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

The Struggle For Acceptance

Jacqueline Raymond

As an athlete or a spectator, it is easy to both feel and see the impact sports have on people of both genders. Athletes are able to experience sports personally, while spectators usually experience sports through different channels of mass media. Realizing the effects that the world of athletics has on individuals and society as a whole is vital to the understanding of how sports can positively and negatively effect athletes as well as spectators.

To deepen our understanding of the cultural values embedded in sports and to explore current values and power structures regarding men and women, it is necessary to investigate the effect that the media may possibly have in influencing beliefs about gender-appropriate sport behavior. The media is a powerful factor which influences our beliefs, attitudes, and the values we have of ourselves and others as well as the world surrounding us. It seems that the televised coverage of athletics continues to reinforce the ongoing division between males and females, and to reproduce traditional expectations regarding femininity and masculinity.

One is able to witness the biased attitude directed toward the individual who attempts to participate in a sport that is non-traditional to his/her gender. Figure skating, for example, has been dominated for many years by women. Often if a person refers to figure skating, it is natural to automatically think of a female athlete because of the many more women who have participated in the sport than men. However, if a man chooses to figure skate he is generally referred to, by others, as a homosexual. Most likely this accusation of being gay has developed because figure skating is viewed as a popular women's sport, and regarded as somewhat of a delicate and feminine sport. Opposing this feminine image, men are generally perceived as being tough and masculine. If men do not maintain this expected image, and choose to participate in sports that have been dominated mostly by women, their sexuality is questioned. Comments like, "Wow, what a Fag," are often directed toward male figure skaters when viewed by spectators. This is very unfair and hurtful to the victims of this false perception.

Aside from males participating in figure skating, women boxers are generally viewed by others as "manly." This is one of the most offensive terms a person can call a female boxer. The word degrades femininity, especially when referring to a woman who chooses to be active in a sport that is non-tradition to her gender and has nothing at all to do with her femininity. In the film Girl Fight the main character, Diana, chooses to train to become a boxer. It is apparent that Diana is not a lesbian because she has a boyfriend, so her sexuality is not the issue in this film. However, because she is a female in a male-dominated sport, Diana does not generate the support of many people when she proposes her idea about boxing. Boxing is considered "inappropriate" for her because she is a female. The trainer tells her that he cannot work with her, but Diana does not allow this to stop her. The time, devotion, heart, and desire she gives are all key elements in her efforts to becoming a successful boxer.

Both men and women undergo social costs when participating in a sport that is non-traditional to their gender. As an athlete and spectator, I have witnessed the emotional torture that a female experiences as a result of playing a sport that is dominated by men. My cousin Erin absolutely loves that game of football. Although she does not allow it to stop her, she is hassled by the males and females who surround her. She is often referred to as "man-child," simply because she enjoys the sport. This is very emotionally tough for her because of her love for and dedication to the sport. Individuals like Erin may not realize it, but by participating in a sport that is dominated by the opposite sex, she is paving the way for women to eventually gain the social and cultural acceptance needed in order to not feel different because of playing such a sport as football.

Aside from the costs, there are also benefits when individuals choose to play a sport that is non-traditional to his/her gender. While the constant struggle remains for men and women who participate in sports that are dominated by the opposite sex, almost all sports that exist today have been made coed as a result of this struggle. There are even women body builders competing today. The ongoing fight for acceptance in sports that are non-traditional for the two sexes is truly beginning to be apparent. A male who figure skates not only benefits himself, but also his culture. Just because a male chooses to play a sport that is dominated by women does not, by any means, infer that he is a homosexual. Society must realize that sports are open to anyone, male or female. Women are just as capable as men of working hard and succeeding, and vise versa. The efforts of these brave pioneers who are proving their capability in sports dominated by the opposing sex is slowly helping them gain social and cultural acceptance for their particular gender. Sadly it has bee a long and hard road and will likely continue to be a bumpy ride.

Despite the struggle for success, males and females who choose to play sports that are non-traditional to their gender benefit socially and culturally. Those athletes who dare to compete are paving the way towards a society where gender acceptance and equality exist. However, for every benefit, there is generally a cost. In the world of sports, it is fairly obvious that people have experienced many costs including insults, ridicule, and lack of acceptance, but the benefits gained are much more vital to sports and the future of athletics. Competing in sports that are non-traditional to one's gender can only make society stronger, and our culture more unified.

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