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.

Course Home PageFacultyScheduleWeb LinksBibliographyWeb Papers



Name:  Amy Campbell
Username:  acampbel@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Week 2 Questions
Date:  2003-02-07 11:28:39
Message Id:  4474
Week 2 Questions. Please respond to at least one of the questions. Particiapnts may also continue to comment on the questions from week 1. To read the comments of the Week 1 questions, please refer to the archived link.

1. What is the meaning of the images used in the popular media that portray women? Portray women athletes? Give some examples of positive images and some negative images. Look at the WNBA website for an interesting look at the intersection of media and women's professional sport. www.wnba.com

2. What role does gender play as enhancing the athletic image of women in sport? What influence, what difference, did the image of Velvet as being gender neutral and in fact trying to pass as a male jockey. What does this say about women in sport, women in male domains, and the cultural ideal of women? Is this applicable toady?

3. How does the cultural ideal of sport relate to the cultural ideal of women in society?

For those students who watched National Velvet, add the question:
Are you, or did you ride horses in your youth? Describe the passion of riding horses. How would you describe the link between gender as portrayed in the movie?

Name:  maura
Username:  mambuter@email.smith.edu
Subject:  sport v woman
Date:  2003-02-10 23:51:24
Message Id:  4525
though i think that this line is getting blurred more and more, it seems that the cultural ideal of sport and the cultrual ideal of women are opposites which is why is has been so hard for women to gain headway in the field. just looking the the 'cult of true womanhood,' cult of domesticity, etc... and then the idea of sport as this aggressive arena when winners are made through strength and power,there is not much overlap. I think that in answering this question each sport needs to be looked at for itself. sports are historically a male space. correspondingly most of the worlds power belongs to men. i don't know how willing they are to give up that power, and in that way, the dichotomy between men and women, male athletes and female athletes, male pastimes and female pastimes, needs to be maintained.
take pro-wrestling... its images of women are much different than swimming or track. and while some people see wrestling as entertainment, it is looked at as a place where few women are afforded legitimacy. part of that, in my opinion, is traced back to how women are allowed to be seen, and expecially through media. maybe, as dare to compete says, it is finally okay for women to be exhausted, and thus they can partake in many mroe sports, but at the same time, i dont know that it is okay for women to be as ruthless as is expected of a pro wrestler. women who do succeed are often sexualized, as it is a framework for looking at females that is acceptable. thanks to movements such as feminism, the roles of men are growing increasingly more unstable which means that even if women do participate in a sport such as wrestling, the way they are depicted is often not as an true athlete but rather as an accessory to the men.
i suppose i am getting slightly off the point, which is that women's roles and ideas around sports in general aren't shown to overlap and even when they do, there is the clear emphasis that they are women's sports, not just sports.
Name:  Jennifer
Username:  jfichter@smith.edu
Subject:  Question 1
Date:  2003-02-11 20:58:47
Message Id:  4546
In today's society it is acceptable for a girl or women to play sports, as opposed to earlier in the twentieth century when women were forbade from participation. Female athletic ineligibility grew from the idea that athletics was not "proper behavior" and that the altered body types needed to participate in sports would destroy her health and beauty. Although women are allowed to partake in athletic activity, female athletes still battle societies concern that her altered body will affect her beauty and "proper behavior". Why else would female athletes be photographed with their children, husband or as super models and not in their jerseys? Female athletes try and protect their femininity and sexuality from being scrutinized. The glamour photo spreads are an attempt to avoid negative media character attacks; however this also lets the public to drool over their sculptured bodies and not their achievements. Society has taken a step forward by allowing women to play sports. However, there is still a concern within society that female athletes will become "butch" therefore the media portrays female pro-athletes as sexual objects to maintain a "proper" female image.
On the WNBA web site homepage, there are two photos with players in their basket-ball uniforms. In each picture Ticha Penicheiro is hugging rapper Nelly and Lisa Leslie has her arm around L.L. Cool Jay. The WNBA clearly is trying to maintain the image of heterosexual female athlete. I proceeding to surf the site I clicked on "click for new promo" and a page entitled "This is Who I Am" popped up picturing four players in evening wear with their hair and make-up done. Society clearly needs reassurance that these players are "proper ladies" if this is there new promo! It was also interesting that when a entered the NBA web site they have a shot of a basket-ball player in action! While maintaining a wholesome image, the WNBA gives younger female athletes hope and female athletic role models to follow. On the WNBA web site there is this section called the "Teen Advisory Board" one girl stated that she liked the playing styles of three male pro-basket-ball players but that Sheryl Swoopes was her favorite player. It is clear that the WNBA has made strides for female athletes of all ages, but the marketing of the association is still restricted by the societies concern for female athletes to maintain a "proper" image.
Name:  Sara Watson
Username:  swatson2@email.smith.edu
Date:  2003-02-12 14:14:01
Message Id:  4554
I am getting the sense that us Smithies really share a lot of the same ideas as it surrounds this topic. We realize that women in sport today are technically allowed to participate and be considered athletes-- but we won't look at that and see success in the achievement of women in the sports world. Women have a long way to come before the playing field is truly level. It is this idea that women in sport are never allowed to just be "athletes," they are "female athletes." Which some how our society has allowed to become a group of its own.

