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 2 Questions
Date:  2003-02-07 11:29:22
Message Id:  4475
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:  Rianna
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  cultural ideals
Date:  2003-02-08 14:48:05
Message Id:  4480
It seems to me that the cultural ideals of women in society and women in sport are being blended. Women now hold positions of power and influence in the business world, hold governmental offices, or are scientists. There is no room for weakness in these positions. These women need to be strong and capable and (unfortunetly) it also helps if they are good looking. Women in sports also need to be strong and capable. Brains and health are valued. I would say with all the emphasis we place today on health food, exercise, and confidence, women who play sports are at an advantage as far as that goes.

In the documentary we viewed before we watched "National Velvet", the issue of female athletes being portrayed as sex objects came up. I believe the idea was that it was 'unempowering' for female athletes to be shown in a sexualized manner. My thought is this: No one forced those athletes to pose naked. If female athletes do not want their image to be reduced to that of a sex object, then they as a whole should refuse to pose for photographs that would do so. And honestly, if I see a sports magazine with a half-naked male on the front, my first thought has absolutly nothing to do with his ability to play an organized sport.

Name:  Claire Mahler
Username:  cmahler@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  newspaper article
Date:  2003-02-09 10:38:25
Message Id:  4485
just thought this might interest the participants here...
this is a newspaper article about title IX and its impact on college sports, and its need for gentle redirection.



Name:  lily gataullina
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  week 2
Date:  2003-02-09 12:37:09
Message Id:  4488
One can often hear "sport makes you healthy and beautiful." Sport has never been denied in such important function as making people healthy, but what really makes it popular today is the idealistic relationship between sport and beauty that has been created in the modern society. The society has established the standards of the ideal female beaty, and sport provides enough examples to keep this standards still very popular. Unlike Hollywood and model-business, however, sport manages to bring examples of power and beauty in the same body. I think, this is why, the growing amount of female-athletes are so popular in the advertising business today. both their beauty and their power correspond to the wish of the modern society to have active, strong, yet sexually attractive women, both at home and at the leading positions.
Name:  Elizabeth Martin
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  national velvet (ques 2)
Date:  2003-02-09 14:18:51
Message Id:  4489
Velvet's character is lucky to have a mother who supports women in sports, as she was an athlete herself. Although her father does say to his daughters that they have only their faces for their fortunes, Velvet's interest in riding horses does not seem to be a problem within her family and her town. There is an idea that women should be protected from danger, as we see the first time that Velvet and Mi are confronted with the horse in the road, and the owner chides Mi for not pulling Velvet out of the way. It is not until she gets to the professional level, however, that her gender is an obstacle to her riding horses. Although people notice that Velvet is young and small, they don't suspect that she is a girl. Her size and age are not a problem when people believe that she is male. It is only her gender that makes her delicate and vulnerable. She is disqualified, but still seen as a national hero.
Name:  Anneliese Zimmerman
Username:  azimmerm@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Question Week 2
Date:  2003-02-09 22:32:32
Message Id:  4501
I wanted to comment on the idea of Velvet being gender neutral and how that relates to women in sports and other male-dominated arenas today. I think that women in sports are expected to be feminine, as well as being an athlete. But, in the business world, I think women are expected to be gender-neutral like Velvet in the movie. Women in business are sometimes looked down upon when they have to leave work for family issues (i.e. kids are sick at home) or if they go on maternity leave. As a result, business women (who have families) are supposed to go above and beyond any businessman, because they have "traditional" roles that women are expected to fill (i.e. cooking, cleaning, taking care of the home, etc.) as well as the buisness work. But if they show even the slightest sign of fatigue or irriation at the amount of work and responsibilities facing them, they are immediately chastised by the business community as being whiney and overly sensitive and as a result, they are not taken seriously in the business world.

