that throughout the world, the evolution
of men and women is not the same and that they follow differ-
ent ways in their access to the labor process. In Tunisia, socio-
logical research published since the 60s has shown the impor-
tance of the changes that the society has witnessed for half a
century. These changes enhance the participation of women in
social life due to their integration into Education and their
breakthrough in the field of wage labor. What is more, the
various reforms aiming to improve women’s conditions have
contributed to establish certain equality between the sexes,
especially in terms of equality of opportunities and treatment in
the fields of employment and pay. Similarly to all areas of so-
cial life, access of Tunisian women in sports sector is late com-
pared to men on the one hand, and in relation to their access to
other areas of social life, on the other.
Indeed, the literature review shows, based on sociological
and historical writings, that it is the case for all the countries of
the world with a time difference for those of the third-world.
Sports sociologists speak of “construction and representation of
gender differences in and through sport (Terret & Zancarani,
S. WELHEZI ET AL.
2006). Thus, it would be important to take into account the
socio-cultural characteristics of every people.
In Tunisia, it is no longer a clearly expressed prohibition of
women from sporting activities, but the same religious, cultural
and social barriers persist in hampering women from access to
competitive sport. We far from believe, as before, that the spe-
cific biological and physiological structure of women does not
allow them to engage in physical activity, but the female body
still consists a psychological barrier for women as well as for
men. This is what explains the reluctance or even refusal of the
family to women’s sport especially competitive sport. Indeed,
the woman continues to undergo enormous family pressures in
order to respect the tradition based on a sense of community,
patriarchy, subjugation of women to men and male honor based
on the control of female sexuality (Tillon, 1974).
These values are inconsistent with the principles of sport
based on freedom of the body and mind opening. As a result,
the practice of competitive physical and sports activities by
women did not reach the goals and objectives assigned to it.
This is often explained by the dominant mentality which has
not, according to the findings of social studies, changed much
when it comes to women’s sport unlike other areas of working
life such as Education, health, scientific research and digital
Sport Is a Political Choice
In Tunisia, where the modern state was declared, at dawn of
independence, as the only agent of change and modernization
of traditional social structures, sport was one of the major new
institutions on which a national identity was built focusing on
the rationalization, modernity and openness to the outside.
Since then, it continues to be one of the main channels of trans-
mission and spread of political message (Abbassi, 2007). This
is one of the major social phenomena of our century. Sociology
has the worst difficulty grasping this item, or better building it
(Vaugrand, 1999). However, national and international sporting
achievements have served during the first period of independ-
ence (1956-1987) to remind Tunisians of their unity and their
new identity. Access of women to the sporting field is often
presented as the result of a great effort undergone by the state in
the promotion of women in general. Political discourse contin-
ues every so often to remind the world of the achievements of
Tunisian women under its regime and their achievements in
various sectors, including sport. The presence of women in
different sporting disciplines has been declared as a strategic
choice of political change in Tunisia.
The interest paid by the state to women’s sports has resulted
in several incentives decided in their favor. These measures
ensured an effective presence of women in the sporting field.
The number of licensees has increased outstandingly. However,
the number of federal members in sports organizations is very
unevenly distributed among men, who account for 91% and
women who occupy only 9% of all federal jobs. The process of
women’s access to the sport sector has been studied relatively
little and tardy. Consequently, not so often in literature. Espe-
cially if we compare with women’s access to the world of in-
dustrial work, an area where female labor has been the subject
of many sociological, economic and cultural analyses as the
feminization of this field was associated with rationalization
strategies of labor.
Thus, the access of women to the labor world was subject to
a requirement of this market dictated by the general context, yet,
the access of women to the field of sport has long been seen as
a kind of exhibitionism. This mentality is based on two main
reasons: first the anatomical argument, i.e. the female body
could not withstand the endurance, and secondly considering
the fact that the main function of the woman was procreation.
Added to that the social and moral argument which stipulates
that the woman has a place to keep in her home.
