Women, Sport, and Film Course

Cosponsored by Athletics and Physical Education at Bryn Mawr College and the Exercise and Sports Studies Department at Smith College, with support from the Center for Science In Society at Bryn Mawr College and the Serendip website.

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Name:  Amy Campbell
Username:  acampbel@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Week 1 Question
Date:  2003-01-31 12:15:10
Message Id:  4336
Week 1
Welcome to our e-forum. As we explore the image of women in sport as framed by film, we hope you will enjoy participating in this on-line forum with students from Smith and Wesleyan.

Please start your response with a note introducing yourself to your forum group.
Respond to either one of the following two questions. Feel free to return to your forum and see what others have written and continue the 'conversation".

1. What makes Title IX a social justice issue and why? How does it impact women today – not just athletes, but the culture of access and equity for women's participation in any area that has a history of male dominance.

2. What is the cultural ideal of women in sport? How does it differ from men?

Name:  Rianna
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  Cultural ideal of women in sport
Date:  2003-02-01 13:20:25
Message Id:  4342
Hi all. My name is Rianna ('04)and I am a Classical Studies major here at BMC. I have to admit to being almost completely sports-ignorant. I also have to admit to not being 'up' on most modern culture trends. At home my family only got public tv (one channel)and we did not get any magazines except for National Geographic and Ceramics Monthly. So, as a happy result, I missed out on just about all the standards that are applied to women and girls in the media. As far as a cultural ideal of women in sport is concerned, I am really only interested in my own ideal. My thought is that if a person, man or woman, wants to participate in any sport then they should, and the devil take whoever tries to say it isn't proper. But, after viewing the documentary and listing to those more informed than I, it seems clear that women are still expected to be sexy, beautiful and otherwise perfect no matter what they are doing and that men can more or less get away with anything. This is ridiculous. I thought the point of playing sports and covering sports in the media was about athletic talent.
On a Classical note, the women of Ancient Sparta were encouraged to exercise, to run races and otherwise compete. The Spartans were not stupid--a healthy and active woman is more likely to survive childbirth. Not that sports should be a means to that particular end, but I find it interesting nonetheless.
Name:  Annie
Username:  acoppock@smith.edu
Subject:  Women in Sport: Cultural Ideal
Date:  2003-02-02 14:12:45
Message Id:  4348
Hi, My name is Annie, and I am a first year at Smith. I have been playing organized sports since first grade, but am also an avid outdoorswoman and enjoy biking, hiking, backcounrty skiing, and everything else in between! I am on the crew team here at Smith. I guess I have always been pretty oblivious to issues of gender in sports. I have never personally been discriminated against in athletics because of being female. It is interesting to read about how women's athletics has evolved over the years. In the late 1800's, Women started participating in athletics to lead a healthy life, and to enhance beauty, and posture. As the years progressed, not much changed. Into the 1940's, the female athlete was expected to be feminine, beautiful, strong, and self-confident. These athletes could not over excert themsleves for fear of damage to their "delicate reproductive systems". Luckily, Title IX came along! Although it had a rough start, I feel that Title IX has changed, and will continue to change women's athletics. Even today, emphasis is placed on experience rather then outcome in women's athletic competetion. Men's sports are seen as a "rite of passage". Our culture places a big emphasis on winning or setting a record in men's sports. However, I feel that women's sports have nowhere to go but up. I feel that we have a long ways to go in terms of equal respect for women and men in sport, and that this change needs to start with accurate media portryal of women athletes.
Name:  Anneliese Zimmerman
Username:  azimmerm@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Question #2
Date:  2003-02-02 22:03:23
Message Id:  4360
Hi, my name is Anneliese Zimmerman and I am a Junior and a Math Major at Bryn Mawr College. I wanted to discuss the question referring to our culture's image of women in sports and how that compares with men's image. I think that women are expected to stay physical in order to keep the "ideal" body figure our society dictates. And, these physical acitivities should not step beyond the boundaries of "lady-like" behavior. How many times in our society is a football player or male basketball player glorified? Now, compare that to a female rugby player or female ice hockey player. Can you name a well-known female rugby player or ice hockey player? Although our society has improved, it still has trouble fully accepting the idea of a STRONG female.
Name:  Jackie
Username:  jpiltch@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Cultural Sport Ideals
Date:  2003-02-03 20:41:36
Message Id:  4373
I'm Jackie, and I'm a sophomore at Bryn Mawr College. I enjoyed the documentary we viewed in class this past week, because it brought to the forefront in my mind several questions that have been dormant for some time. In case there's any confusion, I'm answering the second question, about the difference between cultural ideals of women and men in sport, but I'm adding my own twist - how this duality also appears in all aspects of life and culture.
Men in sports, aggressive, dominant, competitive, have always been lauded for their achievements. In Pericles' Funeral Oration, the orator speaks of men dying for their city, for Athens, and how this notoriety in the name of their city is the greatest end for which any of the deceased could hope. But Pericles continues to say that women are not afforded this same opportunity. In fact, he maintains that women should achieve their excellence by avoiding any acclaim or mention whatsoever.
