This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

Women, Sport, and Film - Fall 2004

On Serendip

"A League of Their Own" "Pumping Iron II" "Bend It Like Beckham", Women in Sport, Challenging Views

Jessica Leger

The six films of the course were all quite compelling and thought-provoking. "Pat and Mike" was an interesting early film, which showed a woman completely able and yet completely unable in the presence of her fiancé. "A League of Their Own" was a modern film with a historical perspective which showed a variety of women with different life circumstances, all living with baseball as central in their lives. "Rocky" was a film about a male boxer and his will to overcome the circumstances of his life. "Girlfight" looked at a girl in a man's sport, boxing, who succeeds and directs herself towards something positive. "Pumping Iron II" looked at reality and women in another traditionally man's sport, bodybuilding and weightlifting. "Bend It Like Beckham," last but not least, looked at a woman who loves soccer, and overcomes obstacles of family and tradition in order to succeed.

I will focus on "Bend It Like Beckham", "Pumping Iron II", and "A League of Their Own," as I found these three films to be the most compelling of the six that we viewed in the course. I thought that they explored a great range of social issues of women and sport, and presented characters that were charismatic and fascinating. "Bend It Like Beckham", "Pumping Iron II", and "A League of Their Own" introduced interesting contexts for women in sport and presented varying views of women athletes, which I found to be extremely appealing and provocative.

"A League of Their Own," the first of these three films viewed in the course, was a story about a women's professional baseball league team, focusing on the relationships and game of a few main characters. It was made in 1992, was directed by a woman and is a film essentially about women. This film explores what sport, specifically baseball, and women playing that sport meant at the time, and perhaps remarks upon the present day and what may or may not have changed since that time. It presents two woman as the main characters; Dottie, the older of the two, is portrayed as the best player around, but is committed to her husband and the life that they will share once he returns from the war. Dottie's sister, Kit, on the other hand, is a woman with a lot of spark to her, and a passion for playing baseball and succeeding in the sport; she harbors no fantasies about getting married and having children. The film is focused on these two sisters, and also brings in other personalities that make the film entertaining and fun.

Dottie and Kit are good examples of the varying degrees of what women might want out of life and out of the sports they engage themselves with. There is obviously the sister rivalries and complex relationship which is played out in the film, but their personal relationships with baseball are central. I found Dottie to be quite believable and challenging as a character because of her ambiguities and loyalties. She obviously enjoys the game of baseball and excels at it, but she is bound to tradition and what she believes she ultimately wants in her life. She enjoys baseball, but does not equal it to her whole life. Judging from the various parts of the film, including those when she has aged, it seems that she is never quite sure what she feels or thinks about that time in her life. Then there is her sister, Kit, who wants more than anything to shine and stand out baseball. She may believe that one day she may marry and have a family, but at this time in her life she is willing to devote herself fully to the game.

"A League of Their Own" is further complicated by the fact that these talented women all play and are under the control of men. A man is their coach, he is essentially 'in charge' and yet he is the least able individual in the film (at least in the beginning); he drinks, he yells, he is unengaged, he is mean, and he is a failed baseball player. In addition, those who hold the money and make the choice to invest in women's baseball are all men. This is certainly the way it was at the time, and it makes the film even more appealing, for the women must prove themselves and work hard to continue their game; and they do a pretty good job of it.

"Pumping Iron II" is a documentary that I found quite riveting. It was made in 1985, was directed by a man, and is about women in the sport of bodybuilding. It presents an interesting view of different women in the sport, and each of them is very distinct. The film really questions what exactly bodybuilding or weightlifting is; it looks extensively at femininity and masculinity, and examines what a woman is and how a woman should look physically. In addition, the film ponders the idea of beauty, questioning who gets to decide what is beautiful in terms of the female body, which is loaded, as with some words and notions, with certain connotations and historical ideals that may or may not be true or able to be judged without intense subjectivity.

This film examines women who must explain their choice to compete in this sport, which traditionally men only competed in. This is even more complex, because these women must decide their own views on femininity. They must choose how they will present their bodies, and decide how much they want to challenge the judges and society and traditional notions of femininity, (which they do no matter what), but as they look less and less 'feminine' in the eyes of the world, they challenge these deeply ingrained notions even more. They must decide their take on the sport and femininity all within the realm of competition, where the judges make the final decision, and where the judges are biased in ways that one can imagine.

Finally, "Bend It Like Beckham" looks a woman who plays soccer and enjoys it immensely and even dreams of playing professionally, but must overcome the traditional ideas of her family in order to achieve what she wants most. This is the most modern film, made in 2002 and directed by a woman. It presents a myriad of complex issues and presents them in a way that is appealing and stimulating. In this film, women in sport is an issue, but one that has come far in the history of women and sport—now, at least in soccer, women can and do play professionally and that is not an odd or remarkable thing. Women are now able to play sports; however, there are still obstacles and stereotypes which the characters still come into contact with and deal with on a daily basis. Jules, one of the main characters, has to live with her mother who tries so hard to make her more feminine; while Jess, the main character, must live with the traditional notions and experiences of her family.

I thought that "Bend It Like Beckham" really presented a more realistic example of the obstacles that women face, by looking specifically at one individual and her specific circumstances. It allows for a situation in which Jess must fight for what she believes in and try to move her own family forward. This film also brought in questions of not only femininity but also gender issues and gender relations, and what it means to be a woman playing sports today. There are still stereotypes and ideals about women that are not necessarily written in stone any longer, and it appears that we can look forward to a future where those stereotypes may no longer be so deeply imbedded.

As for what I might have done as director of the three other films to make them more compelling, I must first say that I did find the other films compelling; but in terms of women and sport and the issues that women must face, these three films really appealed to me. Additionally, I am not sure that changing things is the answer in examining these films, for they show a diverse range of subject matter and film narratives. I found them all extremely enjoyable and felt that they achieved what they seemed to be hoping to achieve. I felt that each film said something different and portrayed women in ways that fit certain models that the directors or writers or actors wanted. Certain films focused on certain issues, and did so in a determined manner, that I believe was useful in examining these films. To a certain degree, it is a matter of mere personal preference as to which films one found most compelling, and I would argue that we could speak of any of the three films and see a countless number of social issues women face in sport in days past and present.

| Course Home Page | Center for Science In Society | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip
© by Serendip 1994-2007 - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:51:22 CDT