Perspectives on female participation in PE and strategies to increase involvement   

Term 2, Week 4 2022


Physical Education has long been thought of as a male dominated subject, a boy's club if you will. Engaging female students in PE has always been a challenge for teachers in high school. Historically, female students have been positioned as ‘the problem’ and often blamed for their lack of engagement in the physical activity component of PE (Murphy, Dionigi & Litchfield, 2014). However, it can be identified that the curriculum and pedagogical contexts form the base of female participation issues as well as the social construction of gender through PE.  

Teachers have a responsibility to challenge the existing gender status quo in their teaching practices by understanding, perceiving and addressing the issue of girls’ experiences in PE.  This approach asks teachers to reflect on the consequences of their practice, rather than simply ‘blame’ the female students as problematic (Murphy, Dionigi & Litchfield, 2014). Therefore, knowing what teachers say and do in their PE classes, how they organise their classes and their choices of activities is important because these social practices have the potential to construct, reproduce or challenge assumptions based on gender. 

Murphy, Dionigi & Litchfield (2014) state the perceived factors affecting female student participation in PE include:

- Peer group influences 
- Body image  
- Role modelling (PE teacher and parents) 
- Competitive nature of the subject.

Teachers seem to make sense of their students by only applying narrow notions of femininity and masculinity. Female students are ‘naturally’ passive, more social, easily influenced by their friends and less interested in PE than males. “The problem is not the awareness [of gender issues] among the teachers, but the way the teachers are inclined to interpret the dominance [of some students] and what strategies they use (and do not use) to deal with it.” Larsson et al. (2009, p. 14, cited in Murphy, Dionigi & Litchfield, 2014) 

Recommended teaching strategies for engaging female students in PE include:

- involving girls in curriculum design 
- single gender classes  
- giving female students a ‘voice’ and ‘choice’ in the types of activities offered during a lesson 
- taking the focus away from competition and performance enhancement, such as through adventure PE  
- emphasising pleasure, cooperation and participation in sport. 

Finally, increasing PE teachers’ awareness of gendered discourses and practices through policies and programs aimed at supporting PE teachers to implement gender-sensitive strategies in their daily practice. (Murphy, Dionigi & Litchfield, 2014)