**To answer the last question: I have never ridden a horse.

Name:  zandy
Username:  aksmith@wesleyan.edu
Subject:  week 1 responses (a bit late, i apologize)
Date:  2003-02-10 19:33:50
Message Id:  4516
hi, my name is zandy and i'm a senior at wesleyan. i'm a varsity rower, and have been rowing for about 8 years now. i'm also an avid climber, backpacker, etc. i apologize for the tardiness of my response to the week 1 questions, but i've been out of town for about 5 days. i hope that my responses are still relevant. thanks!

question 1: (title IX)

Title IX is a social justice issue as it is a law that concerns not privilege, but the right of women to have the same access to education as men. Title IX takes as its basis the fact that women in America are not treated as full citizens, but are relegated to a kind of partial citizenship. For years the government has sought to control everything from a woman's right to vote, to her right to protect and make decisions about her own body. After years of having their bodies demeaned and demonized, women are finally taking control of their bodies and their education, and are re-learning how to situate themselves as members of society with equal rights to education and competition.
The impact of Title IX on women today cannot be overstated. Even for women who are not athletes, all women have benefited from Title IX. For women who do not consider themselves athletes, or have no interest in sports, they still turn on the television to glimpse UCONN women's basketball or to see Serena Williams smashing a ball across the court. If cultural perceptions are at least partially due to repetition, then seeing the images of women participating in sports should lead to a kind of internalizing of the idea that as women our bodies are useful and powerful.

question 2: (cultural ideals of women)

The cultural ideal of women in sports seems to be the woman who can combine beauty with talent. Thus, as a competitor she might be fierce, but her attractiveness makes her less threatening to the male ego. Media correspondents can call these women "graceful", and "attractive" while also mentioning that they have a superb serve or "great athleticism". However, the fact that one never hears a male athlete described according to their physical characteristics, (except for "tall" in basketball, and then it is used as a factor which only enhances their maleness), further shows how the cultural ideal of athletic women still seeks to feminize and control women.
Also, there is a cultural ideal of women as graceful losers, as competitive, but not too competitive. I have often heard male commentators call female athletes "intense" in what seemed a negative tone of voice, and I have also heard commentators shaking their heads when women have been angry or upset at the end of competition and not able to smile for the cameras. Rarely, if ever, have I heard commentators or writers speak this way about men. In fact, the cultural ideal of men in sport supports and applauds intensity, even condoning aggressive behavior among male athletes. When men do this they are seen as asserting their maleness, as acting "like a man", whereas when women get angry, frustrated, or are not able to put on a smile after they've been beaten they are seen as being too involved, as being too intense.
I hope that these cultural ideals are changing. I still see too many women apologizing. I still see too many women who are timid in the weight room. However, I have also seen Serena and Venus Williams become famous for being incredible tennis players, as well as competitors who are often terrifying in their fierceness. Since I have been at college I have encountered fewer men who have questioned my athletic ability or potential, and when most of them speak of my muscles, they do so with admiration in their voice.

Name:  millie
Username:  mgentry@smith.edu
Subject:  powerful women in sport
Date:  2003-02-10 19:49:37
Message Id:  4519
Does sport truly bridge the two, perhaps conflicting, notions of female beauty and strength? The answer to such a question, I feel, is an empahtic no. How can sport merge these images when the female athlete hides her power behind her feminity? The female athlete that I see attempts to downplay her stature as a physically capable woman in favor of emphasizing her position as a beautiful woman. If this were not true, why did the Williams sisters pose for Vogue? Why did Brandi Chastain endorse sportsbras? Why did female athletes pose for Playboy? Why have so many female bodybuilders undergone breast augmentation, when the size of their breast should, in reality, have no bearing on their performance? I feel that since it is possible to raise these questons, it must be that women's athletics, lke so many other institutions, remains corrupted by the distorted female image promoted by popular culture.
Name:  Sara
Username:  sshomste@smith.edu
Date:  2003-02-11 01:40:51
Message Id:  4533
Hi.My name is Sara Shomstein and I 'm a senior Economics major at Smith College.

Although female sports are gaining more popularity with more female athletes are gracing the covers of magazines and appearing on television spots, we need to look at the images that these women are projecting. We see female athletes half-naked on the covers of magazines and in advertisements, yet athletes of equal talent like Pete Sampras are pictured with a tennis racquet.
In response to another post, yes these women were not "forced" to pose in these manners, but then we might ask ourselves if they would ever appear on magazine covers if they didnt agree to pose and present themselves in these overly sexualized and super-feminine ways.
In addition, isnt it even more awful that these athletes, women who have accomplished so much and worked so hard, still feel as though all they have to offer on the cover of a magazine is their body and their face?They should be presenting their talents and accomplishments.