The spirit of Pericles' speech is mirrored in the world of sports, which also mirrors the same issues in all aspects of society. Women in sports were often insulted and discouraged from displaying the same sportslike traits so often appreciated in their male contemporaries. As sports is more often publicized and televised than arenas like the business world and the political stage, it is interesting to note that the same barriers hurled at the women competing athletically were also jumped by women in business, in politics, and in civil rights in general.
So, the problems faced by the women throught the sports documentary created some interesting linkages in my mind. That's all. :)
Name:  Millie
Username:  mgentry@smith.edu
Date:  2003-02-03 23:08:50
Message Id:  4378
My name is Millie and I am a senior Biology major at Smith College. I, like most of you in this forum, feel that the depiction of the female athlete is one that is markedly different than that of the male athlete. Female athletes are commonly seen as objects--beautiful objects who can perform a specific task well. Conversely, male athletes are lauded for their accomplishments. Male athletes are judged not by how they look, but how they perform. It is rarely important if a male athlete is attractive. In other words, the appearance of a male athlete does not seem to dictate his overall popularity. It is sad that this cannot be said for the female athlete. Unfortunately we live in a day and age when the most the most popular female athletes are those who have the longest legs or the shortest tennis skirt. I look forward to the day that female athletes are praised for their skill and not for their fashion sense.
Name:  Jennifer
Username:  jfichter@smith.edu
Subject:  Cultural Ideals of Athletes
Date:  2003-02-04 20:39:31
Message Id:  4400
Hi Everyone. My name is Jenn and I am a sophomore Neuroscience major at Smith College. I am a member of the Varsity Ski Team and have been playing sports since I was in second grade. I also agree with the previous postings that male athletics are more celebrated than female athletics. However, I think the amount of celebration has to do with American interest in that particular sport. In high school the co-ed track team had won both the Independent School League and the New England Prep-School Division to which we belonged. More than a fourth of the student body was on that team and our achievements were celebrated for the duration of the announcement. However, had either female or male hockey team won a single title the school would have been in chaos for days and each hockey player applauded. The area I grew up in was and still is very big into hockey. The student body was made of people who either loved hockey as a spectator sport or because they had played it.
Different athletes male or female are treated differently based on the sport they excel in and their physical appearance. People question the sexuality of a muscular female soccer player and the graceful male figure skater, than applaud the actions of an attractive female figure skater or a muscular male soccer player. Throughout history and still today image and gender labels restrict the celebration of many disserving athletes both male and female.
Name:  Missie Tidwell
Username:  minervan12@aol.com
Subject:  I agree
Date:  2003-02-05 10:38:09
Message Id:  4411
I am Missie, an junior English and Education major at Bryn Mawr College. I am inclined to agree with all the previous posts. Yes, men get more recognition than females in sport. Yes, I dont' know any famous women rugby players...but for that matter, I dont' know any famous male rugby players either. So, it is more of a cultural thing I suppose. If women watched and played more rugby or ice hockey, the players would have more fans. I myself was brought up with gymnastics and soccer (and a two week trial of ballet, blech!) I am glad to see women playing sports that they love and encourage them. I think if we spent more time encouraging and less time being negative, that women would get more recognition. (Mass media would have to cover the sports if half the population demanded it...it's called capitalism). I myself always played on an all boys travel soccer team with my brothers. I liked to play with boys because the girls were too rough...lol.
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  question 2
Date:  2003-02-05 10:38:16
Message Id:  4412
Hi, my name is Elizabeth Martin, and I'm a junior English major. I think it is ideal if women are allowed to play what they want, and to have the opportuniy to become professional athletes if they choose to pursue that. Unfortunately, it isn't possible for women to pursue ANY sport they want without there being some major obstacles to get past: finding a team they can actually play on, funding, etc. There is an idea that certain sports are appropriate for women, whereas other sports like football and ice hockey aren't. While playing sports, in general, for fun and fitness is accepted, even encouraged in women and girls, it is still expected that we remain feminine. This is especially difficult for women who want to become professional because their every move is scrutinized.
Name:  Monika Le
Username:  mle@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  question 2
Date:  2003-02-05 13:32:38
Message Id:  4416
Hi, my name is Monika. I am a senior majoring in math at Bryn Mawr. Along with the others in this forum, I agree that our society dictates that women athletes should maintain their feminine appeal on and off the court, field, slopes (etc). We are told to humor women athletes who participate in the more male dominated sports - such as rugby, for instance - because they are trying to act like men. Women are not able to participate in agressive contact sports without having their sexuality questioned. The social pressures and general perceptions of male and female athletes are making it difficult for women to prove themselves as worthy competitors.
Name:  valerie sorensen
Username:  vsorensen@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  equal opportunity
Date:  2003-02-05 16:13:19
Message Id:  4421
title nine is a social justice issue because women should have equal opportunity reguardless. my sister is a division one atherlet at the university of north carolina and it is the best thing that has ever happened to her. women, particularly girls need to feel that they can accomplish something and be strong.
Name:  Angela Murphy
Username:  akmurphy@email.smith.edu
Subject:  question #2
Date:  2003-02-05 19:09:40
Message Id:  4424
Hey, my name's Angela and I'm a computer science major at Smith. I'm a huge sports fan both as a participant and spectator. I've been playing any and all sports since kindegarden, and watch any and all sports either at the event or on tv - even been known to watch a few games of curling :-)

