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 11:29:57
Message Id:  4476
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:  Anne Dalke
Username:  adalke@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Reacting to National Velvet
Date:  2003-02-12 10:25:57
Message Id:  4552
Hi, guys. I'm the moderator of this forum, checking in two weeks late. I teach in the BMC English Dept, run the Gender Studies program here, used to be a swimmer but (because of being diagnosed w/ osteoporosis this summer) have shifted to weight-bearing exercise and am now a serious walker (well, less serious than I should be ...paradoxically, I exercised more regularly when I had to fit my schedule around when the pool was open....)

I had serious doubts (ahead of time) about our watching "National Velvet," but found myself completely engaged last Thursday night. Afterwards, I had fun talking about it w/ Paul Grobstein (who gets all blame/credit for picking the film in the first place). Our conversation covered the range of our reactions:

-- the gender differences (beginning w/ the girls' sweet singing in the schoolroom, while the boys yowled @ the window; continuing through Donald's boyishness and his father's obstreperousness);

--the way in which horsebackriding was clearly a sexual sublimination for Velvet (whoa! those riding-in-the-bed scenes!!)--and yet? she didn't "hook-up" w/ Mi @ the end...all that got displaced onto her mom/dad's memories of their union...and their (finally!) calling each other by their first names!

--how gender-specific Velvet's/her mother's dreams were: was it important that she was an adolescent girl, coached by a guy? that her mother was? (another way to ask the question: is this a girls' movie? would guys relate to it?)

--I'm curious to know how YOU all related to it, whether it spoke to your dreams/your desires to do something "great," your willingness to value "folly," your willingness to move on to something else, when one task is accomplished...

--the wise, wise mother particularly intrigued me; I found her very powerful and very mysterious (wanted to BE her!...and yet I found myself resisting, more than she was--@ least overtly--the confinements of her current life....)

--We thought Velvet's fainting, as she crossed the finish line, was "cheating": why'd it happen that way? could she not be allowed (when the movie was made, in 1944 ) to win???

Looking forward to hearing your reactions--

Name:  emmi
Username:  econnoll@email.smith.edu
Subject:  sport vs. women's sport
Date:  2003-02-12 14:14:32
Message Id:  4555
Even after the influence of Title IX began to sweep through the sporting world, women's sport still held stereotypes and questions on the appropriateness of the activity. In 1983, the "New Agenda for Women and Sport" conference identified six myths of women's sport that they wanted to dispell by "any means necessary." They were: 1) Sport masculinizes women 2) Sports are medically risky for women 3) The female body is inadequate for sports performance 4) Women are not interested in sports 5) Women are not phychologically tough enough for sports 6) Present financial resources are adequate for women's sport. Even though several of these myths have been overturned and stomped in the past. However many of these myths still remain with new, yet similar myths stemming from them.
Women have seen many desirable changes in sport and have transformed the roles of women into limbo. Old sport created the traditional masculine ambiance and society reflected this believe. Some believe as equality begins this thought will be extinguished. The article, "The Knowledge Expolsion: Generations of Feminist Scholarship", states [sport was] "...created as it is by men and women who possess and reflect both "masculine and feminine" qualities..." Is this believed in our present culture? Look at the media. Look at the way women athletes, even with wonderous acolades, championships and respect are shown to us.
An example of this is the WNBA website. I had never visited the site, but when it was suggested, I was excited to see it. I waited for it to load and was astonished at the large pictures, front and middle that covered the site. They are not the large pictures of the league's stars dunking or shooting, like Nick Van Exel and Shaq on the NBA's website. No, they are pictures of the league's stars, Ticha Penicheiro and Lisa Lesile hugging rappers Nelly and L.L. Cool Jay. Even when I tried to look in the photo gallery, it was pictures of the All-stars in dressy clothes, lookinf feminine and classy. This is still the norm for women athletes. They must maintain their feminine stature and image out of this myth and expectation of our culture.
One side note is that at Tenn St, the Men's Basketball team is going to be coached by the female athletic director after the coach was suspended on Tuesday. This is the first female coach for DI. Neat to see what happens.
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  WNBA
Date:  2003-02-12 16:29:22
Message Id:  4557
Hi, I am Lisa from Smith...