Culturally, society views the ideal athlete as agressive, muscular, competitive, and in the most "American" view, as role models. The trouble here is that our modern American society refuses to let go of the ideals that it holds for women. There is this concept that we will say ok...women can be strong...but only as long as the weakest man is still superior to the strongest woman. We have come up with this new plan where women are allowed be strong successful athletes if and only if they hold on to these concepts of femininity wherein one should fufill that which the male culture find beautiful and still submissive to a male counterpart.

The issue now that is most prominently holding these athletes back would be the way that they are portrayed in the media. This is the new barrier. We have proven that women can compete but now we have to prove that they are in fact athletes. Not female athletes, but athletes in general. They musn't be forced to overcome hurdles questioning their lifestyle off of the court, or field. Players must be portrayed as athletes first, not as the socially constructed perfect female.

Name:  valerie
Username:  vsorense@brynmawr.edu
Date:  2003-02-12 16:34:24
Message Id:  4558
women athletes portrayed in todays society have just as about as much to do with their athletic abilities as a chef has of her ability to knit. all that matters in todays media is that sex sells, and as long as women arre in the spoghtlight, reguardless of why, they will be portrayed sexually. it is what gets attention. this does not make it right, however, and it is further undermining the acheivements (or in the care of ana kournikova..lack thereof)as atheletes. just look at shows like the practice or law and porder. most if not all the lawyers on those shows are somehow sexified, as if it gives them more credibility to the judge. if i wore outfits like laura flyn boyle's to court id probably be held in contempt for disrespect. what message are we sending to young girls? sexyness is the key to all sucess? you can be untalented and of medeocre intelligence but suceed if youre good looking?
Name:  E. Fardig
Username:  efardig@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  always a woman first
Date:  2003-02-12 20:08:16
Message Id:  4561
Society sends the message that no matter what a woman does with her life, she is first and foremost a woman and must act like one. When women broke into the workforce in numbers, they never thought about dropping the home duties. Instead, if a woman wanted to work outside the home, she had to add her new responsibilities to her home duties. Even today, flip through any magazine targeted at women and you will find many articles devoted to balancing personal and professional lives. Such articles are conspicuously absent from men's magazines. Women in the public's eye, regardless of their other accomplishments, are criticized or praised based on their looks, clothing, style, and poise. Take Hillary Clinton who attracts more media attention for her hair style changes than for her contributions in the Senate. Ditto goes for Laura Bush and her wardrobe.
In sport, many women are sexualized because it is the easiest way the media has to let the public know that these are women first and athletes second. Why do we have words such as women athlete or woman leader still? When do we get to be just athletes and leaders without the stigma that comes from the woman prefix? It is still a man's world, even though we have many more opportunities. The glass ceiling remains. A sexualized woman, especially a woman of power such as an athlete or a CEO, becomes an object and is rendered much less threatening to men. Yes, we can achieve great things, but society continues to say that unless we have a tidy home to return to and can get dinner on the table for husbands and children, we have somehow failed at being women.
I never rode horses, so I cannot comment on the National Velvet questions.
Name:  Amy
Username:  amelanso@smith.edu
Subject:  Cultural Ideals
Date:  2003-02-12 23:41:10
Message Id:  4563
For most American women, capitalism reduced what was real to what was apparent, which in some sense implies that what women are and represent lies in the hands of their appearance. This statement can be applied to all occupations of which women play a significant role; however, it is more apparent in sport where women are almost always portrayed in highly sexualized ways in which the focus is on their body and has little to do with their athletic competence. In the visual world of the twentieth century, the outside counts as well as the inside. Women use their appearance, whether it is their body, their clothing, or their individual style, to express pride, confidence, identities, and both strengths and weaknesses. In a generation centrally focused on identity issues and public image, our bodies and how we present them can express who we are.