Name:  Elisabeth
Username:  elindsey@smith.edu
Subject:  a question...
Date:  2003-02-11 13:47:17
Message Id:  4544
This is Elisabeth Lindsey, a senior studio art major at Smith College.
I guess my post is more a question about the arguements against Title IX...it makes sense to me that if a situation where men previously received 100% of the funding for sports becomes fifty-fifty with women, that there would be some cut back in their sports because (a) sometimes that just happens, funding is cut and (b) if they are receiving less than 100% it is going to change the availability of funds....So the equity is regained, by a lessening of sport funding for men..so I guess I jsut don't understand how they have a leg to stand on about these 'gross inequalities' that the men are experiencing in their sports...so anyone want to help clarify, it would be much appreciated!! Thanks.
Name:  Annie
Username:  acoppock@smith.edu
Subject:  women's sports and media
Date:  2003-02-12 16:16:28
Message Id:  4556
Hi, this is Annie, I'm a first year Education major at Smith College. I lived what I consider to be a pretty sheltered childhood in terms of being aware of the media. My family does not have a TV, and the only magazene we subscribe to is National Geographic. Therefore, I did not grow up aware, even subconciously, of the portryal of female athletes in the media like most girls did. After watching the video in class about media portyal of female athletes, I was disgusted. Female athletes are not given the respect that they deserve as athletes. The media emphasizes sexuality and femininity rather then athletic ability. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is Anna Kournikova. She has the most corporate sponsorship of all women athletes, and has only won one singles tennis match. The famous picture of the soccer player ( I am blanking on her name...) that took her shirt off after scoreing a goal is another example of negative media hype. The photograph was boosted by the media as sexual, and was not seen as a picture that captured her feelings of victory.
Another point that I found interesting in the film was the piece on homophobia in women's sports. In the WNBA for example, we know that there are lesbian players, but no players have come out. When a magazene does an article on a female athlete, they never fail to mention the athletes family, how she juggles caring for children with training, or her boyfriend or husband. Why can't the female athletes just be portryed as athletes, and not get their personal lives pryed into??
Name:  Melissa Teicher
Username:  mteicher@brynmawr.edu
Date:  2003-02-12 18:37:05
Message Id:  4559
A few decades ago, society's image of a beautiful woman was one with a little bit of meat on her bones and curves. If she had an hour glass figure, she was beautiful. But now I feel that a beautiful woman in today's society is portrayed as having an athletic figure. One with toned muscles and very little body fat. Sport is now used as a way to make women more beautiful. From kickboxing, to yoga, to pilates, women now have a variety of sport disciplines used to make them more toned and "beautiful."
Name:  Missie
Username:  mtidwell@brynmawr.edu
Date:  2003-02-12 20:04:19
Message Id:  4560
So, I have been reading the posts and everyone seems to be in agreement. Picking up on Annie from Smith's comments on the way the media seems to focus so intently on irrelevant occurences such as the unveiling of Brandy Chastain's sports bra. It seems that the media is repeating what they tried a few decades ago when one woman fell down from exhaustian after an olympic race. Instead of drawing away the attention from our athletic abilities with fictitious inabilities, they are creating false images of women athletes. As Melissa Teicher said in the post before mine also, the bodies we see are increasingly more athletic. This is another way that the media might be trying to ween the attention away from women's athleticism by pointing to sex. of course, this is basically repeating what everyone has said in a way. At least we're all on the same page.
Name:  Jackie Piltch
Username:  jpiltch@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Portrayal of Women in Media
Date:  2003-02-13 01:42:47
Message Id:  4564
Women athletes are constantly portrayed as sex objects in the media. IN order to be popular, they don't have to prove any particular athletic prowess, rather they have to look beautiful and pose nude. A perfect (and trite) example of this is Anna Kournikova, who to this day has not won a tennis match, but is the most sponsored female tennis player. All because of her perfect body, features, and long blond hair.