I would like to urge everyone to look at both NBA.com and WNBA.com. The two websites really articulate the differences in the media's portrayal of men and women in sport and how women are still undervalued as athletes in order to fit heternormative gender roles. The contrast between the images of men and women on the two sites infuriates me. On the women's site there are rarely any pictures of the women playing or even in uniform.
The title above one of the photo galleries is, "This is who I am" (photo galleries, 2002). In that gallery there are pictures of women dressed everything from leather to a debutante gown, but not one has on her uniform. I highly doubt that Lisa Harrison identifies more as a parasol carrying debutant than a strong, dominating basketball player. This website is not only reinforcing gender norms by making women subscribe to traditional definitions of feminity, but also legitimizing them. The WNBA is supposed to be a place of empowerment for women. These photo galleries certainly do not send that message, they take away women's authority as athletes as well as their agency. I am sure it is for this same reason that not one WNBA athlete is out as a lesbian.
The boys have it a lot easier, their pictures are in their uniforms. Most of the pictures are of them amkign great plays. They do not have to fit a dual role as athlete and male because gender norms already tell us that it is inherently masculine to be an athlete.

Name:  Mary W. Jayne
Username:  mjayne@smith.edu
Subject:  Media Images of Female Athletes
Date:  2003-02-13 10:36:41
Message Id:  4567
Historically, the cultural ideal of sport has long referenced health and fitness. I think it's interesting that Mary Jo Kane noted, in her commentary that accompanied the film "Playing Along", seen by the Smith Class this week, that there's a media requirement for "wholesomeness" for women athletes. This is sort of an extrapolation of the health & fitness thing, but it has unfortunately meant emphasizing cultural images of feminity -- marriage and family -- for women athletes. It has also meant avoiding lesbian athletes. "Out" lesbians usually sacrifice the earnings they would be able to bring in, were they to choose to hide their sexual orientation. Therefore, media presentation of women athletes places gay female athletes at a tremendous disadvantage -- AND cheapens the athletic achievements of straight women as well. Images of such highly accomplished women as Chris Evert were included in the film in a segment that showed an inordinate degree of emphasis placed on her dating history and her wedding pictures -- rather than on her athletisc accomplishments.

In terms of positive media treatment of women athletes -- I think that there has been overall positive treatment of Mia Hamm. I live in Washington, DC and see a great deal of coverage of her athletic achievement in local media there -- and relatively little focus on her personal life.

