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Women, Sport, and Film - Fall 2005
Student Papers
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Femininity in A League of Their Own, Pumping Iron II, and A Hero for Daisy

Magi Kirilova

The theme that interested me the most out of the movies we have seen was the issues of femininity. The movies that discussed these themes were, A League of Their Own, A Hero For Daisy, and Pumping Iron II.

The issue of femininity has always been controversial. Part of the reason for this comes from the definition of the term itself. Different people perceive femininity in different ways. For some it seems to represent a polar opposite of masculinity and everything masculinity entails. This idea derives from the notion that the sexes exist in opposition of each other and are meant to compliment each other. Therefore, any features that a woman might have, which are masculine in nature, or reminiscent of masculinity, are considered not feminine. On the other hand, femininity refers to the female. Therefore femininity should refer to a woman's spectrum of qualities and her perception of herself as a woman. Femininity should incorporate all those qualities that a woman considers to be part of her identity, regardless of what those are. These two different approaches to the term have created a lot of controversy and have been the cause of many restrictions being put on women and female athletes in particular.

A League of Their Own presents the classical view of women challenging feminine stereotypes and how society imposes those stereotypes on female athletes in order to make them more acceptable. The movie shows that women athletes are particularly targeted because they are considered to do things that have been exclusively male for centuries. Therefore, these women, are particularly pressured to conform to principles of femininity in order not to seem unwomanly. I this movie it also becomes clear that society cares more about appearances and presentation, than true identity. This can be seen in the fact that the athletes were made to wear skirts and make-up, which are counterproductive to playing baseball, but were serving the purpose of making women more acceptable as athletes. Moreover, the fact that the women's league only existed while the men were at war shows the idea that women's emancipation and participation in all societal roles is only deemed acceptable when there are no men to take those roles. Therefore, in this case, it was the issue of men not permitting women to enter traditionally male fields.

The movie A Hero for Daisy explores the issue of femininity in terms of women's ability to push the envelope and act in a way that is not deemed appropriate. The protest of the female rowers was considered so scandalous not only because it was a criticism to the administration, but also due to the manner in which it was executed. It was considered un-feminine to expose their bodies and protest. The issue becomes especially sensitive when we consider the fact that these were not only women, but women athletes, who are especially targeted and observed for their ability to be "feminine". Therefore, the problem here is of women and conformity, and propriety. It is considered that women, especially those who attended prestigious universities, are not supposed to act in a way that makes them appear scandalous and improper. Moreover, they are not supposed to protest. However, these women showed that inequality between male and female athletes cannot persist and that female athletes are bound to have their equal place in sports because they are ready to fight for it.

The movie Pumping Iron II was meant to explore the outer limits of femininity by focusing on female body builders, who practice one of the most masculine sports. This movie focused on the appearance of female bodies and how that affects the perception of women. It is a very interesting issue because it does not focus on overall presentation or behavior, the way "A League of Their Own" did, but it looks specifically at women's bodies. This movie shows that regardless of anything else, if women do not have bodies that appear feminine and that resemble the accepted stereotypes, then they are not considered feminine enough. This issue really brings out the idea of definition of femininity. Since having well built muscle to your body's full potential is something completely natural and unrelated to behavior or any other presentation, any female body that is well built should be considered just as feminine as the next. However, this movie shows that this is not the case. Even in a sport where muscle is admired, women who are "too" muscular and considered un-feminine. Moreover, this movie brings out the issue of females judging and imposing restrictions on other females. Even though it is generally considered that it is men who impose stereotypes on women, this movie shows that a lot of the times, women themselves are the most active agents in imposing restrictions on other women.

The issue of femininity has always been controversial when it comes to female athletes who challenge the limits womanhood. The movies discussed above show how female athletes challenge the ideas of femininity in terms of both appearances and behavior. Therefore, these movies are a powerful argument in the fight for defining femininity and its boundaries.

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