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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Students and faculty in the course share stories, thoughts, and reactions to the films and discussions in an on line forum. Here is a directory to the archives of the weekly discussion. Postings were made weekly, in reponse to a weekly question, by each of five forum groups. For each forum in each week, some sample thoughts are given here to show the tenor of the conversations. To see the full set of comments from any forum in any week, click on that forum heading.


1. Write a brief bio so others in your forum may know something about you. Interests, major where you are from etc.

2. In the book, Women, Sport and Culture by Susan Birrel and Cheryl Cole they write:

"At the broadest level, the debate over Title IX and public policy has completely avoided questioning the sex-role polarization that sports creates and the long-held belief that sports is a masculine domain. Though social scientists and public policy makers are content to leave to philosophers and radical theorists any questions regarding the ultimate nature of the human experience, they do so at the cost of leaving a vacuum to be filled by the dominant cultural and institutional definitions that have been shaped by men's values, men's understandings of the world, and men's experiences. Women's alienation from sport, their indifference to it, and their reluctance to enter it stem in large measure from the fact that, as it has existed historically, what sport celebrated, what sport offered, what sport demanded, what sport rewarded do not reflect much of women's experience of the world"

Please comment.

Discussion --->Forum 1Forum 2Forum 3Forum 4Forum 5

Sample Comments


1) What are the boundaries or issues that prevent us from having an in depth discussion about race/class in sport or other fields where the field represents different values, stigmas, or is otherwise overshadowed by an historic culture of limited access.

2) How does a person's social origins (race/ethnicity, class, gender etc.) affect their orientation towards sport?

Discussion --->Forum 1Forum 2Forum 3Forum 4Forum 5


The director chose certain visual shots, scripted dialogue and personal interactions to convey a message about your character. (Rachel, Bev, Lori, Carla or the judges) What is the director attempting to "say" about your character?

Discussion --->Forum 1Forum 2Forum 3Forum 4Forum 5

WEEK 1 Sample Comments

Forum 1

"I feel that the goal of women in sport is not to compete alongside and against men. As Jennifer pointed out men and women are very anatomically different which may result in one sex being better suited for a certain sport than is the other sex. By allowing women to compete alongside men would be to reinforce the notion that women are physically inferior to men and that they are incapable of competing at a man's level."

"However, my experience with Title IX has mostly left me with a fairly bad opinion of the results of that law. Rather than create a truly equal arena, in my experience, Title IX has resulted in makeshift arrangements, continued unequal funding (often taking money away from academics in order to provide a "required" equality in sport which is never actually realized), and a grudging resentment from athletic administrators."

Forum 2

"I consider myself an athlete but perhaps not in a traditional sense. To an extent some people will accept Fitness and Body Building as an athletic sport since there is some competition involved. I think overall people are biased about the terms "athlete" and "sport", limiting themselves to what the mainstream lables a "sport" or an "athlete". Then again, doesn't that dilhemma seem to plague everyone and everything in almost every aspect!"

"I disagree with the reasons why women may not participate in sport. In the past that MAY have been true, but only because society taught women to believe such things. Today, I believe that women choose not to participate because there are other options for them. Also, to participate in sports at any level, there must be a genuine interest in the sport and a time commitment. You have to be happy with what you are doing in order to pursue it, and with all the other options for women out there, it is just as likely to be interested in playing a musical instrument as participating in soccer."

Forum 3

"I don't know whether or not I agree with this statement. Sports, for a long time didn't represent the "woman's experience of the world" but I think it's flawed to say that that is the reason women don't participate now. I think that Title IX has given women the opportunity to participate in sports, the chance to do something that they weren't ever able to do, but that doesn't mean that women who don't participate are doing so because it doesn't represent any "womanly experiences" in the world. I know I'm an athlete because I enjoy what I do, I get to meet new people and have fun, and the second it stops being fun I know I have to go find something else to do. The world of sports doesn't have to be so gendered, so male vs. female. Title IX gave women the opportunity to make sports reflect the "womanly experience" now it's just time to make sure that continues to happen."

"Although I disagree with the idea that Title IX has failed to adequately provide women, legally, with an equal playing field in sports, I do understand that a legal right to equality does not always guarantee equality. If the social issues behind "sex-role polarization" in sports are not addressed more fully, then women perhaps will remain reluctant to participate, despite their right to do so. I agree with the authors that we need to reevaluate our definition of "sport," and question the masculine connotation of the word."

Forum 4

"Being a women who once was a very active member of her soccer, tennis and alpine ski team in high school, i can safely say that my choice to discontinue participation in sports has nothing to do with men and thier domination over the elements of sports. The quote Debbie (and others) refers to is making a huge assumption that women are deterred from participating in sports becuase we cant relate! This, to me, is simply not true. When i did play sports in high school both the girls and boys' teams shared the soccer field for practice, we alternated early and late court times for tennis practices, and my alpine ski team was co-ed. In fact, i was co-cpt. with a guy on the team! if the section of the quote that is in question was really true, i would probably have stopped playing sports after i was too old to play youth sports (which are co-ed)! i continued to remain athletic because of the fun, the rush, the friends i made, and becuase of the pride i got from being able to say i was an athlete! women who dont play sports could surely have chosen not to (as i have since being at smith) for a multidude of other reasons that have nothing to do with men?! "

"Our society as a whole has historically been monopolized by male culture, and sport is a prime example. While we a society continue to struggle to strike a balance between the sexes, the fact remains that venues such as sport were created with men in mind, and have followed this path until too recently. It is obvious that, given equal opportunity, women will excel right along side their male counterparts. It is also obvious, however, that although Title IX has taken us a long way, we are still unable to shake the fundamental male domination of sport as a whole. I believe this dominance has been bumped to more of a subconscious level with the enforcement of Title IX, but I also agree with the statement that "...what sport celebrated, what sport offered, what sport demanded, what sport rewarded..." has histoically been tailored around men, by men. Yes, we have the same opportunites on paper, but there's something to be said for the fact that a portion of our society believes that women shouldn't necessarily compete in sports, and the subconscious effects that can have on young girls. "

Forum 5

" I agree with the bulk of this quote, however, I am not sure what the author means about how a sport should reflect a women's experience in the world. Do sports reflect anyone's experience, or are they just a set-up separate from reality where we are allowed to compete, exercise, and have fun in ways we cannot in the real world? In reflecting a women's experience in the real world, it can be accurate to say that successful women in the sports are often treated much the same as successful women in the workplace, etc. The "sex-role polarization" comment is really right on, though. It is amazing how early girls can often learn that sports are not really for them." ". I do not see myself as an athlete. I do not play any sports at college or elsewhere, and when I work out it's more for stress relief than for the sake of competition with other people or with myself.

Not having grown up in the United States, I do not know much about Title IX and how it has had an impact on high school students in the U.S., but I can speak from the standpoint of someone who lived in a system where girls in school had no such provision. In my high school, the girls played badminton or table tennis in gym class while the boys played football, basketball, etc. The girls were only given a chance when the boys weren't playing. What amazes me now that I look back at this is that none of the girls in my school--myself included--ever thought to protest this state of affairs. If anything, I think most of us preferred things the way they were. Sports that made you sweat or required a lot of running around were considered unfeminine. I know that, had I been an athlete, I would have been considered even more unfeminine than I already was for not plucking my eyebrows or wearing lipstick!"


1) What are the boundaries or issues that prevent us from having an in depth discussion about race/class in sport or other fields where the field represents different values, stigmas, or is otherwise overshadowed by an historic culture of limited access.

2) How does a person's social origins (race/ethnicity, class, gender etc.) affect their orientation towards sport?