Mary W. Jayne, Smith College

Name:  rachel
Username:  rkahn@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  media vs progress
Date:  2003-02-13 10:38:35
Message Id:  4568
The WNBA site is really interesting. Clearly, it is a media produced site, with media controlled images. Compare this site with a fan site for Ticha Penicheiro: http://www.angelfire.com/games2/monarchs/ Five out of the seven pictures show Penicheiro in uniform, and in the other two pictures she is NOT wearing a tight leather outfit. A website created by a Swedish bodybuilder, Petra Enderborn, provides another interesting comparison: http://www.petraenderborn.com/news.htm Almost all of the pictures on the site show off Enderborn's athleticism and muscles. In the photo gallery, the first three sets of photos show her competing or training. While media sites like nba.com and wnba.com are still clinging for dear life to the binary gender system, I think that fans and the athletes themselves are beginning to embrace the possibility of a spectrum of gender identity.
Name:  Christen Gore
Username:  Cgore@brynmawr.edu
Date:  2003-02-13 17:06:15
Message Id:  4583
Hello!!! My name is Christen from Bryn Mawr College.
National Velvet
I really enjoyed watching National Velvet. I had never seen it before but I found it very cute in a historical kind of way. I am also glad that we did not actually talk about the movie directly after watching it. Some things are just ruined when you try to analyze them too much. The movie was made to be enjoyed, so I would like to think that we can look past all of the silliness of it and just appreciate the fact that it was a product of it's time.
That being said......
What I was most intrigued by in the movie was the relationship between Velvet's mother and Father. Her father liked to think that he ruled the roost but when it came right down to it he had the less control over the household than anyone else. Mrs. Brown consistently found ways to quietly bypass Mr. Brown's commands and edicts, in everything from feeding the dog from the table to providing Velvet with the money to enter the race.
Anytime Mr. Brown "laid down the law" so to speak, Mrs. Brown was there with a few wise words and a sound argument to thwart her husband and change his mind. It seems that it is ok for women to rule the roost and "win" at home but not in such public arena's as horse races or such.
Name:  marta bryn mawr
Username:  msobur@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  National Velvet
Date:  2003-02-13 18:14:05
Message Id:  4586
While watching the National Velvet, I sort of was able to predict what the outcome of the little girl's passion for horses was going to be, but I was impatient to discover who in the end will ride the horse, and whether, by the fact of cutting her her and disguising herself as a boy (how many nice literature parallels one could make from just noticing that!) Velvet actually conformed to the rules of the male domination in the world of sport, or perhaps questioned it and interrupted the order of the men's world. I am not able to make up my mind, but all I know is that the horse riding scenes were just outrageous and perhaps it is my exposure to the 'screaming-sexuality-off-the-media' to wonder how did 'they' get away with those scenes all those years, and more interestingly, what instructions did Elizabeth Taylor get to act out that scene. Quite off-topic from the sports now.. I have an impression that the movie did not portrey adequately the struggle of women to make an appearance on the sports scene, which most likely derived from the direction in which the characters were developed: Velvet's mother, even though a champion swimmer is happy with her role as a mother and a housewife; Velvet herself, even though a winner in a prestigious competition, does not seem to fight for her place in media (understood as a way to convey the message of female sportswomen into the world), and everyone peacefully accepts the fact of her disqualification.. lots of tangents to the theme, but not much of them reflect the actual attempts of women to become equally important as men in sport.
Name:  Laurel Jackson
Username:  ljackson@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  National Velvet
Date:  2003-02-13 18:36:08
Message Id:  4588
While watching National Velvet last week, I was struck by the role that Mrs. Brown played. It's interesting that she had a past filled with sports, with triumphs in sports, and yet she accepts the cultural norm of the day by settling down with a husband to have lots of children. Although she maintains the household and the butcher's shop, she has relegated her past--one filled with the independence that sports had brought her--to a chest in the attic. She encourages Velvet to go after a littly "folly" at this time in her life, but she does it with the attitude that this will be the one and only time Velvet will be permitted to step out of bounds. Perhaps she was merely being realistic with Velvet...most mothers at the time would not have condoned such behavior at all. Mrs. Brown is the wise mentor to Velvet, the calming voice of truth to everyone in the family. I'm wondering if it was necessary to have included her brush with sports fame in the movie in order to establish her as this kind of character--one who can sympathize with Velvet. Other than her relationship with Mi's father, which leads him to their family, Mrs. Brown's sporting career plays a small role in her everyday life. It's a little disheartening to think that after all the trials Velvet has gone through, this will eventually just be a distant memory. It may affect her life, and she will carry on the ideals taught by her mother, but she will never again pursue a career in sports because included in her mother's ideals are the inevidable conditions of marriage, family, household, etc.
Name:  Marla
Username:  mdmcconn@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  National Velvet
Date:  2003-02-13 18:42:46
Message Id:  4590
I was pleasantly surprised by National Velvet. Not only was it an enjoyable movie to watch, but it had one of the best messages for women today and for when it was first released. I was impressed that a movie from that time period was so encouraging of a woman's dream of sport. The part of the movie that struck me most was when Velvet's trainer allowed her to race for herself even though it was his dream to be a jockey in the grand nationals. This seems like a rare occurance even today when women being in sport is much more acceptable.
Name:  Rachel
Username:  rhochber@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  National Velvet
Date:  2003-02-13 19:10:33
Message Id:  4591
I was one of those kids who always loved horses as a child, but somehow I managed to never watch National Velvet.... I enjoyed it quite a lot when we watched in class, though I knew the basic story already. As other people have pointed out, I was really intrigued by Mrs. Brown, and pleased by the strength that was so obvious in her. It surprised me, as other people have also expressed, that a movie from that time period would portray a strong woman like Mrs. Brown. She wasn't particularly feminine-looking, even in the scene where her hair is down; she has a more masculine build and face, and aside from all that, she was obviously an amazing swimmer. And she's portrayed as very strong-willed, as well, though she's quiet about it, and she's very much in charge of the household, above and beyond the authority of Mr. Brown as the man of the house. I'm not sure what all of that means in relation to women in sports, except that I'm pleased that Mrs. Brown was such a strong character.