Sports and the Marital Status of Women
Motivated by the search for a complete emancipation and
also for social recognition, Tunisian women have begun to
integrate the sports world despite their family responsibilities
inherent to their marital status. Thus they defy the whole arse-
nal of socio-cultural constraints that weighed and are still
weighing on them. There is indeed a close relationship between
the education of the Tunisian woman who climbed the ladder to
the highest educational levels and her access to the sporting
field, an access that should not exceed the limits of religious
consents (Weber, 1993). Furthermore, the qualification of wo-
men to enter the professional field and especially socially val-
ued professions which were for a long time reserved for men,
was for much to the access of the woman to the sporting field.
This is what raises the issue of equality between the sexes. This
claims for equality quickly embraced the sport sector. The ex-
pectations of women have changed subsequently. Despite the
statistically visible changes in the sphere of sport, asymmetries
persist. As an experimental social field, the sports world is the
product of regulated and controlled activities by actors who are
positioned to each other. These actors are carriers of different
experiences and thus inevitably different representations re-
garding the same social reality. The multiplicity of perceptions
of a social reality is an important phenomenon to grasp in so far
as it is based on these perceptions and much less on an objec-
tive reality that the social actor is often led to act, to react, to
behave and make choices.
These perceptions have real practical consequences on the
logic of action of social actors. It is from this perspective that
we tried to understand the mechanisms underlying these per-
ceptions which primarily have influence on the relations be-
tween men and women in the field of sports.
Choosing to study the field of sport in general and women’s
sports in particular, does not mean to specifically study the pro-
cess of feminization of the field but rather to analyze the con-
straints faced by women in their adventure to enter within this
area which remains highly gendered. Because the image of
sport is masculine, feminization appears as a process, the forms
and meanings of which differ according to time and space.
Indeed, the evolution of gender inequality cannot be analyzed
in the same way as the social spheres in which they occur. It
would be important to note that with the accession of women in
the sport sector, the differentiation between sports practices of
men and women has faded, but did not disappear completely,
There is always some form of segregation sometimes indirect
and unconscious. The socially inferior position of women in
modern societies is at the origin of the issue of gender-related
differences. At the scientific agenda, it is registered as a prob-
lem serving for analyzing this position and for collecting data to
highlight a kind of “silence” by the social sciences. It was con-
sidered that the feminization of sporting activities can be
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 223
S. WELHEZI ET AL.
thought of apart from the rest of society. The long exclusion of
women from sport sector was not considered as one of the fac-
ets of a social system that traditionally built both sexes not only
in opposed but also hierarchical groups.
The Body Image of Women and Sports: A
Relationship of Opposition
In the Tunisian society, the social dynamics begins in the
family where relationships are formed and dissolved. This is
“the place for the exercise of the personalized power of pater-
familias” (Chekir, 2000). According to Bouhdiba family pro-
vides “multiple procreative, educational, socializing, productive,
aesthetic, magical, religious and other functions” (Bouhdiba,
1995). The traditional Tunisian family is essentially a patriar-
chal family where the father has the authority to organize and
protect. In this family structure where everything works by hie-
rarchical authority, women are in one way or another subject to
the requirements imposed by its role as mother and mistress of
the house. Girls are educated and prepared to this role from
their young age. Consequently they go from the father to the
husband’s authority. The point of view of society on the female
body depends on the place of women in this society and the
roles assigned to them. Le Breton assumed that “representations
of the body and knowledge attained depend on a social status, a
cultural reality, a vision of the world and amongst the latter a
definition of the person” (Le Breton, 1990). The representations
that the Tunisian woman depicts of her body are influenced by
everything she has suffered throughout her life, traditional val-
ues based on the idea of chastity, the rules of good behavior for
a girl, virginity and the separation of sexes. Now mixing sexes
is prevalent in all areas and across the country. This probably
reflects new social attitudes towards women and their bodies.
These attitudes are tempered by some significant censorship of
an image of the body still more or less dependent on annoying
and frustrating traditional values and norms. The Tunisian fam-
ily is mostly concerned by a challenging achievement, how it
could be to educate a girl who would be both qualified and
virgin. It follows that the question of the liberation of the fe-
male body and her re possession of a dimension of her being
still dominated by male power.
It is certain that if women’s sport is a matter of ongoing de-
bate, it is because this practice passes through the body, about
which the sexual connotation comes before any other. The
woman remains for the man a body and a sexual partner. This
body reminds always and unconsciously the most dangerous sin
man has committed the one that took him out of heaven and
whose motive is sexual desire caused by the female body.
