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

Defying Society's Norms

Elizabeth Marcus

When a person decides to enter a sport that is not traditionally competed in by his or her sex, there are many risks. One of these risks is the risk of getting rejected or ridiculed because participating in that sport is not common. However, if no one ever dared to defy the socially accepted boundaries, then women would not be playing sports. There are girls who defy these boundaries and wrestle or play football in high school as well as boys who enter field hockey. These boundaries need to be broken, even if there is ridicule and risks behind them, because of the benefits of this defiance. Society would not progress if people did not take these risks.

Women were not accepted into the field of sport until much later than men. For example, the first women's baseball team was formed at Vassar College in 1865. Initially, a woman's version of competing in sport was Play Days. These days were times for women to gather and play sports. However, there was no competitive element. Women simply worked together in a sport. Once women were allowed to compete in sports like basketball, men were not allowed to watch. These standards seem to be a mockery of the ideas behind sport and the competition that goes along with it. However, if this phase of mockery and controversy had not been endured, women probably would not be competing in sports.

Once women gained there places in the world of sports, there were still other obstacles to overcome. For example, during World War II, a women's baseball league was formed. However, the women were not there for the spirit of sport and competition. Their uniforms were cute and highly feminine. They wore skirts. This was a way to attract more spectators and to make sure that women playing baseball did not get to competitive or go against any standards for women of that time. Therefore, even when women were defying society, they were forced to conform in some aspects.

This idea has been explored greatly in many films. One of these movies is Girl Fight. Girl Fight shows the story of Diana Guzman, a high school senior who always gets into fights at school. Once she realizes that she could put that energy towards fighting, she wants to learn to box. However, her father does not view boxing as suitable for women and instead continues paying for her younger brother's boxing lesson. Her brother, Tiny, does not want to box. His main goal is to get into college and learn as much as he can and maybe become an artist. Eventually, Tiny gives Diana the money for his boxing lessons without their father knowing and Diana begins boxing. Through out her training, she experiences discrimination and stereotyping. The males training at the gym do not want to fight her. There reason: she is a girl. After overcoming these obstacles, Diana succeeds in securing titles and in beating her boyfriend. This triumph of being able to fight in the ring is one filled with risk and ridicule. However, had Diana not chosen to fight, she would not have been able to pursue her dream. Girls and women like her open the doors for future generations.

Another example of this is the movie, Pumping Iron II. The women in this movie dare to defy the stereotype of what the female body should look like. Pumping Iron tells the story of women who were body builders and what happened when they entered a body building competition. One of the main characters, Bev, is clearly the most built of the competitors. However, she does not look feminine. This is especially true for when she flexes her muscles. Therefore, she is not judged as winning the competition. A woman, Carla, who balances the idea of looking feminine while still having sculpted muscles, wins instead. The reason this judging occurs is because the judges are not comfortable showing an alternative to the stereotypes of the female body. Much of this message means that women can compete as long as the boundaries of what is acceptable for a woman to look like is observed.

This movie accomplishes a balance of the idea between success in sport as well as the risks behind it. Bev was able to walk away knowing that she was the best. However, she was not able to enjoy the feeling of victory and accomplishment. The portrayal of her was as an athlete. She did not consider what the judges would feel was proper. Rather, she competed and trained up to her potential so that she could be the best in her sport. Other people's opinions did not matter to her. By having this type of attitude, she was able to come away from the competition realizing that the judges were not willing to accept a woman as a body builder. However, she was able to come away knowing that she excelled in her sport.

An example of boys and men breaking down the boundaries occurs in the field of dance. Many male dancers are teased as kids because of their love of dance. It is not viewed as a man's field. That is something that only women should be doing. In many dance teams, the team is mainly girls with a few boys. Other males do not always take them seriously. However, this is becoming more and more accepted which means that more boundaries are being broken for boys and men as to what sports are open to them.

Had women not taken the risk initially to compete in sport, women today would not have the opportunities they do now. Each generation gains more and more freedom and encouragement to pursue dreams even if they are not "normal." A generation ago, girls did not have female role models in soccer. Today, the women's Olympic soccer time is well known and girls are able to have them for role models.

There are many more boundaries to be broken down for both sexes. For example, boys are not encouraged to play field hockey. Society says that that is a girl's sport. However, due to the progress that society has made in widening its horizons as to what is proper, this will hopefully be accepted sometime in the near future. Women were not in the Olympics over twenty years ago and today women compete aggressively in many competitions. The progress made is significant and hopefully more progress will be made in future years

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