It seems to me that the cultural ideal of women in sport is too be perfect. They must be fit, beautiful, and their sweat must smell like roses - quite a feat especially for sports involving pads. Men can be pretty or not, muscular or not, nice or not. For the most part, women have much more strict appearence qualifications to be in the public eye in any light (sports, movies, tv). Society seems to want the women to be everything while not expecting even close to that in the men, one of the most dominant double-standards out there.

Responce Jennifer (4400): Towards the end of your comments you referred to how the appearence of male/female athletes leads to questions on their sexuality. I think that there is a difference between questioning and assuming. The way people, both men and women, appear and behave has been changing in the past few decades. It's not as uncommon now to see a "feminine" guy or a "masculine" girl, though it's still odd for some people, and if they want to ask about sexuality, so long as it's sincere, I don't see a problem with that. If they assume, either way, that's when the problems arise.

Name:  Sara Watson
Username:  swatson2@email.smith.edu
Subject:  Cultural Ideals/Norms of Female Athletes
Date:  2003-02-05 19:59:51
Message Id:  4428
My name is Sara Watson, I am a first year at Smith College, and I have been an athlete ever since I could walk. I think even though I have not playing sports in "on camera" type environment, that the societal pressures on me have been prevalent, but less severe than they are for many of the women attempting to play professionally.

When I was younger my ability to compete was a "cool" thing amongst my peers. It was looked upon with much admiration. However, when I reached Jr. High...everyone was gaining a sense of how our "society" works. Because I could play...and because I didn't do it with make-up on I instantly received the label of being a lesbian...and trust me, at my Jr. High, this was not a good thing! Further more, when I went on to High School, things got a little better, I was respected because I could play...but I suppose I also started wearing make-up to school. So now, which is it? I'd like to think that maybe people grew up a little bit, but who knows?

I find this "dolled up" image of female athletes rather bothersome...Don't get me wrong, make up is great, but do these athletic role models have to cake it on order to show young girls that, "hey, they can play too?" It's not like make-up offers anyhting condusive to your playing ability. If anyhting...it smears and gets in your eyes...and causes all kinds of problems. Gender norms of our American society are still forcning women to have the right "look" even if they are competing in a physical contest. I really tend to disagree with the way that female athletes in the media are being portrayed lately. That's assuming of course that they receive the coverage...

