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Women, Sport, and Film - 2002
Student Papers
On Serendip

Culture, Race, and Gender in Sports

Alisa Alexander

When a person of a specific gender enters a non-traditional sport for their gender/sex, many social and moral issues will arise challenging that person involved in that particular sport. The intentions of the individual will be questioned as well as their personal interest in the sport. Before any of these questions are asked, there must be a redefinition of gender roles, femininity, and masculinity. In order for a person to enter a non-traditional sport for their gender/sex without being criticize about gender morality, society must set flexible definitions for femininity and masculinity.

Society must begin to accept the variety of sports both men and women can compete in regardless of the traditional gender specific sports notions of the past. Women should be allowed to participate in traditional "male" sports like hockey, bodybuilding, and boxing without being stereotyped as lesbians. Men should be allowed to participate in traditional "female" sports like synchronized swimming and field hockey without losing their "masculinity". A person does not lose their masculinity/femininity because they chose to participate in a particular sport. Through the movies viewed in this course this semester, we saw women who were able to play against men and still keep their femininity. Nothing is lost when playing sports not traditionally meant for a particular race or gender. Society must become more understanding when it comes to the sports different types of people play and hinder from stereotyping anyone when they participate and perform well in that sport.

When women decide to participate in sports traditionally for men such as bodybuilding, they risk the chance of being socially stereotyped as lesbians, or simply viewed as "less feminine" then say women figure skaters. For example, Venus Williams is seen as criticized for being very masculine in build and judged on that by her performance. The media has commented on how well she plays, and has compared her to men in her sport. She receives fewer endorsements than many other tennis players do because of her looks (but mainly due to her race).

Men place themselves in the same situation when they chose to perform/participate in traditional female sports like field hockey, socially stereotyped as gay or less masculine than hockey players.

There has been a change in the way certain gender sports were viewed when women/men attempted to challenge the boundaries. Gymnastics for example began as an all-male sport. It was believed that women did not have the build nor strength to compete in this sport. In 1928 were women allowed to compete in the Olympics in gymnastics in the team events. In 1952, women were allowed to compete in the individual Olympic gymnastic competitions. They showed spectators, men and women alike that females can acquire the athletic built to compete in exercises traditionally performed only by men.


Throughout the past century, courageous minorities opened many areas in sports for other minorities to follow. People like Jackie Robinson, Venus and Serena Williams, and Arthur Ashe proved that African Americans (who in the past were not allowed to compete in many sports) could play sports just as well as white athletes. These black athletes encouraged other blacks and other minorities to join sports primarily created for white athletes.

It is very important for minorities to enter the sports world for a variety of reasons. One of them deals with the issue of role models. Many children today look up to athletes for guidance and as role models. They need someone to follow and dream of being when they grow up. For a long time, girls had no other choice but to look at male athletes as role models, especially in basketball because there hardly were any female basketball players known in the field. Now that female basketball has gain popularity, girls are able to have someone of their own gender to admire. Women are dominating more sports than ever before and this gives youths hope of one day filling those shoes. It is especially important for minorities to enter sports dominated by whites such as tennis (Venue Williams), and golf (Tiger Woods). Its sends a message to all minority youths everywhere that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it and are determined to succeed.

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