Socio-cultural changes, important as they are, have not altered
so much the vision of men over women, concerning her body.
This is can be explained by the education based on gender
discrimination which made of the female body a matter arous-
ing the un extinguished male curiosity. Women’s sport ex-pre-
sses a search for equality between the sexes which logically
leads to the promotion of common corporeality and body styles
turned more towards androgyny (Saint-Martin & Terret, 2005).
Being aware of this attitude, women behave bearing this in
mind. The foundations upon which the image of the female
body is drawn in Tunisian society are based on an Arab-Mus-
lim culture which makes of it an almost sacred object which
must be neither disclosed nor deliberately moved. Yet, Sport, is
based on the free movement of the body. This made, inevitably,
the women’s sport more than problematic. Sports practices and
women have always been a topic of debate. It is the body of the
woman who lies behind the various forms of rejection of
women’s sport. What is certain is that the body says the society.
It is, as defined by Michel de Certeau, “a model of intelligibil-
ity, understanding, and each society has its body as it has its
language” (De Certeau, 1982). It is through the body that social
practices are constructed. They reflect the religious and cultural
references that lead the bodily practices and decide their image
and perception. Thus, despite the impact of the opening on the
Western culture, Tunisian society draws its main bases on the
body image derived from the Islamic religion which makes of
the subject a taboo. Anyway, the theme of the body in itself is a
very rich research theme that can be treated under many angles,
both diverse and complementary. The body and sport are
closely related especially when it comes to women’s sport. The
female body is the link to the redefinition of the relationship
between men and women and the two-sex model (Lacqueur,
Constraints in the Access of Women to the
The actual study explores the lived experiences from twenty
young Tunisian women practicing a competitive sport. Its em-
pirical objective is to determine socio cultural constraints in
access of women to the physical practice based on the past
experiences of these women in the sports field. Remind that the
sample of a qualitative interview method is generally smaller
than a quantitative questionnaire method size. Because the in-
formation gathered by maintenance are validated by the context
and not by their probability of occurrence, given by information
service may have a weight of information repeated several
times in the questionnaires (Kaufman, 1996).
Thus, we interviewed 20 women in competitive sports. In
this type of survey, t he researcher may stop when it reaches the
so-called “saturation point”—in other words, when the data
collected made redundant from a number of interviews. This
helped us to definitively determine the sample size
The Gender Approach: Class Analysis of Women’s
Sport in Tunisia
The gender approach implies that we have to deal with issues
concerning women by taking into account the differences be-
tween the biological specificities of men and women and their
impact on the distribution of social roles between the sexes. It
aims to understand the balance of power between men and
women and how to intervene in case of injustice (Togo, 2003).
The “gender” approach assumes, therefore, that we have to con-
sider the different opportunities afforded for men and women,
the roles socially assigned to them and the relation-ships be-
tween them. Sport is a social and cultural phenomenon in which
social constructions of masculinity and femininity play a key
role because we traditionally combine sports and sporting ac-
tivities with the concept of “manhood”.
The first sociological studies dealt with the theme of wo-
men’s sports from the point of view of analysis rather than from
a psychological angle and hardly dealt with the balance of
power in the relationships between the sexes. They focused
mainly on the attitudes of the family or school to athletic wo-
men (Hall, 1972). They were particularly interested in the per-
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s .
S. WELHEZI ET AL.
sonality traits of female athletes by focusing on women’s moti-
vations to invest in the sport. D. Harris speaks of the theory of
sex roles on which she relies in arguing that if there were few
women disposed to engage in sports, it is because they lived a
conflict between their role as athletes and that of wife and
mother. Meanwhile, the socialization theory raised the hy-
pothesis of the dominant influence of mothers in the socializa-
tion of their daughters to explain the low participation in sports
of the latter. These studies have all joined in considering that
women and sports are two incompatible things (Oglesby, 1984)
and called for a radical loading of sports organizations (Thomp-
For Nancy Thegerge the myth of physical frailty of women
would be at the foundation of the institutionalization of gender
differentiation in contemporary sport (Thegerge, 1989). Thus,
the sport helps in the reproduction of gender inequality in soci-
ety through a subtle ideological extension of the physical supe-
riority of men to social superiority.
