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Women, Sport, and Film - 2002
Student Papers
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Praise vs. Fear

Jennifer Sawyer

In this day in age, individuality is often praised, and those who do the unusual are looked up to, at least in theory. For doing something different, they are commended from a distance, but are often scorned by people who actually come in contact with them. This can be seen often with men and women who are entering non-traditional sports.

From an outsider's standpoint, one can make a point that everyone deserves a chance to try any sport they want to, whether or not it's "acceptable" for one of their gender. We admire those who try something new, something different. But at the same time, some thoughts might be harbored, as to what the nature of the person is, who is trying a "manly" or "feminine" sport. And when one interacts with the individual, curiosity tends to win out over admiration, the curiosity aroused by trying to decide what the nature of that person is. Why are they playing this sport? What influences did they have that encouraged them to take up such a sport, which was traditionally held by the other gender? Why didn't they pick a sport that others like themselves had been playing for years? These sorts of questions, even if they are unspoken, give off a negative feeling, a feeling that says that the sports player is doing something bad, even if they are admired for it when not confronted.

An example that I brought up in the forums once: The Cutting Edge. In this movie, Doug was an aspiring hockey player, until he lost much of his peripheral sight to an accident. When he then goes on to become a figure skater, a sport much more graceful and less aggressive, and therefore more feminine, he's afraid to tell his brother, for fear of the reaction. It doesn't help much that his brother runs a sports bar, and probably wouldn't be caught dead watching figure skating.

Another example would be in Girl Fight. The main character is also taking on a non-traditional sport for her gender, since fighting has generally been seen as too aggressive. She decides to start boxing anyway, competing with the men and boys in the club. But she is afraid to tell her father what she's doing, because he wants her to be like her mother, the stereotypical woman. Even when she comes home after a fight, with a black eye, she doesn't tell her father, but lets him believe that it was her boyfriend who did that to her. She also has a hard time telling her best friend what she's doing, but eventually breaks down for fear of ruining the friendship. But overall, she keeps her boxing a secret, because she knows she won't be accepted into the boxing world easily.

While the praise for being daring and individualistic is a good result of participating in a non-traditional sport, there must also be taken into account the reactions of those with whom interaction will take place. The fear of being ridiculed is a strong one, and is probably a reason that there aren't too many athletes willing to take on the sports they want to play, as opposed to the sports they are expected to play, because of their gender.
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