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Recreating the 'Norm'

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Women, Sport, and Film - 2002
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Recreating the 'Norm'

Brooke Coleman

When investigating the costs and benefits of an individual competing in a sport considered non-traditional for their gender, we must first answer the question of what makes the single-sex status of these sports so important. We know that much controversy often surrounds the assimilation of a certain gender into a sport not traditionally considered their own, but we might forget to ask why this is the case to begin with.

First, it is important to acknowledge that the answer to this question will most likely vary a bit between genders. For men, I believe much of the drive to keep certain sports single-sex, stems from a dominance/power struggle. Most of the "male" sports mentioned focus mainly on pure strength, and in the case of boxing, agility. The idea that a woman can excel, or even surpass her male counterpart, in a sport relying so heavily on muscular prowess, seems to me like an issue that could be fundamentally threatening. When I mention power struggle, it's mostly in reference to a struggle for dominance, but I believe that many of the men who look down upon women who enter sports primarily relying on physical strength, may feel threatened in both respects. On the opposite end of the spectrum, much of what might drive them away from traditionally female sports, is the fact these sports are often considered too 'feminine' to justify male participation. It's almost as though the 'masculine' element of a sport implies some sort of inherent difficulty, while a sport deemed 'feminine' is not necessarily thought to be quite as challenging.

As for females participating in more male dominated sports, it seems as though they run into similar issues. Most women shy away form participation in male dominated sports in fear of coming across as too masculine. This also plays into the power dynamics that have defined men and women's roles for far too long. Women are either afraid to, or no longer even consider the idea of, pushing back against their stereotypically defined roles.

There are obviously many men and women who have challenged these roles over time, and who continue to push these somewhat intangible boundaries. I believe the benefits of abandoning the gender roles in sports strongly outweigh the costs.

The biggest benefit seems to me to be, quite simply, the opportunity for both males and females to feel comfortable participating in whichever sports they may feel drawn to. The option of completely 'free choice' is somewhat far off considering the internalized stereotypes that our culture has impressed upon us from the start. These, of course, being the stereotype of which sports are and are not appropriate for our specific gender. Some might argue that until sports are seen as somewhat standard for each gender, no athlete will have completely 'free choice'. As long as a stigma surrounds certain sports, athletes of the non-dominant gender will never feel completely comfortable approaching the sport.

The benefit of certain athletes forging ahead in their respective non-traditional sports would be felt on the overall athletic culture. Ideally, the stigma mentioned earlier will slowly begin to dissipate. A positive way to make change will simply be through exposure, and through this, change will slowly take place over time.

The pros and cons for the individual athlete would certainly vary, though. There would be the obvious pro of being able to pursue an activity of interest to them. On a larger scale, the athlete will be facilitating positive change in the overall athletic community by expanding people's assumptions of appropriate gender roles. The con's, in my opinion, lie in a smaller scale category. Negative reactions from family and friends, as well as a lack of support overall, are a few possible negative outcomes an athlete might experience in sports considered non-traditional for their gender. There is also the possibility that their participation will initially have heighten people's disinterest and unwillingness to accept change. Through positive exposure, however, we will ideally reach a point where this no longer comes up as an issue.

There will always be several positive and negative variables to take into account when measuring the potential affects of cultural change. In most cases, it is simply a matter of calculating whether the positives will outweigh the negatives. When discussing potential social change, one can usually assume that the positive affects will overshadow any potential negative affects. The question usually surrounds how long it will take these positive affects to begin to dominate the situation. In the situation of athletes participating in sports not traditional to their gender, I believe it's simply a matter of time before positive changes are seen. Ideally, with exposure, changes will be made over time in how people view the appropriateness of participation by certain athletes in sports untraditional to their gender.



Comments made prior to 2007

As a male, I find the assumptions that men are intolerant, and so profoundly interested in dominance, to be a bit presumptious, and myopic. Comments like the ones made herein tend to, in my belief, put up walls, rather than bridges, between genders. I enjoyed reading this article very much, I just disagree with the assumptions that the article is built upon ... Dennis, 8 January 2007