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Women, Sport, and Film - Fall 2004

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Did any of the films successfully challenge the traditional narrative?

Name:  christy

Did any of the films successfully challenge the traditional narrative?

With the exception of Rocky, I believe that all of the films challenged the role of women in the traditional narrative to some degree. From our class conversations, I believe the traditional narrative runs as follows: Characters are introduced, a conflict, the movie climaxes, and then resolves. The roles of women within this narrative are to support the other characters and visually enhance the movie (be "eye candy"), but they are peripheral to the central problem and resolution. In this essay, I will describe the narrative of each movie and discuss how each challenges or does not challenge the traditional model.

Rocky is clearly not trying to offer any feminist critique of the traditional Hollywood narrative. However, it is interesting as the "standard bearer" of sports films in general. Rocky's problem is that he is a boxer who's poor, getting older, and doesn't have other skills. He has never fulfilled his boxing potential. When the famous boxer Apollo Creed chooses Rocky as the lucky underdog who gets to compete with him and be famous, Rocky chooses to believe in himself against all odds, shocking everyone with his stamina and will-power. He barely loses to a split-decision, but has won a personal victory for himself.

Thus Rocky is a movie about one man's personal physical struggle against himself and the world. The role of the woman in this film, Adrienne, is to be his supportive companion and comfort him in the end. Resolution occurs when he fulfills his goal after building his personal stamina, strength, and skill. To me, this is the story that has never yet been told from a woman's perspective. None of the other movies we watched accomplish this, but they do expand the role of women.

Two conflicts occur in Pat and Mike. The first is that her fiance causes her to perform poorly even though she is a gifted athlete. The second is that her trainer Mike can't handle that Pat beat up his attackers. He had been all set to sacrifice himself for her sake, but instead she saved him. The first conflict is resolved when Pat (at first temporarily) leaves her fiance to pursue sports alone. The second is resolved when Pat and Mike become romantic as well as professional partners. At the end, Pat wears a skirt (maintains her femininity) and still does well at sports. Pat and Mike joke about who owns who.

Especially considering the time this movie was made, this movie breaks a lot of molds. It includes a scene were a woman physically defeats several violent men. It departs from the traditional narrative by making the woman the central character who is supported by a man (Mike), instead of vice versa. However, it does not completely separate itself from tradition; Pat's story is defined by the men in her life rather than on her own terms. The movie gives very little time to her athletic competitions, focusing instead on the relationships.

In A League of their Own, the overarching problem is that the women ball players are struggling to win recognition and financial support. The additional problem is that Kit can't get out from under her older sisters shadow. These are resolved when Kit wins the final game for her team against her sister, and the women play to full audiences until the men come back home. Because the movie ends with the main character (Dottie) leaving, the audience doesn't have to deal with this as a problem. Dottie wanted to go home anyway. At the end they are recognized in the Hall of Fame.

This movie also reverses the norms by allowing women to drive the plot forward. The central character, Dottie, is the main thing keeping the narrative in traditional patterns. Even though she is the star of the league, she repeatedly insists that it is not important to her. As soon as her husband comes home from the war, Dottie stops playing. Thus the movie can never be completely about the women playing baseball, which is what would be truly unconventional.

The conflict in Girl Fight is that Diana is angry and unhappy at home and at school. She wants to box, but her dad is against it. In the end, Diana confronts her dad. She boxes, defeats her boyfriend, and is still able to keep their relationship Thus, Girl Fight focuses on the story of one woman and gives more time to her boxing and physical training than most of the movies give to the women's sports. But the boxing scenes are treated artistically and Diana's training scenes aren't nearly the same amount of time as Rocky's.

In Pumping Iron II, women compete to win a body building competition. The major conflict is that the most built woman, Bev, is viewed as not feminine enough.
In the end, it turns out the judging is a sham. Carla wins, which is fine because you were rooting for her too. What is not fine is that Bev was not valued by the judges. This movie gives a lot of attention to the personal training of the girls and to their physical competition. However, because the competition is fairly sexualized and completely focused on appearance, the movie doesn't truly present a feminist narrative.

In Bend it like Beckham, Jess wants to play soccer, but her family doesn't want her to. There are cross-cultural problems as well. In the end, Jess plays soccer and gains the support of her family. This movie probably comes the closest to presenting a truly alternative narrative. Because it also addresses the challenges faced by women and by cultural difference, it is not the feminist version of Rocky. This is not necessarily a bad thing since women should be able to build roles different from those established by men. However, because the star actresses never actually play soccer, and equal attention is given to issues of romance and family, Bend it like Beckham does not represent a movie solely about a woman's personal physical and mental development to meet a competitive goal. This movie has yet to be made.

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