Starting from the 90s, feminist studies have dominated soci-
ology of sport. They recorded an abundance of studies on gen-
der relations and the role of sport in the construction of gender
relations in society (Laberge, 2004). The works of Foucault
have exercised and continue to exercise a strong influence on
feminist studies in the field of physical activity and sport. In
fact, the particular social dynamics engendered by the growing
presence of women makes of sport an affluent field for the
study of the construction of gender identities as well as the
analysis of the dynamic transformation in the balance of power
in the relations in society.
The results of these studies show that the particular dynamics
of social relations based on gender varies considerably accord-
ing to the social, institutional, historical and spatial context.
Finally post-modern inspired works have led to the recognition
of sport as a cultural form with multiple meanings. Thus, gen-
der is not a binary category and social identity is not a fixed
Research Questions and Methodological Framew ork
We need first to define the fundamental problem upon which
the research is based and to determine the methodological
framework in which it operates. The basic problem of the in-
vestigation raises the following question: if the Tunisian legis-
lation opens before the woman all active areas of social life,
then what are the constraints to access of women to the field of
sports? It is then a question of understanding the nature of the
difficulties of women’s sports activities in an Arab Muslim
To answer this question, two theories are developed to try to
identify the obstacles that reside behind the removal of Tuni-
sian women from the sport sphere. They are based on a basic
assumption that the education received by the Tunisian girl
produced a social and individual identity impacted by persistent
The study sample consists of 20 girls aged between 18 and
25 years. They all a competitive sport and belong to different
social classes. Our survey on wome n’s sport in Tunisia is based
on a qualitative approach, through semi-structured interviews.
Before starting the actual survey, an ahead exploratory phase
has allowed us to better know the world of sport in general and
women’s sports in particular. This is an inductive approach that
consists in using empirical data to gradually construct the ob-
ject of research along with the data collection. This step, guided
by an inductive approach that does not consider the field as an
occasion of certification but rather the starting point of this line
of questioning (Najar & Kerrou, 2007), allowed us to collect
general information about the research topic. It is based on
exploratory interviews made up of a limited number of ques-
The survey’s main objective is to understand “the sport phe-
nomenon” as a social construct. It aims therefore at making
women and girls talk about their experiences and produce an
“in situ” speech in order to analyze the reality of athletic
woman in her field. This speech was made up from a series of
semi-structured interviews. The methodological approach adop-
ted in the interview is based on a type of interview very close to
the comprehensive interview as defined by Jean-Claude Kauf-
man (Kaufman, 1996). This technique gives a certain freedom
for both the researcher and the interviewee. It allows the first to
take into account the specificity of each case studied, without
being out of the research topic. It allows the second to engage
in a dynamic conversation that allows her the freedom to go
beyond the plain answer to the questions of the inter-viewer.
Bearing this logic in mind, the interview guide is far from
being considered as a mold composed of standardized questions
that must be asked to all interviewees in the same way and in
the same order. It is instead a flexible guide allowing for the
involvement of the interviewees who are considered as the
main source of information and data. This leads to the produc-
tion of a dialogue that is clearly distinguishable from the ques-
tionnaire. In the context of our present research, an interview
protocol was administered to different individuals in our sample.
It consists of a set of questions whose answers would help to
elucidate the social constraints that athletic woman meets in her
The construction of the interview guide was made to allow,
on the one hand, to compare the different answers to the same
questions from all respondents and, on the other hand, taking
into account the particularities of each subject (Kaufman, 1996).
