Nowhere To Hide: The Experiences of Young Women in physical Education

by Louise Humbert

As a physical educator, a strong supporter of Active Living (a national initiative promoting physical activity) and mother of a young daughter, I have many questions and concerns about the physical activity patterns of youth; specifically of young women. Of particular interest to me are the experiences of young women in physical education classes.

“All during Algebra I couldn't do any work, I couldn't concentrate, I was just thinking about having gym next.”

At the level of education where physical education programs become optional, young women leave them in droves. In several provinces, the number of young men choosing to participate in optional physical educational programs far exceeds the number of young women (Humbler, 1995). These statistics and my experiences physical education to young women have led me to ask: What is it like to be a young women high school physical education class why are so many young women choosing not to take physical education? Is the environment in physical education classes attractive to young women? Are young women being given opportunities to develop their skills and participate in such a way that they are learning positive attitudes toward physical activity?

I began to explore these questions during a recent study in an urban high school located in a midsize Canadian prairie city. I spent five full days a week for almost three months at this school, which I will call Murdoch High School, and I was privileged to have fifty young women volunteer to work with me. These young women were enrolled in seven different physical education classes and there was at least one representative from each of the grades nine through twelve as well as several young women from grades eleven and twelve who had chosen not to take physical education. Few of the young women who volunteered for this study were members of school teams. The majority were of average ability, attended physical education regularly and were not "problem" students.

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