The television, American fashion industry, and women?s magazines focus on the ?ideal image? of the American woman. A woman?s sense of worth in American culture is still largely determined by her appearance, her ability to keep the species going, and her attractiveness to men. As long as a woman views her body as an object, she is controllable and profitable.

Although television and the media perpetuate an unattainable ideal body image, images of young women in the media have become more inclusive of alternative body types, particularly those with the attributes of a well-conditioned athlete. As a result of the Women?s Movement of the 1960s and the instatement of Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972 allowing more egalitarian gender representation in sports, female athletes have gained more athletic competence and media coverage, and in turn, have perpetuated traditional idealizations of physical appearance. The images that pop-up in the media are of those women who one would describe as feminine, beautiful, and/or of model-like quality. The same biases that exist for women who are dealing with issues regarding sexuality in other occupations exist for women in sport. They almost seem worse because it is evident that society accepts women participating in sport, yet the mental image of an ideal female athlete according to societal standards represents a very small percentage in reality.

Like all social conventions and regulations, physical appearance is related to power. In a way, we can regard women?s bodies as cultural relics, recurrently shaped by culture and history. In a sense, the ?natural body? is lost when subjected to such intense pressures. It merely represents reflections of the play of power within society at that time. Today, viewing images of practically naked well-respected female athletes perpetuates this argument. It seems as if one way for professional female athletes to maintain power is to accept the media?s offer to participate in what sells and what sells for women is ?an attractive body? and not necessarily an extraordinary athlete.

Name:  Jenna Rosania
Username:  jrosania@brynmawr.edu
Date:  2003-02-13 11:11:08
Message Id:  4569
Although women in sports today are given much more credit than previously for their talents and abilities, they are still expected in our culture to be ladies both in their behavior during their sport and in their personal lives. This is in terms of their popularity with their audience and the degree of their acceptance by their audience. Women should not be violently aggressive in either of these aspects, nor should they ever be involved in illegal activity or have important family crises. On the other hand, men in sports often become more popular when they fight with an opponant, or get arrested, or are going through ugly divorces. We are much more eager to forgive men for these things than women. The way people feel about women in sports seems regressive, although I think that because it has only been recently that women have felt unashamed about displaying their strength and power which rivals that of men, so as the audience, we are still trying to deal with this, and often what makes the most sense to us as products of our culture is that they must still embody "woman" to balance out their strength, and this makes people want to see quieter and more well behaved women than should realistically be expected. I think it will be some time before our culture, no matter how unbiased we may think we are, will accept women who are powerful and not require them to also have the capacity to be demure and ladylike.
Name:  Alice Goff
Username:  agoff@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Portrayal?
Date:  2003-02-13 19:16:40
Message Id:  4592
I see problems in the idea of women being 'portrayed' in sports. The 'portrayal' of women in sports is a notion weighted with the idea of the 'advertisement' of women in sports, which is an issue that is frought with many negative implications, as we have seen in last week's documentary. I wonder if women in sport NEED to be portrayed by the mass media-- is it a necessary feature of being an athlete to present oneself in public in areas outside the sports arena (aka on cereal boxes, or nike commercials)? Why is it not enough for athletes merely to be athletes, to play sports, to compete, to excel? I would like to suggest that "portrayal" of athletes, in this case women, should not be something inherant to their success in the sports field, in an ideal world.
Name:  Amy Campbell
Username:  acampbel@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  WEEK 3 Questions
Date:  2003-02-16 16:11:08
Message Id:  4625
The class at Smith, Bryn Mawr and Wesleyan have viewed a few different films--all films have themes that connect to the larger questions of women and sport. Please respond to the questions based upon the films you have watched. Feel free to comment on the themes that link all of our classes together in the broader conversation about women, sport, Title IX, gender etc. Enjoy the conversation!!