This does not prevent the researcher from asking specific ques-
tions to the persons concerned. Our methodological approach is
in fact based mainly on customizing interview lines. This is
why; all the questions developed in the interview guide are
open questions. How they are made directs people interviewed
in the wanted direction and allows creating a discussion and an
interaction between the interviewer and the interviewee. This
reminds us of one very interesting aspect of the interview which
is an interlocutory journey and process (Blanchet & Gotman,
This investigative technique creates a situation of interaction
between interviewer and interviewee. This interaction allows
reconstructing some elements of the social reality (Najar &
Kerou, 2007). Our goal is always to collect the maximum in-
formation that can be useful for our research and this, by mak-
ing the women interviewed talk about their sporting experi-
Analysis, Interpretation and Discussion
For the entire study and the targeted public, the data col-
lected from the interviews will be classified according to their
content and to the initial research question. The themes will be
related to gender-based constraints in the process of the access
of Tunisian women to sport. These will be gender relations with
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 225
S. WELHEZI ET AL.
education, body, sport and the values of femininity. The se-
lected data will be subject to analysis and interpretation before
In terms of analysis, the observation made in the field, com-
bined with interviews provides information to determine the
various obstacles faced by women in practicing sporting activi-
ties. The social values to which obeys the Tunisian girl as well
as the education she undergoes and the socialization of sport as
a masculine practice and a man’s business.
Interpretation of Results
The interpretation focuses on every topic related to the target
public of the research. The collected answers allow keeping
hold of selected constraints on the four registers chosen for the
entire study. It turns out that actresses face the same obstacles
in practicing their sporting activities. The survey population
shows that gender issues are heavily involved in the definition
of female identity and in the functions assigned to her by the
The discussion starts from the fact that in its modern forms,
“sport is a cultural product of Western invention (Brohm, 1981),
foreign to the field of social and economic experiences of Arab-
Muslim culture societies (Errais, 1975; Ben Larbi, 1986; Fates,
1994) as is the case for women in the survey population. It is
mainly based on the values and representations of gender to
which the survey population is identifying that it releases the
constraints faced by Tunisian athletic women. The analysis
based on gender helps identifying barriers to women’s sports-
1) The Patriarchal System
Through sport, seen as a form of independence and owner-
ship of one’s own personality, one’s own body and the place it
occupies in society, opens before the Tunisian woman a new
area of freedom although constancy emerges. It is the persis-
tence of patriarchal system. This is evident in the comments
made by the girls interviewed.
When they talk about their beginnings in the field of sports,
they all claim they would never have access to sport without the
consent of their fathers. Borrmans (1977), EL Khayat (1985)
and Belhssen (1992) argue that the perseverance of a patriar-
chal system is remarkable in the Tunisian society. This system
keeps women under conditions of statutory disregard. Meha, a
young woman footballer said: “I was able to play sports be-
cause my dad agreed, without his consent, I could never have
done it, as for Mum, she was neither for nor against; it was my
father who decides in the family.”
When it is not the father who opposes this, it’s the elder
brother. Nadia, a young girl who plays rugby for three years
says: “At first, my brother was unyielding that I do sports, I go
training secretly, I put on my sportswear underneath my clothes
and I go with the consent of both my parents. He surprised me
twice when returning from training, it puts him on his nerves,
he even beat me so that I stop playing sports and my parents
struggled to convince him that Sport is better than anything else.
“One thing is certain, despite the advance in girls’ education,
wage labor for women, the realities of Tunisian women still
refer to the traditional model of patriarchy. Fidelity to the patri-
lineal ideology remains alive. “The authority of man is the
scope of the evidence and the whole family follows the hierar-
chical rules unchanged until today.” (Dujardin, 1986; Marzouki,
1993). Man continues to ensure the survival of the family and
founds its organization. A woman’s leaving the households to
participate in the family budget by accessing different areas of
the labor market and wage labor has not led to a real change
inside the family.
Thus, the compromises of the sporting field are very difficult
to take. The patriarchal ideology, deeply internalized by ancient
traditions, has not abandoned its favorite place which is the
woman’s body. The athletic woman is facing both her tradi-
tional social status and unusual situations inherent to sporting
activities. The result is usually a set of contradictions that a
society cannot tolerate without leading to individual and family
a) Gender stereotypes
This is a factor raised by the interviewees. The different tes-
timonies collected emphasize that prejudices and stereotypes
are elements that come rushing into the folds of behavior and
providing a source of strength that pushes toward the exclusion
of women from the sports scene indirectly and by means of
implicit ways. Young girls interviewed spoke about sports
scenes and moments of their careers that emphasize the impor-
tance of this factor. They spoke of this with great bitterness and
disappointment. Listen to Ahlem (a young athletic girl, aged 18)
stating: “Prejudice is the very first obstacle. Oh my! This is a
problem of mindset. Tunisians continue to say that the sports
field is not the concern of women. Unfortunately, it is still be-
lieved that the woman can be best only at home as a mother and
as a wife.”
