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Women, Sport, and Film - Spring 2005
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Female Athletes Challenging Societal Norms

Izzy Rhoads

1. Trace how the themes of race, class, gender and sexual orientation are used in the films and if women athletes as the protagonists can help negotiate change in the role that women play in society when it challenges the norm.

Female Athletes Challenging Societal Norms

Most of the films we watched in class did not directly address issues of gender and sexual orientation or issues of race and class. They were subtly hinted at in most cases, or if they were addressed it was in a bizzare and often somewhat indirect way. I guess that makes sense because we were not taking a class on women, race, class, sexual orientation, gender and film, but women sports and film, where sports and women would be central in the class and issues women in sports may have to deal with would be periphery.

The last film we watched, Rocks With Wings, addressed issues of class and race in the context of competitive high school sports, but what was said about those issues may have been better left unsaid. I think the race and class issues in Shiprock and the surrounding towns were fairly obvious in the film and could have been easily picked up on by the viewer. It may have been more useful to go into it a little deeper instead of doing a surface analysis of race relations for the whole movie.

Whereas, in A League of the Own, class and race were not addressed nearly as much as they should have been in order to give an accurate historical description of the women's baseball leagues of the mid-20th century. The 30-second snipets in the film that attempted to address the large and pertinent issues of class and race and how they related to participation were simply not enough.

Personal Best seemed to be a movie about women's sexuality in sports, but it concluded without ever using the words "lesbian" or "homosexuality." The film never verbally addressed the nature of the relationship between the two women in the film either. It seemed as if it was permissible to talk about sex and show sex, but not to address the larger picture, by giving a name and a nature to the relationship between the women. Yet, Personal Best was both a landmark and mainstream film, portraying women in a sexual relationship but in the context of sports. I guess the idea was that since athletes are such physical beings, that the relationship between athletes may also be physical and that is acceptable.

In Hero for Daisy, the central characters were the Yale women's crew team in the 1970s. This was a film that I believe should have addressed issues of class. These women fought for their rights and benefitted from Title IX, but what was the experience of women at less prestigious, less financially affluent institutions? They may still be without showers and locker rooms.

Pumping Iron II addresses issues of disparity between the world of women's and men's competitive body building. In men's body building, the man with the best and biggest muscles and display wins, while in women's body building in the 1980s, and possibly still today, the woman with the best muscularity and display who still retains femininity is the winner. The differing standards between the judging of men and women in the same sport are symbolic of the differing sexual standards in our society as a whole.

While I believe that there was much to be desired in the films that we watched, they all focused on women who were challenging norms and standards in our society through the world of sports. I think that sports is the perfect venue in which to challenge gender norms and the roles of women in society. Sporting events are public and often highly publicized and they are also accepted venues of women's participation. So women participating in sports can take women's issues to the next level by introducing them in the sports arena. Issues such as class, race, sexuality, equal pay, gender etc., have all been addressed in the context of sports, and have continued to challenge roles of women within the world of sports, but also within the larger society since the rest of the world pays attention to what goes on in sports.

I believe that female athletes have the ability to challenge the norms that women hold in society more than any other group. I believe this because of female athletes have already been accepted into our mainstream culture. Perhaps they are still areas in which to grow in the world of women in sports, but they have made leaps and bounds in a short amount of time, especially in comparison with females in other professions/groups. Female athletes have been a group more readily accepted than female CEOs, criminals and politicians, to name a few such groups. Female athletes have become a staple in our society, while there are still other groups where women are constantly fighting for inclusion, and are not the norm, but the exception in many of those groups.

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