Name:  Samantha
Username:  svvarma@aol.com
Subject:  cultural ideal of women in sport
Date:  2003-02-05 20:16:28
Message Id:  4430
Hi. My name is Samantha and I am a senior history major at Bryn Mawr. The idea that physical appearance and the adherence to cultural norms and expectations demonstrates or reflects one's character and personality is a problem that reaches beyond the realm of sports. In sports, however, what is valued most- speed, strength, stamina, etc – is often perceived as negative given the physical characteristics and behavior of the athlete. The media's coverage of Navatrolova and Evert is an example. For women athletic talent is negotiated through their physical appearance and behavior. Athletic skill is admired only if it is compliments the feminine ideal. Female athletes are female first and athletic second, female being the cultural norm of feminine. With male athletes, however, there is no disconnect or prioritization between gender and its cultural ideal and their athletics: athlete and man are interchangeable concepts (unless of course men are competing in a "feminine" sport, such as figure skating). Often, for women to gain recognition for their skill they must fit into the cultural ideal. The influence of the media has much to do with this, whether it is sports coverage or commercial endorsements. Look at Ana Kournikvova. Her tennis rank is low, yet she has one of the most lucrative endorsement deals of all the players and no lack of media coverage. In this case skill is not even a consideration.
Also, I am glad the film, Dare To Compete, acknowledged the different experiences of white women and black women in sports and how the cultural ideal of women, though it hindered all women, did have a somewhat different affect on women of color. When we discuss feminine ideal it is important to realize that this cultural image often excluded women of color.
Name:  Amy S.
Username:  astern@brynmawr.edu
Date:  2003-02-05 22:38:25
Message Id:  4441
Hi. I'm Amy. I'm a frosh at BMC, hoping to be a creative writing major and possibly a femgen minor. I don't know that much about athletics, but I'm a writing geek and a media studies geek, so... yeah. Hi.

Just to jump on what everyone else said, I see the girls and boys being forced to concede to the cultural stereotypes just because it's "easier" than actively changing it. I mean, Title IX was supposed to work towards equality, but it receives nothing but scorn from a lot of people who want their children to be able to play on all-boys' football teams, etc.

Being a student at a women's college, I obviously see the benefit of women getting the same opportunities men do: the right to be in equal levels of academics, athletics, etc.

And yet in public high schools, we see how much inequality exists: girls who stay quiet in class so that boys will like them more; boys called sissies for not being as athletic or muscular as the boys.

Everything is a double standard. Always has been.

Name:  Melissa Teicher
Username:  mteicher@brynmawr.edu
Date:  2003-02-06 11:07:44
Message Id:  4449
Hi! My name's Melissa, and I'm a sophomore at Bryn Mawr. I've never taken an interest in sports, so the information in this documentary was very new to me. I think that the cultural ideal of women in sports is very similar to the cultural ideal of women in every aspect of society. Women are expected to have nice, primped hair, to wear makeup, to look perfect at all times. The same applies to their appearance in sports. For instance, I remember seeing a shampoo commercial that used a professional swimmer as their spokesperson. The idea of the commercial was that in spite of the chlorine and other chemicals in the water, she uses this shampoo to make her hair look healthy and shiney again after she swims. With men, however, their portrayal is much different. To be "manly," you have to work hard and sweat. They are not expected to clean themselves up for the public.
Name:  Katherine
Username:  kquah@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Question 2
Date:  2003-02-06 15:55:33
Message Id:  4456
Hi, I'm Katherine and a sophomore at Bryn Mawr. In a culture where femininity and atheleticism are frequently presented as contrasting ideals, the importance that women have played in the history of sports has so often been relegated to the last pages of the sports section, or in daytime rather then primetime tv coverage. We have found fault in the biology of women for not running as fast or jumping as high as men--rather then celebrating the natural capacity of a woman's body. It is possible to be a woman and be an athelete, to be feminine and be strong--posessing the quality of one does not determine the absence of the other, and I think society as a whole is beginning to recognize that.
Name:  Claire Mahler
Username:  cmahler@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Title IX
Date:  2003-02-06 17:26:21
Message Id:  4461
Hi there, everyone. My name is Claire Mahler, I'm a frosh at Bryn Mawr (probably a Cities major, but we'll see what actually happens...). I have never been a HUGE sports person myself, usually drifting towards the fine arts, theater, music, etc. and food, but I'll see what I can do here.

Granted, I do firmly believe that women (as they are, not with some unattainable idealistic model in mind) need the freedom to be considered equals in society; but seeing as how the people posting comments here are all women from women's colleges, I get the feeling that everyone is going to hold (or at least express) the "yay-women! rah rah rah, all the power to us!" kind of sentiment.

Bearing that in mind, I'll play the devil's advocate. In terms of Title IX, is it truly just to forefit men's programs in order to equalize the male-to-female sports ratio? True, it's fabulous that women are getting sporting opportunities not afforded for years and years, but the should talented college-age male athletes of today 'pay' for this injustice? For the most part, I doubt that they had much of any influence on the inequities, so why hold them accountable? Hold them responsible to know and understand the past? Yes. To forefit their chances for athletics? I'm not so sure. I know that there have been instances in which major athletic funding has been cut for males simply because the corresponding women's programs were not taking flight as anticipated. Who can say what is completely fair

Yay women--yay men, too. This is just a note to all of you ladies to be wary of the über-feminist vibe that can cloud judgement and turn intended equal rights struggles into regimes headed for female superiority.