In the same line of thought, Soumaya (footballer, aged 19
and terminal student) said: “Ah! Obstacles! Obstacles are the
mindset. I think the mindset is due to a traditional heritage that
makes the women themselves, ourselves, still dependent on a
certain social status whatever our level of intellectual develop-
ment and whatever our beliefs.”
As for Marwa judoka aged 19, she mentions examples of so-
cial attitudes towards women’s sport: “The neighbors have
never let me go. Whe n I get back home late from training, they
express to my mother, reprimands and remarks such as: how
could you allow your daughter to play sports and come back
home so late in the evening, are you not scared for her? ...
Al-though convinced that the sport is better than many other
things that girls my age can do, Mum is much influenced by the
attitudes of others to the point of begging me repeatedly to
leave the sport. My sporting activities are a subject of endless
discussions in the neighborhood where I live.”
Although Nour (young karate expert, 18 years and practicing
competitive sports for four years) has not met real obstacles
since she started doing competitive sport, she shares, however
the opinion which considers the mindset as the main obstacle in
the field of sport. She said: “Despite the apparent social change,
people continue to divide up practices between women and men,
sport is placed in the tribe of men and therefore, in this field,
women are frowned upon by society.” These testimonies re-
volve around some elements related to the antagonism of values
(Weber, 1965) that refer to the continuous implementation of
contradictions within the social structure. All that is part of
what our interviewees referred to by the terms “prejudice,”
“stereotypes” and “mentality” is, in fact, just the expression of
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s .
S. WELHEZI ET AL.
social resistance emanating from what Balandier calls “failures
of change” (Balandier, 1986). The observation of social prac-
tices still shows “survivals” belonging to different historical
contexts and struggling against the innovative behavior and
new forms of legitimacy.
2) Education and Socialization
Socialization is the acquisition and internalization of ways of
doing, thinking and acting specific to the group in which the
individual belongs. It is essential for the adaptation of the indi-
vidual to the environment (Rock, 1968). The education received
by the young Tunisian child justifies the social hierarchy be-
tween the sexes by a natural order and by a supernatural or-
ganization. The girls are under enormous pressure to respect
family tradition based on patriarchy, the inferiority and subor-
dination of women to men and male honor based on the control
of female sexuality (Tillon, 1974). Most of the testimonies
given by the interviewees refer to a fundamental element asso-
ciated with both primary and secondary socialization which
corroborates what Goffman calls “institutional reflexivity”
which is the action of the society on the sexual division of so-
cial practices. It is a differential socialization of girls and boys.
Indeed, the position of sport is a social position where men and
women can actually put forward the difference in natural rep-
resentation claimed by the society to be theirs (Goffman, 2002).
According to Goffman, sexual differences are included in
social institutions to ensure the accuracy of “our social arrange-
ments.” However, the sport is based on inequality, and thus
does not prepare the girl’s participation in sports and physical
activity practices. On this point, one example is the case of
Manel, a 18 years old gymnast whose words resemble those of
many others interviewed, she said: “From a very young age, the
girl is oriented toward things that she must learn to do: clea ning,
cooking... from childhood, we teach the girl how to become a
mother, a good cook. Even when she studies, or when she
works, she is fully involved in household chores. All mothers
make it sure that in their girls’ education they teach them how
to handle household chores and those of motherhood”. What
our interviewee says, confirms that inequality and discrimina-
tion based on gender is a real fact from which the girl suffers at
a young age. Grown up, she already has in mind the image of
the woman she should be. A self-image that will be decisive for
the choices she has to do in her life as well as the activities she
will practice and the areas to which she has access.