The simple meaning of this is that women are still objectified. It's not that their talents are not appreciated, it's just that it's more appealing in our culture for a woman to be an example of beauty. It's kind of like a mating ritual. An athletic woman threatens the men in the male-dominated world of athletics, but a beautiful woman is more likely to mate and be taken off the market and out of the competition. Her beauty, her sexuality, makes her less of a threat in the long-run, because it shows a hint of what she will most likely leave sports (for a while) to do - have children.

It's just easier for everyone this way, apparently. Even I love to look at advertisements of these women and wish that my body resembled theirs.

Name:  Amy
Username:  astern@brynmawr.edu
Date:  2003-02-13 12:33:39
Message Id:  4570
I think that athletics are almost unquestionably gendered. Going back to Title IX for a moment- many of the "problems" men feel resulted from it (i.e. reduction of male sports teams) would be made much less stressful if co-ed teams were an option. From the time girls and boys are separated to "softball" and "little league", they've already begun to understand that there are "girls' sports" and "boys' sports". From there, the only question is nhow to make it fit the cultural ideals of boys and girls: women being soft and thin; men being muscular and strong.

In National Velvet, I don't think that Velvet WAS gender-neutral. She was a girl, very specifically; "girls love horses" is a traditionally gendered interest, and only when there was no other option did she become the jockey. In fact, Mi could have been the jockey, but was persuaded by what I suppose were "feminine wiles" or whatnot.

Note that even as a "masculine" figure, she wore makeup and looked cute and fit the feminine ideal, excepting her hair.

Name:  Emily Hanson
Username:  ehanson@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Natinonal Velvet
Date:  2003-02-13 14:06:07
Message Id:  4573
2. I think the movie National Velvet takes a somewhat modern and enlightened view of women in sports. In the film Velvet is forced to cut her hair and pretend to be a boy in order to ride in the Grand National and when she is discovered after taking a tumble at the end, the crowd is not dismissive, upset, angry, or abusive. Instead the nation as a whole considers her a hero. I think National Velvet also reinforces the idea of the acceptability of women in sports by having Velvet's mother, a sports star in her own right, appear as a sympathetic, wise, and endearing character. Indeed, if anything, the men in the film, Mi and Mr. Brown, are shown as rather stodgy and old fashioned. While the film also ridicules the typical ideal of women, embodied in Velvet's oldest sister Edwina.
I don't think that the film necessarily places Velvet in a gender-neutral role in order to shy away from the fact that she is a girl competing in a "man's sport". I believe that in many ways the film often clearly underlines that fact that Velvet is indeed a girl. I think the film accomplishes a great deal in making the concept of women participating in traditionally male sports acceptable.
Name:  Samantha
Username:  svvarma@aol.com
Subject:  image of women
Date:  2003-02-13 14:10:52
Message Id:  4574
There are differences in the role of female gender in current sport and the perception of female in National Velvet. In current sport, the cultural perception of female is enhanced to the detriment of athletic talent. As the documentary showed, media coverage of women athletes (often controlled by men) often does not focus on the their skill, but rather on their bodies as sexy and desirable. By taking women athletes out of the athletic space and placing them onto a beach or into a skimpy outfit, for example, both of which have no relevance to them as athletes, denies them (and by extension all women athletes and all women) the credit due them and negates their power. These images conform to cultural/media ideals, and more often than not male ideas of women. I do not, however, want to imply that women athletes are victims to this. The documentary raised the interesting point that women do have responsibility in how they choose to be portrayed. Velvet, conversely, had to wipe out or deny any evidence of her gender. Both of these are extremes. A balance is difficult to achieve. Also, I found it interesting that each sister in National Velvet portrayed a three different "types": the boy crazy beauty; the serious brain; and the dreamer, who is the athlete.
Name:  Katherine
Username:  kquah@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Week 2
Date:  2003-02-13 14:21:18
Message Id:  4575
If women choose to pose for magazines in a sexual way in order to celebrate or embrace their body, that is their choice. And I certainly think the same applies to men as well--our culture idealizes beauty. Women in sport are now increasingly portrayed as being strong, healthy models of fitness, which I think is a good thing. Femininity is not defined or denied by the amount of muscles one has.
Name:  Monika
Username:  mle@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  #3
Date:  2003-02-13 18:38:51
Message Id:  4589
The cultural ideal of sport is no longer considered a culture for men. Similar to the cultural ideal of women in society, the cultural ideal of sport is also becoming all-encompassing as it strives to achieve a wider audience and range of participants. In our culture today, games and sports are available to the general public. With the passage of Title IX, both boys and girls can participate in sports and achieve success in athletics if they work towards that specific goal.