1. What is the cultural ideal displayed by the main characters in each film? What norms/ideals of the time, do the characters challenge and expand?

2. What is the relationship between the main characters in the films and their message about women and sport? Has it had an impact on what is happening in women's sport today? How does it effect womne who are not engaged in sport?

3. How does the media - print - video/movie - web - portary women and sport? Is it helpful?

Name:  Lauren Weiner
Username:  lcweiner@mtholyoke.edu
Date:  2003-02-16 21:54:51
Message Id:  4629
The media can either serve to transform or reinforce traditional stereotypes of women in society. In the realm of the athletic world, sport has both served to perpetuate gender stereotypes and to combat them. On occasion, the media depicts women competing in their respective sports, strong bodied, determined, physically engaged, active, passionate. These women, depicted with ball in arm, muscles tense, eyes fixed on the goal, are positive images of women athletes. These depictions, though few and far between, serve to breakdown the traditional stereotypes regarding women in sport that date back hundreds of years and unfortunately still continue today.
More often than not, the media's portrayal of women athletes perpetuate the vision that women should be noticed because they are feminine, dainty, sexy. The camera angle centers on the breasts or perfectly thin midsections of beautiful, sexy women athletes who, rather than clothed in sporting attire, fashion soccer balls or flags over her breasts. The media focuses attention on the personal lives of women athletes, interviewing her children, taking photos of her husband, thereby perpetuating heterosexist ideals.
Men have always run the news media and had the most decision making power, thus women fail to receive the same amount of coverage as their male counterparts. When coverage of women's sporting events does occur, women are more often than men referred to by first name from male news commentators who thereby exert power over the female athlete by speaking of them in a familiar context. The more powerful women emerge on the sporting field, the more resistant men become to equity.
Name:  Laura
Username:  ljpollet@mtholyoke.edu
Date:  2003-02-16 23:43:50
Message Id:  4631
Unfortunately, we tend to have anxiety about physically strong, aggressive, competitive women. Therefore, the media tends to distort images of women in order to make those uncomfortable feel more at ease. In the process, as stated in the video "Playing Unfair: The Media Image of a Female Athlete," women are sexualized and in turn lose the sense of empowerment they have gained through playing sports.

It is interesting to see how differently women and men athletes are portrayed on both the WNBA and NBA website. I am not sure whether or not this is based on in-season vs. out of season coverage, but the images shown are drastically different. On the front page of the WNBA website, there is a section dedicated to a promo recently done of some players on the WNBA tour. It was called, "This is who I am." There is a collection of 17 photos where athletic women are portrayed as "girlie girls". They are shown all dressed up in gowns, dresses, wearing make up and many having had their hair done. I read the title of this promo to mean, I am a heterosexual women instead of a proud basketabll player. While I believe it is important to show these women as they may normally dress outside of the gym, I don't believe that it is appropriate to advertise on their website. On a public forum dedicated to the sport of basketball these women should be shown in their athletic gear, just as the men are. However, in order to adhere to popular culture and conform to stereotypes that have perpetuated for so long, the media feels the need to show these women as women instead of the strong athlete that we admire in them.

On the NBA website we get to see men dressed in their uniforms, taking shots and running on the court. This page represents the men on the tour as strong athletes. They are viewed first as competitive athletes. I don't believe that they would ever post 17 shots of male basketball players posing and all dressed up. Then again, men automatically receive attention. Unfortunately it is believed that the only way for a women to gain a males attention is by sexualizing her. The media has a nasty way of trying to help promote womens sports teams.