Beyond the social construct, gender reveals, therefore, power
relations between men and women as part of a “mechanism of
arrangement” under the Anglo-Saxon sociology and “adjust-
ment mechanism” of after the French sociologists. This ar-
rangement ranks sport in the men’s category. Consequently, the
access of women in this area is perceived as a violation of the
social order. Because the idea of women’s sport refers to a
conception of the individual who has acquired a certain auton-
omy with respect to the family and the society to which one
belong (Khmailia Mohamed et al., 2011). As for Marwa (ath-
lete, 19 years), she said: “as soon as the girl approaches the age
of puberty and begins to have noticeable physiognomic changes
in her body, monitoring of her gestures and movements in-
creases. Instructions from parents on the proper way to act and
behave (especially mothers) become more severe on the way
she dresses, walks, watc he s, sits, talks etc.”
3) The Physical Obstacle
The body is dependent on constraints imposed by the envi-
ronment; it also is the reflection and the receptacle of society
(Andrieu, 2008). It is both a permanent construction and recon-
struction. It only produces and receives standards, messages
and complex codes imposed by society. In analyzing the causes
of the withdrawal of women from the sporting field, we must
consider “the passive body model of femininity (Falcoz &
Koebel, 2005). The identity of gender draws its meaning from
collective consciousness that designates an individual belong-
ing to a male or female universe, referring mainly to one’s body.
Thus, gender is seen as a collective lifestyle (Mathieu, 1991).
Like many other areas, the sport is a mirror of the social. It
cannot escape the existence of a gender binarity that continues
to enhance their femininity to the girls and to boys their mascu-
linity. Despite the social changes registered at all levels, it
seems that the representation of the female body always sends
back for primarily sexual connotations. The weakness of wo-
men is often based on her fragile body weakened by social
representations that put her under the control of men (Borrmans,
1977; El Khayat, 1985; Bessis & Belhassen, 1992).
According to the social norms, the female body should be
protected from all forms of aggression even the visual. The
woman is considered to be too weak to protect herself. That is
why her “wea k ness” requires the vigi lance of all the ma l e mem-
bers of her social circle. Manel, a young footballer said: “during
games, my brother escorted me to observe my gestures, after
the game, he scolds me and orders me not to do more of this or
that gesture. Sometimes he fights with boys who make com-
ments about my body.” The perpetuation of this system lies, in
fact, on the belief that it is the only possible social order, which
can ensure the woman protection, respectability and honor. It
has, therefore, a function of stabilizing the social and family
group (Tillon, 1966). The modeling of the body is determined
by the society (Le Breton, 1985). Corporeity normalizes the
body uses whether it is a man’s body or a woman’s body
(Bouhdiba, 1986). The “core” (Abric, 1988) of cultural repre-
sentations is embodied in the traditional norms and religious
laws whose influence gives a precise meaning to the represen-
tation of the woman and her body, a mosaic and ruffled body
Le Breton assumed that “representations of the body and the
knowledge which they get in touch with depend on a social
status, a cultural reality, a vision of the world, and within the
latter, a definition the individual (Le Breton, 1991).
Thus, the representations produced by the Tunisian women
of their bodies are tainted with everything they have suffered
throughout their lives, traditional values such as chastity which
is translated into “good behavior” dictating to the girl, from her
young age, her movements and gestures. Indeed, based on our
interviewees’ testimonies, we noted a persistence of traditional
models as to how to treat the male body and especially the fe-
male body. Indeed, apart from socially imposed physical mod-
els, differences in behavior and attitudes further strengthen the
boundaries between a man’s body and a woman’s body, per-
petuating stereotypes of the traditional division of roles and
social functions. The survival of the patriarchal hierarchy seems
to depend on the identification of members of society to sepa-
rate models of a man’s body and a woman’s body (Bourdieu,
1999). Education of Tunisian girls is impregnated by modes of
behavior of which the repressive standards of sexuality and
body avoidance are the basic principles (Bouhdiba, 1986). Ad-
herence to sexual representations of the body finds its echo in
the “dual active/passive and therefore in reactions to sporting
phenomenon” (Tlili, 2002).