This is similar to the cultural ideal of women in society. Today, women are given more opportunities than ever before to become active in male dominated fields. While I do not think that our cultural ideals of sports and women in society are perfect, I do agree that they have come a long way.

Name:  Liza Eckels
Username:  eeckels@wesleyan.edu
Subject:  A hero for daisy
Date:  2003-02-15 13:01:34
Message Id:  4610
In class this week, we watched the movie "A Hero For Daisy", it was based on the Yale crew team and more specifically, Chris Ernst. After watching this movie, I would like to address the ideas of cultural ideals for women in sport and the cultural ideal for women in society. In this movie, Chris Ernst has developed very large muscles, without any drug enhancement. At World championships and the Olympics her gender is repeatedly questioned by officials. She continues to pass the gender test with flying colors. The whole gender testing idea is a violation of human right. Not until very recently has this testing been banned from the olympics. Chris Ernst was muscular and extremely cut. I believe that many women couldn't reach this strength no matter how hard they try. She is simply an awesome human form and she's not the norm. There are men just like her that exceed the "normal" muscle build of the average male. For some reason these men don't get questioned because part of their cultural norm is to be strong. Women in sport are slowly becoming accepted as strong and muscular. Yet, women in society are barely adapting to this idea that strength is good. Women these days will lift weights, but only to sculpt not build. They don't want to be "too big" and this is only perpetuating the stereotype of the small, weak woman.
Name:  Ingrid
Username:  ihansen@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  week one response
Date:  2003-02-16 18:21:27
Message Id:  4627
My posting info came a little late; here is week one response, with subsequent weeks to follow.

Introductions: Hi, I'm Ingrid Hansen, a junior English major at Bryn Mawr. In elementary school I had a 2 year stint with soccer, but it wasn't really my thing. I've grown up with outdoorsy sports--hiking, cross-country skiing, canoeing, etc. I've felt isolated from the organized sports world, and have largely rejected it. Sitting in this class, however, has forced me to reconsider how I think about organized sports in a positive light.

week one response: Title IX is necessary in the same way that affirmative action policies are necessary. Enforcing legislation that requires visible measures of equality surely puts us in better stead for changing historical notions of women in sport. Looking at the statistics, we can assert that progress has been made and will continue--the video mentioned that women's participation in sport has reached a critical mass, and going back to pre-Title IX enrollment would be impossible. We are coming into a world (or country, at least) where women command respect. Legislation is an important part of this process--it is not such a far trip down memory lane to recall when sexual harassment allegations were laughable. The truism stands firm--we've come a long way, but there is still a long way to go. There are numerous organizations dedicated to equality (room for more), and there is legal backing for equality (room for more), but cultural perceptions do play a role in how we as a culture really value women.

Name:  Ingrid
Username:  ihansen@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  week 2 response
Date:  2003-02-17 04:00:50
Message Id:  4634
week 2 response: Women in the media face a scrutiny based on their image (not only their looks, but their demeanor and speech--their presentation) no matter in what area of the media they appear. Advertising sets/reflects cultural ideals, and sexualized female bodies are commonplace. Transposing this image into representations of women in sport, to the effect of lucrative endorsements, trains us to consume female bodies in the same unimaginative hypersexed context, whoever the person should be.

As a response to National Velvet, I wanted to bring up a point I've heard (which, unfortunately, I cannot cite). The argument is that preadolescent girls are especially drawn to horses because horses represent attractive male qualities for girls who do not yet take interest in boys (and this is based on heterosexist principles). Horses are large, muscular, and provide an outlet for much attention/ affection. When Velvet "practices" her riding in bed, several of us found humor in what appeared to be implicitly sexual behavior, but wrote it off because of the time period. This argument would suggest that there is foundation in our perception. It would also suggest that Velvet is thoroughly feminine. While I can find fault and exception to this argument, I thought it posed an interesting perspective on National Velvet.