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Women, Sport, and Film - Fall 2004

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Reformed Societal Issues in Film Today

sung lim

Whether ethnicity, age, sex, gender, etc. there are definite societal pressures by which everyone is expected to perform and abide. If anything, these social pressures and commonalities are only all the more emphasized through film and media portrayal today. Therefore, whenever there are films that come around and attempt to break these molds, they really should be celebrated more than ignored. Through films such as A League of Their Own, Pumping Iron II, and Bend it Like Beckham, society is continuously being encouraged to break through the social norms and open up issues of women in sports today. Then again, that is not to say that there are no other films out there that attempt to do the same. Pat and Mike, Girl Fight, and Rocky were three other such films that discussed the issues of women in sports but were still somehow lacking in one way or another.
A League of Their Own dares to be different in re-creating a man's sphere and transforming it into a woman's world. It is a man's sport and a man's league originally; however, once women take it over, it seems to be just as successful and A League of Their Own portrays that continued success. As a result, it challenges social issues in terms of gender roles. The 1940's were a time when a woman's place was actually in the kitchen and nowhere else. A League of Their Own portrayed the challenging of that idea and it's success made it timeless.
Granted, there is a time given for the movie; yet, because the social norm that was challenged in the movie is one that is still faced today, it is still so pertinent in today's society. Gender still plays an extremely important role in society and gender roles are still something that continues to be challenged. In addition, it is something that is continuously portrayed, especially in different realms.
Pumping Iron II takes the gender role challenge of A League of Their Own and gives it a completely different spin. The difference between the two is that Pumping Iron II actually is supposed to be a woman within a woman's world. Nonetheless, even more ironically, the woman Bev Francis is a bodybuilder in an all woman's body building competition. Therefore, it is expected that she would be more accepted for being a woman.
Ironically enough, Bev Francis receives opposition from her fellow bodybuilders for not being the more accepted build of a female today. Because she is more brawny and more muscular, her femininity is challenged. As a result, her drive to achieve ultimate physical prowess costs her the female body building competition because she did not fit the mold of what was "feminine." I believe in bringing issues such as gender acceptability, Pumping Iron II became a more society friendly film. In addition, it brought to light many issues of not necessarily sex, but gender, that has created some controversy. Both sex and gender are two very prominent issues of society that are constantly being addressed by media. Moreover, one more issue that is addressed in films today is ethnicity and social boundaries found within one's race.
Bend it Like Beckham is a film of today's time that speaks to the issue of cultural groups within certain sports. Jess Bhamra is an Indian girl dying to play professional soccer. More than her gender/sex keeping her from being able to make it in the pros, there is a great deal of pressure from her family and her culture that holds her back. Her mother believes that an Indian girl's place is not on the soccer field running around in "revealing" clothing. Rather, she belongs at home taking care of her family and living life the way she has been told to live. Therefore, in that way, her cultural norms challenge her and address a social issue of Jess in being able to play soccer. Then there comes the pressure of her father.
Her father does not necessarily say no to Jess because he does not believe that as a girl she should be playing a sport. Rather, he refuses her the right to play because he wants to protect her from the societal frustrations and difficulties she will face as an Indian. Along the same lines, it is not until he opens his eyes to American culture that he will allow American culture to have their eyes opened to his family. Jess breaks these barriers of ethnicity and culture and in doing so is able to achieve her dream of going to the pros in America where women's soccer is a more prestigious and respectable league for women. However, it is not to say that these three movies are the only movies that address these issues.
Rocky, Girl Fight, and Pat and Mike were three other films reviewed that did not challenge societal issues and norms as much as the prior three. Granted, all three films incorporated the theme of women in sports; however, they did not seem to challenge the idea of women within sports as much. Rocky did not include a female in the sports arena. Girl Fight seemed to portray a woman in a man's world; but, she was only able to succeed through what seemed like an adaptation of masculine qualities and without keeping her femininity about her. Finally Pat and Mike seemed to be expressing the reliance of a female role on a masculine character. These three movies still challenged certain aspects of societal ideals, nevertheless, there were just others that made the greater leap against what was acceptable that allowed them to become that much more welcome in the changes of today.

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