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 227
S. WELHEZI ET AL.
This study has shown that women’s access to sport is con-
strained by gender discrimination fueled by maintaining stereo-
types about the social role of women. Indeed, they are inadver-
tently shelved from physical practices that are traditionally for
men. Women’s sport, although officially recognized in Tunisia,
is often hampered by socio-cultural constraints. Thus, women’s
sport reflects and reinforces gender stereotypes. This is an ex-
cellent indicator of the way in which, within a single institution,
individuals are required to produce signs whose gender mean-
ing is immediately perceived and decrypted by them or those
who see (Roger and Terret 2005). Despite the profound changes
experienced by the Tunisian society since in-dependence until
today, sports continue to be considered a male-dominated prac-
tice, even if this fact is not clearly expressed. The patriarchal
system that persists within the Tunisian family is reflected in
the various forms of sport reluctance to access of women to
competitive sport through thought patterns opposing men and
women (Neuveu & Guionnet, 2004). The image of the sporty
woman in Tunisian society carries with it a social organization
based on the dominance of masculine and able to influence the
relation between the woman’s own body and the activities she
practices. The patriarchal system that allocates functions and
activities by gender, stereotypes that build social images, so-
cialization which teaches the individual what society expects of
him, the image of the body of the woman who looks like a sex-
ual object, these are the constraints to access of women to the
sporting field. While the resistance expressed against the very
principle of women’s access to sport decreased, it did not dis-
appear comple tely. Attitudes fa voring women’s sports continue
to be theoretical and negative. Theoretical because they are
limited at recognizing women’s right to access to sport without
actually translating this attitude with facts and actions. And
negative because they provide no real effort to allow women to
enjoy this right. This is often explained by what Liotard and
Terret call “systems of male domination” that force women to
make choices that “keep them in dependency or impose their
sacrifices.” (Liotard & Terret, 2005) Statements of the inter-
viewed women show that Tunisian women still encounter so-
ciocultural constraints in its access to the field of sport and
physical processes. It would be useful for them to deploy
strategies that challenge the legitimacy of the already estab-
lished social order capable of finding definitive and racial solu-
tions to such situations.
The gender parameter allows to analyze the socio-cultural
constraints of women sportsmanship. Thus, has it not revealed
that sportsmanship requires roles and models that are posi-
tioned at double polarity fundamentally contradictory? Social
and sexual differentiation of roles, binding socialization from
which the girls suffer in the family and the relationship that
they nurture with their own bodies are the factors that influence
their involvement in sport. As a concept analysis of social rela-
tions between the sexes (Wollstonecraft, 2005), gender eluci-
dates social hindrances in women’s access to sport in Tunisia.
Did not Simone De Beauvoir (1949) say “One is not born a
woman, one becomes it”? It is in the socialization that we can
find explanations for the low participation of women in sports.
The education received by the Tunisian girl sits on the incom-
patibility between sport and physical and social feminine nature.
Thus, sport contributes to the construction of gender. The latter
is, in fact, the forms of social expressions of femininity and
masculinity, and the signs and symbolic practices that reflect a
sense of belonging and find a type of relationship between
sexes or within each sex.
Consequently, the general trend among the young Tunisian
athletic women suffers a traditional order of patriarchy that has
always prevailed (Berque, 1979), with female body stereotypes
of “go against models of Western societies, those who are
likely to let the bodies out of the shadow of the home, to make
it more active, slimmer and more tanned (Louveau, 1981),
which is radically opposed to the world of men in the outside,”
“the one of the public life and the great clear and sunny out-
doors, often considered to be place of immoral practices (Bour-
dieu, 1980)”. This cultural representation that has long survived
sustainable social, economic and political changes (Bouhdiba,
1986) sheds light on the position of women in the social sys-
The different reactions that enliven the thoughts of these girls
have allowed us to highlight the attributes that are naturally
assigned to sex. It also allowed us to understand that the female
and male are not immutable and intangible realities, but rather
social constructions. This construction seems to us well rooted
in the Tunisian society since all the testimonies of the public
interviewed recognize the social structure based on the division
of tasks according to gender. Indeed, on the basis of biological
characteristics, they were rooted patterns of thinking dividing
men and women (Neuveu & Guionnet, 2004). By adopting such
approach, our research focused on the analysis of social con-
straints of women in the sports sector. Nowadays, this model
reflects a blatant contradiction with the enrollment rate of
women and their access to all areas of the workforce.
This work also helps to provide analysis and response ele-
ments on a contemporary social problem that affects the role of
women in the Tunisian society. A question has been rested
heavily after the revolution of January 14, 2011. It provides
food for thought for social workers dealing with these issues of
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