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Women, Sport, and Film - Spring 2005
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The Wall of Hollywood: Women held back by fictional pursuits

Sarah Spiegel

In watching the six films for this course, a common thread carried through all of them- struggle as an identifier for women of all races, classes and sexualities. The struggle to recognized as an athlete, not as a woman who does sports. Most of the films, particularly the products of Hollywood dealt women a more sexualized part, while the documentary films were further from sexuality and dealt more with the actual issues at hand beyond the gender of the athletes.

By society's standards, even today, women are still slightly out of place on the field of competition. The films that portray fictional stories take away from the competition and athletics by putting in less relavent issues like sexuality or sibling rivalry. The generalizations that can be drawn from these films all too easily reflect the stereotypes that surround female athletes.

The film Personal Best focused so heavily on the sexual behaviors of the women that the running and athletic competition were secondary. The plot was very sexually oriented, although the film is purported to be about sports. The athletics of track and field are merely the setting for Chris's relationships. The accomplishments of Chris as an aspiring track star are secondary to who she's in bed with.

Similarly, in A League of Their Own, the competition between sisters Kit and Dottie is the primary focus of the film. The film spends more time elaborating on the sibling rivalry than on the historical aspects of women in baseball during the War era. The movie does have a historical context but it doesn't deal with it beyond brief interludes. The women in A League of Their Own are also made into sexual objects through their uniforms of short skirts and their relations with men on the road. The scene in the bar in which the women of the Rockford Peaches are dancing and drinking with men, they are simply out to get a man and be women again. The woman are dressed up and made up. The film creates a two settings for the women of the Rockford Peaches, on and off the field. The Peaches learn etiquette and posture along with fielding and hitting techniques . They need to be more lady like to play baseball, or so the film sets it up.

The documentary style films were much more focused on the women as athletes and the problems that faced them. In Rocks with Wings, the girls of the Shiprock High School basketball team face problems of race and class with their coach and their town. The Shiprock girls are all Navaho and their coach is a black man. The difference in between the two cultures created all kinds of problems and dissension for the team, but the story is not just about the issues, but how they were resolved.

Similarly, the issues in the documentary films had a clearer solution, such as in Hero for Daisy, the crew team needed showers and would do whatever necessary to get them. The documentaries presented the course with real issues and problems that face women in sports even today. Title IX hasn't done all the work for women, rather they have had to do much of it themselves to be recognized as the capable athletes that they are. Hollywood appears to be much more concerned with seeing athletes as women rather than women as athletes. The beautifying and sexualizing of women adds to what is wrong with society's view of women in sports. Women know what they are capable of on and off the field, and society and Hollywood should recognize that.

The roles that women are playing as protagonists in the films today are not helping to reform societal beliefs about women in sports, instead only encouraging the life of stereotypes and confining definitions of what female athletes should be and be like. Hollywood is a huge influence in how people think. If Hollywood were to challenge the accepted norms and make movies about female athletes that portray them more true to the truth then society and stereotypes would be more open to change, but it requires a change in the largest influence before this can happen or even start to happen. The number of girls and women who participate in sports has done little beyond making participation acceptable. Women alone cannot change what is thought about them, they need help from the very people who hold them back in order for significant change to come about.

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